Irwin District Historical Society 6 June 2002 Lynnette Gillam and Lyn Broad Lynette I first came to Dongara back in 1946, in March. Rabbits were already a problem, but they were becoming gradually worse, there was quite a lot on the property where we went to. We tried various methods for getting rid of them, mainly fencing the river out for starters but that proved ineffective. The river floods most winters, and so fences were washed out. Also, the course of the river changes very often, and that would mean that you’d have a fence hanging across a gully and of course, that didn’t deter rabbits at all. Not even rabbit proof netting deters them if it’s not in the ground! Lyn When they build a fence with rabbit proof netting, it has to be buried, doesn’t it? About 30cm down. In the museum we have a display of rabbit netting, and a rabbiter – a man in Geraldton told me that up until 1968, when the netting was manufactured the holes in the netting had to be a certain dimension to stop the kittens getting through. Lynette The rabbits were along the whole length of the river, in our property. I would say if you fenced the river off, you possibly fenced off 70-80 meters on either side of the bed of the river to try and help control them. But as we didn’t have windmills in every paddock, the river was the only means of accessing water for the stock in summer, so many times there had to be gates left open for the stock to go down to the river to water, and that of course kept a very good supply of rabbits coming in and out! The ground was loamy and they love burrowing in loam, and there was always something to eat because it was green all the year around. I would say the peak of the plague was from 1950 onwards, until they were brought under control with myxomatosis, really. Myxomatosis is a virus, spread by a blood-sucking insect, as a rule. The Department of Agriculture said they felt it was mainly mosquitoes. Our experience was that it was not only mosquitoes but also fleas and mites as well, because we would spend time catching rabbits and getting them injected with the virus and keeping them in little pens near the water where the mosquitoes would get them and hopefully the other rabbits would become infected. But that was not terribly successful. There was a bit break later on when a neighbour next to us, who had never very good at doing anything to curb any sort of pest or weed – who ran racehorses. And they were stabled in Geraldton for many months during the racing season. He then brought them home to his farm, and their stables adjoined the shearing shed, under which there was a huge rabbit warren. All of a sudden the rabbits there were dying of myxomatosis, and he had done nothing to bring myxo near his place so he couldn’t understand it. But everyone else began to drop on to what was really the problem – these horses had brought home fleas, which had got into the rabbits, and that’s what started the spread. And it gradually spread up the river. You could gauge how far it had gone by the number of hawks and kites and other birds of prey that would be swooping over the land on either side of the river. Lyn How did you catch rabbits? Lynette Mainly by just running them down into a ‘v’ in the fence, or something like that. They didn’t have much hope! Yes, we ran them down. There were so many that you stumbled over them half the time – they caught themselves! It sounds ridiculous, I know, but it was a sort of evening’s entertainment in those days, to go out and see who could catch the most rabbits! Lyn Good to be young! Did you cook rabbit? Any special recipes? Did people say, ‘ask Lynette to bring her rabbit stew?’ Lynette Before the virus got into them, yes. I’ve curried them, I’ve fricasseed them in milk and onion gravy, I’ve done them with tomatoes and onions, I’ve baked them, I’ve cut the meat off and egg-and- breadcrumbed them, I think I’ve done them with every possible method you could do! Lyn Some parts haven’t got much meat to cut off, but I’ve found that I can do a fairly successful rabbit Maryland with just the back legs. Lynette One of the old methods of telling how many rabbits you had on a property was to count the black rabbits. For every black rabbit you saw, you could bet there were ten thousand other rabbits. And it would be nothing for us to see five or six rabbits in a day running along the river. During the day time they’re mostly in their burrows – you see the odd one around when they’re very thick, but at night time the entire ground seemed to be moving. If you can imagine a mass of water that has got a slight wind blowing over it so it has a ripple, that’s what your paddocks looked like. The rabbits there just looked like a ripple on the ground. And until you said to someone ‘that’s rabbits’ they just didn’t really know what it was. Lyn Until you’ve seen it you cant believe what it was like. I lived inland, and coming here for holidays we would go out to get a few rabbits for craybait. We went to a property not far out of town, there was fifty acre paddock there and it was like a moving mass. Its so difficult to explain, but late in the afternoon when they were coming out to feed, it would be unbelievable, this sight of rabbits. After that incident, it was probably another two years before I saw it and there was not a rabbit there, they were gone completely. And now that paddock grows the most beautiful crops of wheat or canola or whatever…its beautiful country. But the sight of those rabbits is unforgettable. Lynette You had to see it to believe it. You’d come up over a rise and look down at a nice loamy flat and the whole lot would be rippling. After the myxomatosis went through, it just completely wiped them out, and that would have been ‘round about ‘53 or ‘54. And the next problem then was that then you had all this area in your cropping paddocks that had been rabbit warrens. You couldn’t drive a truck – you could drive a light vehicle, or perhaps go over it with a horse, and even that was dangerous at times. And that all had to be scarified and raked and scarified again so that it was consolidated before you could put any crops in again. Lyn It’d be like sponge, wouldn’t it? Lynette Yes, it was, terrible. Strangely enough, we’ve still got myxomatosis on our property. Its spread quite a bit from the river now, much further than it did in the old days because it wasn’t very successful for anyone who lived a great distance off the river. They need the moisture. We’ve got property on either side of the Minginu-Dongara Road, on the some of the northern side of the road we see the odd Myxomatosis case. Lyn Did you use 1080 out at Irwin? Lynette Only marginally. Due mainly to the fact that running a lot of sheep, we had dogs and also other cats and things like that. It was effective against any introduced animal, but we didn’t use it a great deal. It was a bit like, if you use baits for things with strychnine in them, you have to be careful you get them all, or else… Lyn … you get your neighbour’s dog… Lynette …or a child’s pet duck or something! (laughs) Lyn And calicivirus doesn’t seem to have been very successful? Lynette Calicivirus has had virtually no effect whatsoever in our country. As a matter of fact the first few cases of myxomatosis we saw, when there was an odd one coming back, we thought was the calicivirus, but it wasn’t. As you know, you can always see a rabbit that has myxomatosis and know what’s wrong with it. Lyn Another one of our people who was speaking to me a while back about how when he was a young fellow he used to go trapping rabbits, I think everyone did it for a bit of pocket money as you say. He used to have a rabbit round, around town. And he used to bring the freshly killed rabbits in, gutted and ready, skinned and everything. And he’d sell them. I cant recall how much he got for them, but I think it was sixpence each – that’s 5 cents. That got him a bit of pocket money – he had his regular customers. Did you employ a rabbiter on your property, a rabbit man? Lynette We had men that worked for us seasonally and we would put them onto it for part-time work if we were really pushed. They’d go out with the poison cart in the old days, and then they’d have to make sure that everything was picked up afterwards if they were using poison. Or they could use a gas – you’d fill in most of the entrances to a burrow and then pump this gas into the last hole and plug it. That was another method used, and that was really quite good but its always a bit dicey using poisonous gasses. Lyn Some farmers, with a small burrow, would use their vehicle and carbon monoxide …just leave a vehicle idling nearby with a hosepipe from the exhaust into the warren. Of course, that gas is heavy, and it would settle into the bottom of the burrow. That was reasonably effective. Lynette Particularly because it got any kittens. Lyn And once they got myxomatis and 1080 getting a control, the farmers managed to keep control over their own personal issue, using bulldozers and big heavy rippers and rip up the warrens, and that would keep the rabbits under control. I remember my husband using Pindone – I think that had to be used by the Agriculture protection people, farmers couldn’t use it themselves. It’s a pretty powerful poison. On the farm where I came from, we didn’t have rabbits very bad, inland - not like here. They were a bit of a nuisance, but nothing compared to here. They used to have a four-wheel drive vehicle, and it would have a plough disc on the back of it that they would put down in the ground, and they would run one furrow along and free feed them for about three or four days – put oats down with no poison, and they’d all come feeding there, expecting to be fed again, which they were, and then of course the next day they’d put the poisoned oats down and that’s the way they still do it today – very effective. They’re not so much of a problem now, are they? Lynette Oh no. Anyone who grew up with rabbits, like my two sons who both farm out from town here, they would never let rabbits get a hold again. They don’t care for foxes, which of course multiplied when the rabbits were here, but now that the rabbits aren’t so plentiful they are inclined to go for lambs, people are using 1080, because that will kill foxes. Lyn The foxes and eagles became quite a problem then, after the rabbit plague was dispersed. They had to live on something, so they were attacking sheep and lambs, and were quite a problem for farmers. I saw an interesting setup in the museum. They had four rabbit traps tied together in the middle, with wire, and they would peg that in the middle and set the four traps like a cross. And they would set the four traps with meat and have a piece of meat in the middle and there would be a fair chance they’d get a fox in at least one of those traps. Lynette Foxes are much more stupid than dingoes, and very easy to catch.