Audiences tend to love fictional rabbits such as Thumper or Bugs Bunny, but in Australia rabbits have caused widespread environmental and economic devastation since their introduction in the 1850s. Governments have spent millions of dollars fighting these pests.1 In 1906, Broughton Island became the scene of one such attempt.
Microbiologist Dr Danysz from the Pasteur Institute in Paris came to Australia by invitation of The Council of the Pastures Protection Board to begin rabbit elimination trials.2 He had developed an inoculation that would destroy rabbits without harming humans or other animals. Broughton Island was the chosen site. Over £6000 was raised to fund the experiment and 600 rabbits were initially resettled on the island.3
After months of delays and protests the experiment began, but on the eve of the first inoculation a desperate message was received from Dr Danysz declaring four people were ill, possibly poisoned. Doctors were immediately despatched.4 Rumours circulated that the microbes were the culprits but instead the cause was poisoning due to wild mushrooms or water.5 Nevertheless, everyone recovered and the experiment continued.
“I am very ill; fear it is poisoning.”
Unfortunately the results were not as successful as hoped. In 1908 the government purchased the buildings and moved them to Milson Island and the experiment was officially closed.6 Fourteen years later a crew who were briefly wrecked on the island commented humorously that the island still abounded with rabbits!7
Author: Janine Roberts
Further information: Education Resource ‘Pest eradication on Broughton Island’
1 ABC RN, The History Listen, 3 April 2018, Louis Pasteur and Australia’s War on Rabbits, http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/the-history-listen/rabbit-commission/9588528.
2 Roseanne Walker, 4 February 2010, Encyclopedia of Australian Science, http://www.eoas.info/biogs/P003385b.htm#arc-resources.
3 Sydney Morning Herald, 2 March 1906.
4 Sydney Morning Herald, 22 November 1906.
5 Sydney Morning Herald, 22 & 27 November 1906.
6 Australasian, 24 October 1908.
7 Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 1922.
8 Pastoralists’ Review, Vol 16, No. 5, 16 July 1906, 27.