For the past few weeks it has been difficult to walk into a grocery or convenience store and not be met with inescapable signs that another capitalist consumer holiday is upon us- Easter. Just like at home the grocery stores here have stocked up on their chocolate bunnies, eggs, easter baskets, and fake tinsel grass for this spring holiday. Only, unlike at home, things are not as they appear. Firstly, Australia, along with the rest of the southern hemisphere is moving into Fall (Australians do not know the meaning of the term “Fall” it is only ever referred to as Autumn), not Spring, but does this mean that instead of tulips and daises on easter decorations there are colored leaves? Nope. America apparently has a chokehold on the rest of the world when it comes to consumer holiday traditions, so even though it is in no way Spring here, all the imagery for Easter is of a Northern American Spring complete with tulips and bunny rabbits. The other thing that is amiss is that many of the chocolate bunnies I have been seeing are not bunnies at all, they are chocolate Biblys.
This is because Australia has a long running beef with bunny rabbits. When Australia was settled by the English in the 1800s the Brits thought it would be jolly good fun to bring over some animals from their homeland so they could feel more at home. They brought over a few things like dogs and foxes, but nothing that has been as devastating as the bunny rabbit which was introduced in 1859. Since then Rabbits have had a devastating effect on the ecology of Australia and are suspected of being the most significant known factor in species loss in the country.
There has been a good amount of research into this problem and it is believed that it all stemmed from the release of 12 wild rabbits by Thomas Austin on his property, Barwon Park, in Victoria, Australia in October of 1859. Austin had come to Australia from England where he had been an avid hunter, and upon arriving he asked his nephew, William Austin, who was still in England to send him 12 grey rabbits, 5 hares, 72 partridges, and some sparrows so he could continue his hunting hobby in Australia . However, William was not able to procure enough grey rabbits to meet his uncles request so he sent some domestic rabbits to round out the shipment. It is believed that these domestic rabbits bred with the grey rabbits thus creating a more resilient breed that was able to survive the Australian outback. Enough of them managed to escape into the wild and then they got to breeding and multiplying which they did…well….like bunnies! At the time Austin had said “The introduction of a few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home, in addition to a spot of hunting.”
Little did he know of the furry havoc he had let out into the Australian outback.
The rabbits spread rapidly across the southern parts of the country. They were very well suited to the Australian climate, which unlike the European climate had mild winters, meaning the rabbits could breed all year long. Furthermore, most of the vegetation in the Australian countryside is very low, ideal for becoming bunny food. Normally this would not be an issue because in North America and in England rabbits have plenty of natural predators, but this has not been the case in Australia. The kangaroos and koalas didn’t know what the heck to do with these strange cotton tailed creatures, so they left them alone, and how did the bunnies repay them? By eating everything in sight. The foreign rabbit population feasted on the native plants exposing the topsoil and leaving it vulnerable to wind and water erosion. The soil in Australia is very nutrient poor, and the plants the rabbits ate did not regenerate, and once the top soil was exposed it was then eroded or blown away, and top soil takes hundreds of years to regenerate. The middle of the continent of Australia used to resemble the middle of the United States, it was a prairie like area with lots of grasses and small shrubs. That is until the european rabbit showed up and saw an all you can eat salad bar, and Australia was left with the desert interior that is now most of the outback. Rabbits quite literally ate the middle of the country.
Within ten years of their initial introduction rabbits had become so prevalent that two million could be shot or trapped every year without having any noticeable effect on the population. It was the fastest spread ever recorded of any mammal anywhere in the world.
Rabbits are basically the softer cuter rats of Australia. So when American consumer culture crept across the pacific ocean and brought with it chocolate bunnies for Easter, Australians did not take too kindly to it. They were a little bitter, and rightfully so. I mean if koala bears had eaten the blue ridge mountains I bet we wouldn’t find them so cute. So there has been a backlash against easter bunnies in Australia for some time, but in its place they have substituted the Bilby.
The Bilby is a nocturnal omnivorous marsupial that lives in the arid regions of Australia. They are an endangered species, due mostly to habitat loss, and competition for scarce food source from the cotton tailed incarnates of satan themselves, RABBITS. So beloved is this marsupial that they even have their own day, National Bilby Day is held on the second sunday in September to raise funds for conservation projects.
So no Easter bunnies for me this year, make mine an Easter Bilby! Where is Elmer Fudd when you need him? Because it is certainly rabbit season in Australia.