History in a Bottle

History in a Bottle – the Crime of Thomas Austin

 

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A couple of years ago, before I wrote three books on beer history, I ran a week-long series called History in a Bottle.

For some reason, this piece here never ran. It’s just been sitting on my website dashboard for ages, so i thought I’d let it see the light of day.

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I’ve not included the third White Rabbit beer, the Belgian Pale Ale, because I couldn’t bring myself to buy another bottle of it. It’s soooo underwhelming.

Of the two here, I prefer the dark ale. Just seems to have more oomph in it, whereas when I drink the white ale I always think it tastes like a watered-down Hoegaarden.

So anyway, we only have two rabbits here. But a guy named Thomas Austin was responsible for a whole lot more than that. As a consequence, he was also responsible for a decision that led to thousands and thousands of hectares of Australian countryside being stripped bare of vegetation, the extinction of a number of plant species and the resulting soil erosion, which in turn led to the siltation of waterways when that soil is blown into them.

How did he manage to do this? Well, he had some help – shitloads of rabbits.

Austin is the guy credited with giving the country’s huge rabbit population its start in 1859. While there were rabbits that came over on the First Fleet, they were bred as food and therefore kept in cages.

While there were rabbit colonies here and there, they weren’t extensive because they were domestic rabbits who couldn’t handle the Australian bush.In 1859, Austin was building a mansion of Barwon Park near Winchelsea – about 100km south-west of Melbourne.

In the home country, shooting was a popular pastime but, there was a shortage of suitable game to shoot here. So Austin got his nephew to bring over 24 rabbits from England because, as he 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’’.

How wrong he was.

The rabbits that the nephew brought were mostly wild. Austin let some of them roam on his property, while keeping others in an enclosure to reach a suitable hunting size.

Austin held rabbit shooting parties and, in time, it wasn’t unusual for guests to bag as many as 100 – which gives you some idea of how many rabbits were out there.

Being wild rabbits, they could better handle the Australian bush and the milder climate meant they could breed all year round.

Which inevitably lead to a rabbit population of plague proportions.

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