The fox ventures everywhere; open plain, mountain fastness, or cleared land makes little difference to his movements in search of prey.Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916); 18 January 1910; Page 26; The Warrigal
On 10 January 1910, a Balladonia member of the Pastoralists’ Association wrote a letter to the Association’s secretary. They said that dingoes and rabbits were numerous in the area and advised that they had news of a fox caught at the Nullarbor Station in South Australia. With a distance of over 120 km separating the station from Eucla in Western Australia, the writer predicted that, in a few years, foxes would be another pest to add to the list.
2,000 cats wanted in Australia. I looked at the above article from 1857 in horror and wondered about its authenticity. Surely not. My attention caught and completely distracted from my family history research, I began to search for more information. What I discovered was a story completely unknown to me; a story which has turned all that I’d known (and assumed) about feral cats completely on its head.
While I have yet to confirm whether the above article is real it was subsequent research which led me to discover more information about the story of cats in Australia. Before discussing cats however, it’s important to provide some background, namely, the history of the rabbit in Australia.
Domesticated rabbits were first introduced in Australia by the First Fleet in 1788. Most likely used as a source of food, they remained largely out of the early newspaper articles. They were eventually brought over to Tasmania and by 1827 it was noted that the wild rabbit population had exploded. While there was a rabbit population on the mainland, these seem to have been mainly kept in captivity. It wasn’t until the late 1850s that rabbits were released in several areas in the hope of establishing a population specifically for hunting. In 1859, 24 rabbits were released by Thomas Austin on his property in Victoria and it is said that the current infestation stems from this group.