Les McNaboe

Irwin District Historical Society

6 June 2002

I think the rabbits had one good point. I think during the depression, a lot of people used the rabbits for meat and that made it a bit easier for people who possibly didn’t have the money to buy anything else. But after that was over, it was all bad – bad points with the rabbits. They just went on and on, and bred more and more and they got completely out of control. They were eating more grass than the sheep that were being held at that particular time.


They used to come in droves off the sand plain – and they used to come into the water – to a place called Irwin. Just in droves! You could go along there with a stick and knock them over without any effort at all. You could come back with a half-dozen rabbits at sundown any night of the week, without chapping. They used to water at tanks that the steam engines used, and the water used to be leaking there on a cement base, and they used to drink there by the thousands I’d say, by the thousands. And what didn’t water there, they’d went on down to the river. 


I don’t know, they just kept breeding! And went on and on, and then after – some men made money out of them – they trapped them and brought them into town, here. I think they sold them for meat. I think that was the last time I know of any of them for sale.


They took over all the land, the rabbits. Practically everywhere you went there was rabbits. They came in off the sand plains. They made the good ground dangerous – you couldn’t canter a horse on it, because it was just – like a warren – and the horses would go down. I’ve had that many spills off horses that I couldn’t count, through them falling into rabbit burrows. The whole area was that bad, it wasn’t safe to take a horse out of a walk, because it wasn’t safe and they were that thick.


Well, you could see a thousand or two anywhere. In one paddock I think, they thought they’d better start poisoning them to get rid of them. They used the old fashioned poisoning cart in those days. Bran and pollard and brim mixed, they would pull it with one horse, and as it was going along these little poisoned baits would drop out the back, and that used to poison the rabbits. They were doing that – it was just about an every-day job in those days, to try to keep them from eating the crops. Because they were that thick – with eating the wheat. I’ve known of a harvesting, that next morning after knocking off at night time or the afternoon – they’d have to move the harvester over at least twenty or thirty feet because the rabbits had thinned the wheat down, or got rid of it, and it just wasn’t worth travelling.


There was a lot of people going out shooting every night. With 22s – that was a common run, shooting rabbits just for fun. They wouldn’t pick them up, just leave them there.

Well, once they get real thick you get all colours. You get white ones, ginger ones, and black ones. That’s when they really get thick. I’ve trapped them too, just to get pocket money to spend, and you’d have no trouble catching say twenty – you’d start setting the traps at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, if set about twenty five traps you’d start coming straight back and getting some of the rabbits that had already been caught. That’s how bad they were!


They used to be that thick, they’d be running around the main street in Dongara, eating the figs that dropped off the trees, after dark. Not just one or two – dozens and dozens of them. So I don’t know what would have actually happened to WA if that myxomatosis hadn’t been brought in. And whether the rabbits will ever come again like that, I don’t know. They tell me there’s quite a number of rabbits in the area of railway line between here and Indiaber. So that’s a sign that they must be starting to get going again – because there wasn’t any there 25 years ago.


Then there was many ways of trying to get rid of them. They brought in the larvicide in – that was a liquid in a bottle, and I don’t know really what it consisted of. You cut little piece of bag, and spray this poison on it and throw it down the rabbit burrow, and fill the burrow in, and the fumes inside would kill the rabbits… or would kill most of them, or some of them if they didn’t dig their way out. It had a pretty good effect, but the trouble was it had a bit of an effect on the person who was doing the job. Like myself – I was doing a bit of it, and my nose started to bleed and with the fumes coming off this larvicide. So I thought, I might be one of the rabbits! So that wasn’t used again at all, because we thought it was a bit on the dangerous side.


And then, I think before that, they often used the exhaust off tractors and engines to put down the burrows – to fumigate them out and kill them and then later the big ripper was used for ripping up the burrows, and that was successful too, up to a point. And then on the light land, we used a crawler tractor to drive on the top of the warrens and spin the tractor around. That was very effective too, because in the dry hot weather the sand used to go down and suffocate them. It was very successful. It was a dusty old job, but that went on and on.


That was alright, but then the myxomatosis came in. And that was worth a try, we thought. So what we done then – we had to catch rabbits. We put up a netting fence in a dam, and we caught about twenty rabbits and took them in to Glengarry.  The chappy there, the Vermin Inspector, he had rabbits already treated, and if gave him twenty rabbits, he’d give you about eight or ten to take back. And that’s how we started the myxomatosis off in the Irwin River, in this particular spot. And it went well – it definitely went well. Funny – you didn’t see many dead rabbits. The few that died out on the land, I think the hawks ate them. There were thousands of hawks. You could follow the progress of the disease – the killing of the rabbits by the hawks flying above. It was quite easy. They never caused any smell or anything of that nature. There was quite a few rabbits hopping about that were blind, and they eventually died too. And that was how they got rid of most of the rabbits and that is the best thing that could have happened, and I think if that myxomatosis hadn’t have come in, the number of stock in this district would be well and truly down. 


Well, I’ll tell you now, I haven’t eaten rabbit since I went to Glengarry farm to pick up those rabbits. I’ll tell you what happened – we went and picked up a boot-load in a car- rabbits, and came back to the Queens Hotel in Geraldton and we decided to have lunch. And we went in, and sat down at the table and after we were there for a while, a commercial traveller came in and he asked if he could sit down, and he sat down with us and ordered rabbit for lunch! And I’ve never touched a bit of rabbit since then. I’m not sure of the date, when myxomatosis came in - it might have been ‘48 or ‘49. I’ve never touched rabbit since. No. I couldn’t even think of it! – seen too many sick rabbits.


I’ve eaten it when I was a child, I’ve eaten it quite often, I’ve eaten rabbit. Strictly speaking, baked rabbit is quite nice, if people know how to cook it, yes. But never since that time – it put me completely off. Still, the dogs used to eat the rabbits with the disease wouldn’t hurt the dogs - it would have no effect on them. They did say you could eat the rabbits, without them interfering with your health.


One minute you might see one rabbit or two in a place, and in an hour or two’s time there’d be about fifty! But there isn’t the slightest doubt that when the rabbits went the feed just went mad on all the properties, because they were understocked. They were stocking to their capacity – they had to allow a lot for the damn rabbits!


I can quite honestly say that I’ve seen that many together that it would be impossible to count them – absolutely impossible. Crossing the railway line in masses - masses! I know there was a chappy who came down from Canarvon out here where the rabbits were bad, at that stage at the grange, at Irwin. He said he pulled up at night-time because he was tired, and when he woke up in the morning he looked out at the paddock and all he could see was rabbits - and he couldn’t work out what the hell they were! – for a few seconds, till he worked out they were rabbits.  But being a merchant man I don’t supposed he’d seen very many rabbits.


I don’t think they used 1080 until after the myxomatosis went through. And I think they more or less just used that to keep the rabbit population down if there was any around. But I think that 1080 done more damage than good as far as the rabbits are concerned because I think it got rid of a lot of birds – that’s my personal opinion.


They used to poison a lot of oats with it – but they said there was only a certain amount of the oats that were put out, that was poisoned. There might be a hundred oats, but only a few poisoned – that’s what the chappy told me that was putting it out. That’s going back a long time – twenty years at least.