This year marks 160 years since the rabbit came to Australia

PEST: Rabbits on the South Coast. Photo: Shoalhaven Historical Society.
PEST: Rabbits on the South Coast. Photo: Shoalhaven Historical Society.

It's the anniversary we wish we didn't have - this year marks 160 years since the rabbit was introduced to Australia.

Credited with this deed is Thomas Austin (1815-71) who apparently missed the animal when he migrated from Somerset and became a prominent sheep-breeder in the western Victoria district of Winchelsea.

In 1859 he imported 24 wild European rabbits to provide a challenge for hunters and to make him feel at home.

However, this group of rabbits outsmarted the hunters, bred prolifically, and spread throughout Australia. At their peak, it was estimated there were now hundreds of millions.

Myxomatosis was developed by a Brazilian scientist in 1919 but was initially rejected by the Australian Government.

After conducting trials the CSIR (predecessor of the CSIRO) released the virus in 1950. Within two years it wiped out 99 per cent of Australia's 600 million rabbits.

In the meantime, many poisons and others methods were being used to control the pest, with one developed in Kangaroo Valley.

George Robb and partner Nicholls were active in 1926, giving demonstrations at many locations. While addressing Cambewarra Shire Council, Robb said he was anxious to sell his secret to the Government and for that reason details were not published in local press.

He soon conducted a demonstration which the South Coast Register reported as being an effective system, saying it was "no trouble for one man to poison a thousand acres in a few hours."

He put his case to the Berry branch of the Pastures Protection board, however they were not convinced. It's not known what happened to the Robb and Nicholls method, but obviously it did not take off.

Not everyone was against the rabbit as it provided a food source during the depression. The Register reported in 1936 that in the Tumbarumba region, some people were abandoning gold fossicking for rabbit trapping which could earn 10 to 30 pounds a week.

Information provided by Shoalhaven Historical Society.

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This story The anniversary we wish we didn't have first appeared on South Coast Register.