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Rabbits in Australia

Rabbits in Australia

Australians have understood rabbits in many different ways, as pests, pets and a filling for pies. Burrow through this website to discover how objects from the National Museum's collections reveal the diverse relationships that have developed in Australia between rabbits, people and places.

Black and white photo showing two women standing beside the tray of a truck. Both hold a dead rabbit by the hind legs and rest their hands on a rifle at centre.
Rabbiters with their catch at Northampton, Western Australia in 1947 (detail). State Library of Western Australia, B1901/87.

Shortly after Christmas Day 1859, twenty-four European wild rabbits arrived in Melbourne on a ship from England. They had been imported by grazier and sportsman Thomas Austin, who, keen to establish a population for hunting, released some of the rabbits on to his Victorian property.

These rabbits were not the first to arrive in Australia, as some of their domesticated cousins had come with the First Fleet, but they proved highly adept at adapting to local conditions.

Within a few decades, rabbits had spread from Victoria and New South Wales to Queensland and across to Western Australia. By the 1940s, 600 million rabbits lived across the continent. Today there are about half that number.

Cursed pests?

For many people, these animals are cursed pests who damage rural industries and decimate native plants and animals.

Collectively, governments and individuals have invested millions of dollars and considerable ingenuity in developing ways to kill them.

Valuable resource?

Others see rabbits as a valuable, and often free, resource providing food, pelts and raw materials for products such as the nationally iconic Akubra hat. And some think of rabbits as loved pets and beautiful companions, living connections with traditions like the Easter bunny and Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit.

Rabbits in the National Museum's collection

Explore these pages as they develop, to discover more about this complex, continuing history. The first feature object from the National Museum's collection is an artwork by sculptor Jenny Pollak, New World Order – Terra Australis. This installation of six ceramic rabbits explores tensions and contradictions in the relationship between humans and rabbits.

More on Jenny Pollak's sculpture New World Order – Terra Australis

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