IT USED to be said Australia rode on the sheep’s back. But rabbits also played a part in the country’s prosperity, not least in the township of Texas on the Queensland-NSW border.
And the hub of the local industry was the Texas Rabbit Works, which is now open to the public as a very different kind of museum.
Lester Dawson, secretary of Texas Qld Inc, said the building is believed to be the only one of its type in such good repair anywhere in Australia.
You can take a self-guided tour of the newly renovated complex, and along the way take in the photos and information, displays and the unusual structure of the building.
Among other things, you can find out how Akubra hats are made or watch a TV program filmed at Texas in the 1970s by the ABC.
Needless to say, there are colourful tales to be told.
“Some real characters worked at the Texas Rabbit Works,” Lester said, adding visitors can see and hear some of them telling their stories by way of digital recordings.
“And if visitors have a short story to tell, there is a recording room to capture it for others to hear.”
You can also have your own photo taken in front of a special wall created for the purpose.
Lester said the first part of the building was constructed in 1928, with final additions completed between 1930 and 1932.
In 1930, The Amalgamated Rabbit and Skin Export Company Ltd Sydney began processing rabbits in Texas – 30,000 in the first two weeks, according to former Texas resident and historian Jeane Upjohn.
At its peak it processed 6000 rabbits daily.
In this early period the factory employed 33 men and was credited with saving the township during the Depression.
Locals were able to make a good living from trapping and selling them to the rabbit works. In fact, schoolchildren were known to earn more than their teachers.
“Underground mutton” was a staple on many family dinner tables.
Eight or nine trucks made daily runs along the roads leading to Texas to collect rabbits that had been trapped overnight and placed in screen boxes made of hessian.
Sold in pairs, the animals were processed, graded and the unskinned rabbits sent by boat to England.
Railway distribution was used between Texas and the Brisbane port. Rabbits were packed in boxes and ice that was made in the building, hence the Texas Riverside Freezing Works. Ice was also sold to the community.
After the demand for rabbits in England dwindled, carcasses were sold all around Australia, and from 1955 the rabbit skins were sent to Akubra and the Sydney Fur Market.
In the end, fumigators, poisons, myxomatosis and calicivirus led to the demise of the industry. The business closed down in 1992; at the time it was owned by Peter Sturgeon, who still lives in Texas.
Lester said it is a fascinating story, with much more still to be learned.
“We just keep finding more and more information. The dots are still being connected.
“Rabbits appear to be have been a quick source of food strategically placed by ships on some islands where they bred up for the use by different mariners.
“Also add to this the game rabbits introduced by the landed gentry for sport.
“The conditions in Australia allowed rabbits to flourish.”
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