21 April 2017

Rabbits and the rain gauge

A-Z challenge - My memories of life on the farm in the nineteen fifties and sixties


Rabbits are a serious pest in Australia. They were brought to Australia as early as 1788 in the First Fleet and the first record of them appearing in South Australia is in 1840 when the ship Courier set sail from England for Port Adelaide with “a number of hares and rabbits…. to be turned out on their arrival in the colony.” 1  

They were protected by legislation for gentlemen’s sport until 1864. It appears that the rabbits on Mr Dutton’s Anlaby station near Kapunda were turned loose at Julia Creek. Rabbits eat crops, dig burrows and destroy the arable land. By 1867 farmers were allowed to destroy them but they had spread far and wide. 2

On the farm, we used several methods to try to get rid of rabbits. The most exciting for a youngster was to go spotlighting. After dark Dad would drive into a paddock in the car and use a spotlight to focus on the rabbit. Once framed in the light it would be shot. A clean shot meant roast rabbit was on the menu the next night. Several rabbits were needed to make a decent meal so spotlighting went on until enough for a meal were obtained.

Rabbit traps were set in the entrances to burrows and rabbit skins could be seen hanging on farm fences. Sometimes a ferret was used to hunt rabbits out of their burrows and a quick dog could catch the escaping rabbit. Rabbit skins could be sold and in 1954 were worth 20 -24 pence per pound for skins in good condition. 3

Rabbits are still a problem in Australia in 2017.

Rain gauge

Each morning Dad would check the rain gauge for any sign of moisture. This area of South Australia has low rainfall averaging less than 400 mm per year. The graduated glass rain gauge was housed inside a galvanised cylinder attached to the fence. A funnel directed the rain into the glass cylinder. As he wandered outside he always looked up to the sky, often sneezed, then proceeded to check the gauge. The amount of moisture in the soil determined when seeding could start and at harvest time the amount of moisture also determined whether crops could be reaped.

1. 1840 'ENGLISH NEWS.', South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), 11 July, p. 7. , viewed 16 Apr 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27441604

2. 1876 'HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY.', South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), 1 November, p. 6. , viewed 16 Apr 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article43013586

3. 1954 'Hides And Skins', Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954), 2 December, p. 27. , viewed 16 Apr 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93985968

Next S - Sheep, sewing and saving


  1. I can only imagine the problems rabbits cause for farmers. Our Sydney home is overrun with them so maintaining a garden is a challenge.

  2. The damage rabbits do to the land is not usually recognised by city folk. I remember in NZ the top soil erosion because of rabbits.

  3. What an interesting post. Rabbits always seem so cute and innocent, but it is sort of a contrast to the crop eating, burrow digging, and land destroying.

    Stopping by from A to Z: R for Race

  4. Fascinating vignette of life on an Australian farm. I love rabbits but understand that sentimentality about them doesn't work for farmers. Popping over from the A to Z Challenge.
    Romance #Lexicon of Leaving

  5. Is myxomatosis still used to keep the population down? A strain of myx attacks our local rabbits every few years - clear so far this year.

  6. Hi Carmel - I'd ask the same question as Bob? But rabbits eat anything green and lovely .. and unfortunately are a scourge to all ... good to eat!! Rain gauge - we had one of those for a while -which my father maintained and recorded ... and I know Australia is an awful drought - mind you the south east here hasn't had much rain either .. cheers Hilary


  7. We raised--and ate--rabbits when I was a kid. Some people get all sentimental about them, but that pretty well took that out of me. I still enjoy seeing jackrabbits and hares in the wild. Those are the native species that belong out in the US west, and aren't a pest.

    We keep a rain gauge as well. CA of course is another place with droughts, though this winter has been more than wet enough!

  8. I read about the rabbits in Bill Bryson's book "In a Sunburned Country." Yikes! Yet another example of human interventions wreaking havoc with an ecosystem. I don't remember us having a rain gauge on our farm, but later in the suburbs my dad used a large pine cone hung from the clothesline to detect humidity and rain coming -- if it plumped out, rain was due. When it was dry, it flattened out again.

  9. Man does not think often. Our rabbit population is kept in check by the foxes.
    A Piece of Uganda

    1. In Australia, the foxes are a big a problem as the rabbits!


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