IN 1949. The Reds in China could rest from
their Long March, and the Reds in Australia took a battering in the pits. The
rabbits ruled the paddocks, and some Churches suffered from outbreaks of dirty
dancing and housie. Immigration Minister Calwell crudely enforced the White
Australia Policy, so that huge crowds on the beaches were nervous about getting
a tan. There was plenty of petrol for motorists in NZ and Britain, but not
here, so Bob Menzies cruised to another election win over Labor.
AN EXCERPT FROM 1949:
Some people say that rabbits are cute. City children, travelling in the country, often exclaim “Oh look, Mummy, there’s a rabbit”,
and Mummy usually slows down and says “they’re so cute”. Other people, in 1949, had a different view of
them. They saw them as shiny skinned carcases that were thrown into the fridge or ice box, waiting to be stewed for the evening’s
meal. But another group, the farmers and graziers of 1949, saw them as nothing better than a plague that was destroying their
The trouble here was that the little vermin ate the same food as the sheep, and were, at the same time, destructive
to the pasture, because they scratched and dug into the soil. So, when a great plague of rabbits came to live on all sheep
properties in Australia, it was at the expense of the sheep. This made the graziers hopping mad.
They tried to shoot them, but there were too many. They tried to trap them, but the rabbits could
breed faster than the traps could. Fumigation and poisoning killed more sheep than vermin. Harrowing and digging up the land
just put the land out of use for too long. Even the hungriest of dogs were no
match for a few thousand bunnies.
So the fall-back was to put up long wire fences, and to gradually clear paddock after paddock.
But, alas, after the War, Australia was still desperately short of wire netting. Every
grazier in Australia was crying out for netting, and every farm was faced with financial hardship as their sheep starved to
death. So the pressure for “somebody to do something” spilled over into the newspapers.
The Land Editor of the SMH painted a solemn picture. He pointed out that this nation had 100 million sheep,
but that the number could be halved in six months. It had become a battle between the sheep and the rabbits for every blade
of grass, and the rabbits were usually the winner. For every 100 miles of fencing needed, only one mile was being produced
locally. Some graziers had not been able to buy a roll in eight years.
He went on to say that “the grey army” was massed in denser formation than ever before known.
One typical owner had poisoned, trapped and dug out tens of thousands of “the buggers”, but as fast as he killed
them, the paddocks were invaded by new hordes. Six-month old lambs were dying in droves because all the nourishing food had
gone. In desperation he bought a huge tractor-ripper with which to tear the warrens and burrows to pieces. There was terrific
slaughter. Every yard of ground was torn up, and the soil was littered with mangled carcases. But to no avail, the grey army
kept advancing and the dead were replaced by new generations.