Friday, 23 April 2010

Queensland - A Kindness Cup by Thea Astley

One of the main reasons I started this 'journey' was because I wanted to come across literary gems like Thea Astley's A Kindness Cup.  I have a feeling Astley is better know in her home country than here in the UK and she certainly deserved the acolades that the Australian literary world rained down upon her.  The ironic title is taken from the Scottish poem/song Auld Lang syne which is horribly sung again and again at the end of the novel, as the 'good guys' are beaten down by a community that refuses to accept its past. 

Set in the fictional town of The Haws, somewhere in Queensland, the book deals with a week-long festival celebrating the town's 20th anniversary.  One man in particular, Mr Dorahy, wants to remind the town's inhabitants of a terrible incident that happened in the early days of the settlement, when a group of Aboriginal tribesmen were murdered in cold blood, the perpetrators of this horrible crime having become esteemed citizens of the town. 

Astley paid a lot of attention to the language she used and, unlike Malouf's Remembering Babylon, I struggled with this novel a bit in the beginning, until I got into the rhythm and language of the text.  I also think it's a generational thing.  People have so little patience for big ideas and complicated sentences these days.  Malouf is a very modern writer, he tells an incredibly complex story, using clear and simple phrases.  Astley, writing almost four decades ago, revels in the literary twists and turns of her story and the reader needs to put some work in to keep up!

Dorahy is the village school teacher, jaded by his new life in this dull village on the frontier of the relatively new Australian colony.  Astley gives him the words of Livy to teach the boys of the village and there is a subtle hint at the danger of teaching young Australian boys about Roman war tactics and that this somehow could have led to their desire to kill the native tribes and establish their own empire in the Australian outback.  But Dorahy is a man of principles and he is the main source of conflict in the novel, turning up at the town's 20th anniversary, hellbent on reminding the townsfolk of the injustices of the past. 

The main event centres around the massacre, of course, but there is the added complication that a (stubborn) white man, called Lunt, who had been living peacefully with the tribe on his land, tries to protect the tribe and also becomes a victim of the town's vigilantism, losing a leg and almost dying the in process.  It is ostensibly on Lunt's behalf that Dorahy launches his campaign.  The fate of the indigenous tribe is an even harder truth that the townsfolk aren't willing to face.

There are two sides to this story.  On one hand is Dorahy, Lunt, a peaceful family called the Jenners and a very compassionate newspaper editor called Snoggers Boyd.  On the other hand is the arrogant young Buckmaster (he's still called this, even when he is old, in deference to his father) and his cronies, Sweetman, Armitage and Wilson.  Buckmaster is ultimately responsible for the massacre, but gets away with it, although he is given a stern warning from the court, because he didn't seek approval at state level before punishing, what he claims, are criminals.

Some of the main characters leave the town in the intervening years, including Lunt who moves to an obscure backwater further up the coast.  Dorahy insists on bringing Lunt back for the 'celebration' and enlists the support of Boyd in doing so.  It's interesting when they pass the site of the massacre, a small mountain called Mandarana, both men fall into their memories of the place and it occured to me that the landscape now had meaning for the whites - the fact they attached memories to Mandarana and imagined the horrific events of the day as they were passing by.  Perhaps, they'd finally made a connection with the land, although under horrible circumstances and this reminded me of the traditional dreaming ceremonies of the Aborigines, singing the land into existence.

Lunt is a very unwilling rebel, but agrees to come back to the town out of curiousity.  He gets caught up in the politics of the situation and is a classic victim, being beaten by one side, lauded by the other and made out to be something he's not.  In some ways, Dorahy and Boyd do as much damage to the old man, as their enemies. 

Another interesting character is Gracie.  She sings the songs, Home Sweet Home and Auld Lang Syne and used to be the belle of the ball, back in the day.  Now she is older, has gone through two husbands, the second one a violent wife-beater and come out the other side full of regrets and with her dreams crushed.  She hides her sadness very well with an overbearing gaeity when she is in company.  It's clear that she is totally dependent on the adoration of the men and is happy when a man, any man is 'in dutiful attendance'.  She has an amazing revelation about her life, towards the end of the book and does good by Dorahy and Boyd, if only for a short time, but at great personal risk.  One line about her that I loved was:

'But is she any happier, for having glanced sideways too often?'

I'm picking up on some of the themes of Australian literature, both with Astley and Malouf - themes of guilt and isolation, disorientation in an unfamiliar landscape, sadness at the violent defence of the land.  An interesting theme that runs through both novels is the theme of anarchy.  Dorahy is the schoolmaster - he taught Buckmaster, Sweetman and the rest of them, unwittingly humiliating Buckmaster, through his own boredom and dissatisfaction with his lot in life.  The boys are resentful of him and the novel is all about throwing off the shackles of Dorahy's world - the constraints of civilised behaviour and the emphasis on a culture than seems far removed from their everyday reality. 

I'm going to leave you with another song that Gracie sings, a hymn this time, which she used to sing when she was a young girl.  I thought it was quite poignant and expresses the melancholy of wanting to escape.  The official title is 'Hear my Prayer', although in the book it's referred to as O, for the Wings of a Dove.  The music was written by Felix Mendelssohn. 

Image credits

I couldn't find a copyright free image of the book, so I took a photo of the cover myself.  Does the job nicely :-)

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Queensland - Where are you going?

Following on from the Daylight Saving Time debate, the Labor MP for Cairns in North Queensland, Desley Boyle, has suggested this week that, if the southern part of Queensland adopts DST, then they might as well separate the state in two and bring into reality a (supposedly) much desired new state of North Queensland, with its capital at Cairns.  As I've been following the Queensland news this month (a welcome respite from Icelandic volcanoes), I've been very aware of the 'second capital' debate, with Townsville being touted as a suggested second capital for the state of Queensland.  It's been suggested that a new state in Northern Queensland should have its capital at Townsville.  Some people have even suggested a capital at Cloncurry, wherever the gunya that is!

The separation debate is by no means a new one.  Even before the Australian states federated in 1901, the Central Queensland Territorial Separation League had been founded, based in Rockhampton, again with the intention of separating from the southern part of Queensland, namely Brisbane.  The book I'm reading right now, A Kindness Cup by Thea Astley deals with members of this league and it was a movement that was revived again in the 1950's. 

From an outsider's perspective, it's hard to see what all the fuss is about.  It sounds as though there are some regional economic issues that need to be sorted out and perhaps more funding for local government.  In Europe, we're trying to federate nations that are historically diverse and were generally murdering each other a mere sixty years ago.  The idea of breaking any of the Australian states into smaller segments doesn't seem economically viable.  I'm sure there is a good deal of political career making involved (as always).  Still, the mayor of Townsville, Les Tyrell, thinks it's not a matter of 'if' but 'when'. 

On a completely different subject, I've also been reading about famous Queenslanders and I want to grab this precious hour of blogging to highlight one woman whose life I've found really inspiring.  The name she is best known by is her native one, Oodgeroo Noonuccal and she was a poet, political activist and campaigner for the rights of indigenous Australians.  She was born on Straddie (that's Stradbrook Island to the unfamiliar!) in 1920 and led an amazing life that involved working for the Australian Women's Army service in WW2, joining the Communist Party and being awarded an MBE for her services to the indigenous community.

She was also the first published poet from an indigenous Australian background, publishing a book of poetry called We are going in 1964.  The main poem in this collection, with the same title, is quite poignant and describes White Australia, as seen through the eyes of a 'semi-naked band' who have come back to their old bora ground (used in tribal initiation ceremonies) 'where now the many white men hurry about like ants'.  She returned her MBE in protest at the Australian Bicentenary celebrations, pointing out that the arrival of Europeans hadn't exactly benefitted Australia's indigenous populations.  I can't think of a better reason for accepting an MBE than being able to hand it back some day in protest :-)

I'm going to leave you with a short poem by Oodgeroo called Understand Old One that captures the conflicting worlds of outback Australia and the roaring cities of the Europeans. 

Understand Old One by Oodgeroo Noonuccal

What if you came back now
To our new world, the city roaring
There on the old peaceful camping place
Of your red fires along the quiet water,
How you would wonder
At towering stone gunyas high in air
Immense, incredible;
Planes in the sky over, swarms of cars
Like things frantic in flight.

Image credits

The photo is an image of the sun setting over Townsville, Queensland - taken by flickuser Douglas O'Neill, thanks Douglas for sharing this with us, using the Creative Commons License.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Queensland - What time is it anyway?

One thing I've noticed about Queensland, more than any other country, is the difference in time. Since my Mongolia blogs, I've been finding people on Twitter and getting an idea of what everyday life is like in each of the countries I'm blogging about. I've found quite a few interesting Queenslanders on Twitter, who I've been following these past few weeks (and some of them are following me, thanks guys!) But when I get up in the morning, they're getting ready for bed. When I'm attempting to blog after a hard day in the office, they're still not awake.

Time is such an interesting concept. I do a lot of walking around London with my best Ozzie friend and recently we passed through Pett's Wood, where there is a memorial to William Willet, an Englishman who campaigned passionately for the introduction of daylight saving time (DST). The story goes that Willett came up with the idea whilst riding through Pett's Wood on a lovely summer morning. Most of the curtains in neighbouring houses were drawn and Willett thought about how much daylight people were wasting.

His proposals weren't that great, to be honest, 15 minute changes for a succession of months during the summer. Most of us struggle with the twice a year changes, can you imagine if the clocks were going backwards and forwards on a monthly basis!

Eventually his proposal was refined to a one hour change, twice a year. The main motivation in the end was economic, as Daylight Saving Time was adopted as an austerity measure during World War 1 (to stop people burning too much coal).

More surprising than any of this, and something I didn't realise until I started researching the topic, is that Standard time was only really adopted in Britain in the mid-19th century (based famously on Greenwich Mean Time). Before that there was something called Local Mean Time, which meant that each town or village could calculate their own time, in relation to the passage of the sun. Inconceivable in our modern era of nine-to-five, clock-in, clock-out, checking in for flights two hours before departure! The growth of rail travel spurred on a change, after all, one needed to be sure when the train was going to depart and arrive (not sure what went wrong!).

By 1885, Britain had adopted Standard Time based on GMT. New Zealand also led the way, being one of the first nations, apart from Britain, to adopt a standard time for the whole country. One look at Australia's time zones and you can see how complicated things got 'down under'. Things got off to a good start with Western Australia, GMT +8 , great, we can handle that. By the time South Australia got involved, things started going a bit awry. I mean, GMT +9.5? Maybe it's a European thing, but I just can't be doing with half hour differences, what is that all about?

Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania all behaved themselves, adopting a reasonable GMT +10, but when Daylight Saving Time came along, Queensland, being that much closer to the Equator, opted out - as did the Northern Territories from the Central time zone. When the time changes in summer, Australia's three continental time zones become something more like five! Phew! At least they've had the decency to synchronise the dates for time changing.

I started looking into this topic after an article this week in Queensland's Courrier-Mail about the issue of Daylight Saving Time. Queensland's Premier Anna Bligh caused a heated debate in the Twitteverse by suggesting that the state should have a debate on whether or not Daylight Saving Time would be a good thing for South East Queensland only. Queenslanders have voted against DST before, but not specifically voted on this option for the South East. Western Australia has also had four public votes on DST in the past, each time people have voted against it.

I don't blame them in many ways. I find DST an inconvenience, although my gadgets are getting smarter and updating themselves automatically these days. Still, I hate the moments of panic when you look at the clock and think you're an hour late/early for an appointment when, in fact, someone's forgotten to wind their blooming clock back/forward. Also, I've been through this twice already this year, once in Cuba and then again when we got back to London!

There is also a debate going on in the UK as to whether or not we should adopt Central European Time here. I was really surprised to find out that Britain did adopt CET, as an experiment, between 1969 to 1972! It didn't last though, probably too close for comfort for the Eurosceptics :-) There are very good reasons for abandoning DST in the UK. Sorry, Mr Willett, but it seems as though DST is costing us millions in energy bills and is bad for the environment. Strange that it's the same reason DST was introduced in the first place.  I guess, our habits have changed over the years.  The advent of television means we spend more time indoors and stay up later in the evening than our grandparents did.

Well, it's 21:40 in London right now, which makes it 06:40 (tomorrow) in Brisbane. Good morning Australia!!

Image credits

The image of William Willett is from Wikipedia and is copyright free.

I wanted to find a very special and beautiful image of time from and I was lucky to come across this one by flickruser ToniVC a.k.a. Toni Verdu Carbo, a very talented photographer from Girona in Catalunya (Spain) - by the way Toni, I love Girona and thanks for sharing your photos with us using the Creative Commons License. 

Monday, 12 April 2010

Queensland - Remembering Babylon

The thing I love most about this virtual journey around the world is that I'm reading books I would probably never have read otherwise.  In reading Remembering Babylon by one of Queensland's most famous writers, David Malouf, I would like to think that it's a book that would have eventually found its way to me.  It's exactly the kind of book I love to read and I really savoured every moment of it.

I guess I'm not the first person to draw parallels between Queensland and an exotic (or savage?) garden and Malouf's title is incredibly significant, as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon become a metaphor for the enchanting, and often frightening world, that the European characters stumble in to.  There is a pervasive sense of fear in the book - set in a pioneering European community in 19th century Queensland, you really get a sense of the uncertainty in the lives of the settlers.  Most of them have given up everything to 'make it' in Australia and there is a fear that the unknown will overwhelm their community, that the seed of colonisation is sown in an incredibly fragile earth. 

The novel centres around Gemmy, an aboriginal tribesman who stumbles out of the wilderness and comes across a group of three children belonging to the McIvor family, orginally from Scotland.  Except Gemmy is not really an Aborigine.  It turns out that he is an Englishman who was shipwrecked as a boy and rescued by an Aboriginal tribe that adopt him as their own.  Gemmy's presence in the new community causes all kinds of conflict and unease.  His complex identity also raises important questions about race and culture - it becomes apparent as the novel progresses that Gemmy's white skin is pretty much irrelevant to the majority of the community and they prefer to think of him as an Aborigine.

Gemmy's savage appearance and behaviour embarrasses the settlers.  At a time when 'being civilised' is of utmost importance to the psychological survival of the community, Gemmy clowns around, speaks a half-forgotten English and seemingly parodies the settlers and white culture.  The men are afraid of him because of all the things he might have experienced when he was living with the Aborigines.  Although nothing is explicitly stated, it's implied that he has witnessed and participated in all kinds of sexual deviance - homosexuality amongst other things - they are also afraid of the things he has eaten and even suspect him of cannibalism. 

Mr McIvor is a very reluctant defender of Gemmy's presence, but defend him he does and comes across as being one of the more sympathetic characters in the book, refusing to bend to the will of his neighbours and refusing to lose all sense of reality, when the other men hysterically accuse Gemmy of convening with the natives and practising some kind of black magic, using a (non-existent) stone.  When the men come for Gemmy, they come in the night.  As though their deeds won't be recognised in the dark.  Mr McIvor rescues Gemmy from the aggression of his neighbours, but the incident hints at a much darker aspect.  By attacking Gemmy, the neighbours are, in fact, attacking the McIvors.  They are undermining the safety of the community and, without realising the seriousness of their actions, they are bringing the situation to the point of anarchy.

The role of the women in the novel is quite different to that of the men and it gave me an interesting perspective in how women managed to hold things together in the early days of the new colony.  Mrs McIvor is a romantic woman.  Coming from the Scottish mining town of Airdrie, she saw all of her brothers go into the mines, coming up pale creatures, spiritually crushed, the whole mining community crammed into a damp corner of Lanarkshire, she dreams of sunshine and wide, open spaces.  She falls in love with Mr McIvor because of the warmth of his skin and his resoluteness in the face of the harsh environment of the frontier in Queensland.

She inspires her daughters with this romanticism, especially the oldest daughter Janet who dreams of Scotland, her mother's world 'more alive and interesting, more crowded with things, with people too, than the one she was in.'  There is a balance of the sexes in that the McIvors take in an orphaned nephew from Scotland, Lachlan, and the story also belongs to Lachlan and Janet.  One of the images that most appealed to me was the image of Janet's mother, Mrs McIvor, washing a dress with a pattern of larkspur on it, thinking how she might never see larkspur again.  The European plant on her dress clashes with the natural world she finds herself in.

Malouf is known for his interest in language and the problems of communication, especially between men, and language is central to the story.  Babylon is not just an exotic garden, it is also Babel, the land of mixing languages and cultures.  Scottish, Irish, English and Aborigine.  The Hanging Garden of Babylon was built by Nebuchadnezzar II for his homesick Persian Queen, Amyitis.  In many ways, the Europeans try to tame the Australian landscape, to feed the homesickness they feel inside. 

At the end of the novel Janet, or Sister Monica, as she becomes, offers an apple to Lachlan, opening up an intimacy that helps them reminisce about their childhoods.  Babylon is also a kind of Garden of Eden, a loss of innocence with the coming of European civilisation.  Janet and Lachlan find themselves in a world that is beyond their creation or control.

I would definitely recommend reading this novel.  It's so full of poetry and it would seem as though every single word is in the right place.  It's easy to read, but deals with incredibly complex issues. 

Image credits:

The image of the book cover is from

The image of the bee and the larkspur is courtesy of flickuser Bruce McKay who is a school principle working in a First Nation community on the Yukon/British Columbia border in Canada.  Thanks Bruce for sharing this wonderful image with us. 

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Queensland - Swimming Upstream

Having already seen some of Australia's most famous movies, including Muriel's Wedding by Brisbane-born director PJ Hogan, I've been searching for other movies set in Queensland.

Swimming Upstream is based on a true story about Queensland swimmer Tony Fingleton and is interesting, not so much because it is about a famous swimmer, but more to do with the fact that, for Tony Fingleton, swimming was only ever a means to an end, a chance to escape his oppressive family background, to leave Queensland and follow his dream of studying at Harvard.

The second of five children, four of them boys, Tony had it tough growing up and his relationship with his father, in particular, was strained. For some reason, his father despises him, probably because, as his brother says in the movie, he's such a 'goody-good'.  His older brother and father also call him a 'poofter'.

Tony's determination to succeed at swimming is an attempt to prove them all wrong and show them that he can really be someone. In the end, he surpasses his brothers' achievements, going on to win a silver medal at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games which took place in Perth. Tony finally achieved his dream, winning a scholarship to Harvard, but forgoing a chance to represent Australia at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964.

Swimming Upstream is very much a metaphor for the struggle to survive everything that life throws at you.  It's about Tony's determination to achieve recognition and not let other people, in this case his father and brothers, hold him back.

The director of Swimming Upstream, Russell Mulcahy, is originally from Melbourne. He did the Highlander series of films, as well as the US edition of Queer as Folk. He moved to the UK in the mid 70's and was heavily involved in the growing art form of music videos. He directed the video for The Buggles Video killed the Radio star, the first video ever to be shown on MTV. He also directed videos for the likes of Duran Duran and Elton John.

Surprisingly, there isn't a lot of music in the movie. Just two pieces really, which are both repeated at various points in the story; there is Chopin's Minute Waltz, an intricate piano piece that Tony plays to make his mother smile, and then there's the traditional song, When Irish eyes are smiling, his father's favourite song and one that most Irish people, myself included, hold dear to their hearts.

The actor who plays Tony, Jesse Spencer, is handsome in that stereotypical Aussie way; broad-shouldered, a healthy tan, golden hair and crystal blue eyes. He's also originally from Melbourne and his parents founded Australians Against Further Immigration, a scary right- wing nationalist party.

Geoffrey Rush plays Toby's alcoholic father.  He's a household name in Australia and starred in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as well as the award-winning Australian movie Shine.  He's a native Queenslander, from Toowoomba.

Image credits:

The image of the Queensland flag has been created for Wikimedia Commons by user Denelson83 who is male and comes from Vancouver Island. He has contributed a lot of flag images to Wikimedia Commons, so thanks Denelson83 for sharing these with the world!

The amazing image of the swimmer is by flickuser Angela Radulescu.  Angela is originally from Bucharest, Romania but is now working as a freelance photographer in New York.  You can see more of her images at her website Thanks Angela for sharing this image with us, using the Creative Commons License. 

If you want to hear Chopin's Minute Waltz, you can listen to a free sample at

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Queensland - Truly Madly Savage

I must admit, I've used the fact that I'm blogging about Queensland to go on a major nostalgia trip courtesy of Aussie band Savage Garden.  Mind you, I didn't know that Darren Hayes and Daniel Jones are from Brisbane when I started researching Queensland, so it came as a pleasant surprise.

Savage Garden are a band that has lingered at the edge of my musical taste - what I mean is that I've always been vaguely aware of them, but never been an actual fan.  The fact that I associate Savage Garden with the time I lived in Derry (Northern Ireland), which was 1999, shows how long it took for their music to penetrate my subconscious (they became really big around 1996/97). Also, somehow, when I started listening to their music again this week, I realised that I'd liked individual songs (three in particular) and never really connected them together, as being Savage Garden songs.

Of course their biggest hit will always be Truly Madly Deeply, a (seemingly) classic love song and one that I really associate with one person in particular, who was once very special to me.  Even hearing him play it five times in a row didn't put me off, but only endeared him to me even more, in a way that's only possible when you fancy someone :-)  I made the mistake once of trying to sing this song at a Karaoke (in an attempt to impress this same person) and, what you realise in a moment of sheer horror, in front of a packed pub, is that this seemingly 'slow' song has got an awful lot of words, packed tightly into almost breathless sentences, so you end up rapping, rather unromantically, especially when you don't actually know the words of the song!

This breathless, rapping quality is what makes Savage Garden so good and immediately caught my attention the first time I heard I Want You, their first big hit and the song that made them famous.  Hayes delivers the opening lines at an impressive speed:

Anytime I need to see your face I just close my eyes
And I am taken to a place where your crystal mind and
Magenta feelings take up shelter in the base of my spine
Sweet like a drink of cherry cola

Don't think I'll be trying this one at Karaoke.  Great song though!

Quite predictably, the third Savage Garden song I really like is To the Moon and Back.  I'd never really listened to the words though, not properly anyway, and I've realised that the lyrics are actually quite dark - it's a song about loneliness and feeling that the rest of the world doesn't understand you.  No doubt if I had been a teenager when Savage Garden made it big, I would have clung to the words with a sense of angst that you can only really have in your teenage years.  In that sense, like many bands before them, Savage Garden has no doubt meant so many things to many people around the world and I'm sure their lyrics have helped people get through hard times, provided the soundtrack for love affairs and the opportunity for many disastrous karaoke attempts.

I was a Goth in my teenage years, clinging to the words and music of The Cure and I see elements of this in Savage Garden's music.  Indeed the name, Savage Garden, is taken from Anne Rice's book The Vampire Chronicles and the quotation;

The mind of each man is a savage garden.

It is an incredibly cool  name and, in a world of constant revivals, will no doubt continue to fascinate people, well into the 21st century.  Not to mention the fact that they are probably the biggest-selling band ever to come out of Queensland (and Australia!). 

If I was to take it a step further, I would say that 'the savage garden' is an apt metaphor for the Australian outback - an environment that is unforgiving in the cycles of survival, but one that has, in some ways, been tamed by the European (and other) settlers who came to live there.

One footnote (of minor importance) - I was really surprised to find out that Darren Hayes was straight.  I'd always presumed he was gay.  As soon as I found out he'd been married to a woman, then it turns out that he is gay after all! 

Image credits:

The image of the Queensland flag has been created for Wikimedia Commons by user Denelson83 who is male and comes from Vancouver Island. He has contributed a lot of flag images to Wikimedia Commons, so thanks Denelson83 for sharing these with the world!

It's incredibly difficult to get copyright-free images of celebs on the internet, so I have embedded some YouTube videos instead.  Apologies to those readers who are receiving this by email, as you will only be able to view the videos online.

For lyrics I often use - it's a website I've used since my teaching days and has generally been reliable, although I do listen to the songs to check the lyrics as well.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Queensland - Close Encounters of the Easter Bunny kind

I thought it might have been an April Fool's prank when I read the article in yesterday's Courier-Mail reminding all good landowners to kill as many rabbits as possible this Easter. I guess it's a bit of a culture shock, for a reader in the UK, but the article was deadly serious and, judging by the raging debate in the Comments section, controlling Queensland's rabbit population seems to be a very emotive and divisive issue.

There also seems to be a real city/country divide in this debate. On one side are the concerned housewives of Brisbane, totally appaled by the bad taste of the article and the recommendations to rip up the rabbit warrens, a cruel but effective way of dealing with overpopulation. On the other side are the farmers, struggling to eke an existence out of an already quite challenging soil.

Being a rabbit myself (according to my Chinese horoscope) my instinct is to side with the bunnies and their, very natural, desire to breed and prosper. Europeans (well, one Victorian settler in particular) created this problem, right? Maybe we need to live with the consequences and let Mother Nature find a solution?

If this was just a question of rabbits eating up human profits, then I'd probably stick to this, however (apologies to my fellow bunnies) rabbits are a pest that have caused untold devastation to the fragile ecology of Australia, outeating native mammals (like the incredibly cute Bilby), destroying native plants and causing major soil erosion. It might cause some mirth to people here in the UK, as we're tucking in to our chocolate bunnies and eggs this weekend, but it's an incredibly serious issue for people in Queensland and one that may be difficult to resolve.

I was genuinely surprised to find out that owning pet rabbits is banned in Queensland and you can be fined up to 30,000 Aussie dollars if you contravene this ban. Although plagues of rabbit were first reported in Victoria and Tasmania, the year-round warmth in Queensland has encouraged rabbits to breed more than they would in Europe, where they seem to 'take a break' during the winter.

If only they'd had time to evolve in the way native mammals like the Antechinus has done.  The male Antechinus (a type of rodent) only lives for 11 months, the first ten of which are spent eating and growing.  Like many male mammals, the Antechinus' thoughts eventually turn to reproduction and males spend their eleventh month engaged in this noble pursuit, dying with exhaustion as they literally shag themselves to death.  A lack of male Antechinus after the 11th month, means the female of the species has less competition in terms of feeding herself and a new generation.

Ironically, it's highly likely that the rabbit populations only survive in Australia because people do. I'm sure that the Australian outback is an incredibly hostile environment for rabbits and it's only human interaction with the Australian soil that has created suitable conditions for farming which, as well as feeding the human population, has also sustained the 400 million rabbits that are estimated to live in Australia.

Of course (European) spring is an apt time to talk about rabbits and it's no coincidence that rabbits appear, in chocolate form, as part of our Easter celebrations. In many cultures rabbits are associated with fertility and survival instincts. In some cases, like Israel, this is interpreted as cowardice, rabbits being the Hebrew equivalent of 'chicken' in English, eg 'to chicken out' of doing something.

In other cultures, like the myths of West Africa and the Cherokee tribes of North America, rabbits are considered to be extremely clever tricksters. This mythology has been handed down to us through the Br'er Rabbit stories and, ultimately, cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny.

The playfulness of rabbits has been applied to human sexuality, especially in advertising products for women, so that everywhere from an Argos catalogue to a hen party in Blackpool, you will see that supreme icon of rabbit mythology, the Playboy bunny.

Interestingly, Oriental mythologies, such as those in Japan and Korea, associate rabbits with the moon and, I can't help wondering if indeed it's our entire planet, not just Australia, that has been taken over by these furry fiends!

Image credits:

The image of the Queensland flag has been created for Wikimedia Commons by user Denelson83 who is male and comes from Vancouver Island. He has contributed a lot of flag images to Wikimedia Commons, so thanks Denelson83 for sharing these with the world!

The image of the rabbit is from flickruser Wolfpix a.k.a. Jack Wolf.  Jack is from Albany in California and is an incredibly talented wildlife photographer - you can see more of his images on his commercial website
The image of the Playboy Bunny Tattoo was provided copyright free by flickruser cwalker71 a.k.a. Chuck Walker - Chuck is a freelance photographer from Pitman, New Jersey and you can also visit his site