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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Of rampaging rabbits, crows and culled kangaroos

A lorry from Moruya loaded with rabbits. Image: National Museum of Australia

“Why, I ask you, is the currawong and crow protected by law when the decorative and charming species are crying out for protection from them,” asks The Gadfly columnist ROBERT MACKLIN

The rabbits are back… if they ever really left.

Robert Macklin.

When Charles Weston began the task in 1913 of providing Canberra with the green mantle that adorns our capital city and surrounds today, the Limestone Plains were overwhelmed by millions of them. 

They were the progeny of 13 European wild rabbits imported by Thomas Austin, a British squatter in Victoria’s Winchelsea, for his sporting pleasure. By 1880 they had crossed the NSW border and multiplied exponentially. 

One of Weston’s first hirings was 27-year-old James Carrington Brackenreg, an experienced rabbiter from Narrabri. He had developed a rabbit-proof fence and under Weston’s supervision he and his team sealed off 40-acre sections between Queanbeyan and the early Canberra settlement, then eliminated the voracious hordes separately in each one. 

It was an extraordinary effort, using explosives to blow up their warrens, poison and guns to kill off the escapees, and finally dogs to clean up the survivors.

It was the first time that white Australians chose to assert their status as the apex predator by eliminating a wild animal. And given its non-indigenous background no one objects, either ethically or logically. However, when the government of the national capital chooses to “cull” thousands of kangaroos annually, by shooting them dead, day or night – while at the same time asserting that certain killer birds are “protected” by its laws – a very different response is engendered.

First, I would argue that the capital’s administration has a duty to set an example to the rest of the country. It is, after all, the home of the prime minister and the governor-general, the repository of our historic legacy and our symbols of nationhood. 

Admittedly, the quality of our First Ministers since the Hawke government imposed self-government upon us has rarely thrown up a personage worthy of the role – Jon Stanhope for one and I’d include Kate Carnell, until she imploded the hospital. But the very idea of its administrators ordering the slaughter of one of the unique creatures that grace our coat of arms is absurd and obscene.

Indeed, it is doubly so when you consider that kangaroos have an in-built capacity to reduce their own breeding rate during times of sparsity. And if they represent a danger to themselves or our cars, they could be gradually moved to areas such as Namadgi National Park by the creative use of fire and fencing.

Birds raise different issues. Our native parrots and the tiny wrens and finches have been terrorised for decades by the myna birds as well as the currawongs and crows (ravens, if you will), which have invaded our city in the years following the big bushfire. They don’t call the gathering a “murder” of crows without reason. 

We are not alone, I’m sure, in witnessing the unequal battle for existence that has practically eliminated the gorgeously clad genus Psittaciformes and the sweet little wrens and finches of yesteryear. They build their tiny nests and seek to raise their babies, before the imposing mynas and the black horrors descend upon them. The result is an outrage of violent death and bloodied feathers in the birdbath.

Why, I ask you, is the currawong and crow protected by law when the decorative and charming species are crying out for protection from them? 

Charles Weston and JC Brackenreg fought the good fight against the invading rabbit during the Great War of 1914-18. Just over a century on, the invader has reappeared, this time with an aerial combat arm no less destructive than the four-footed armies already in possession of the high ground of City Hill.

Time, I suggest, to rally to the flag once more. 


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Ian Meikle, editor

Robert Macklin

Robert Macklin

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