Rabbits have caused widespread environmental and economic devastation in Australia since their introduction in the 1850s.
By the 1880s, New South Wales farmers were experiencing a rabbit plague that threatened their very livelihood.
Over the years since then, governments have spent millions of dollars fighting these pests.
In 1906, Broughton Island became the scene of one such attempt. Polish microbiologist, Dr Jean Danysz, from the Pasteur Institute in Paris came to Australia by invitation of The Council of the Pastures Protection Board to begin rabbit elimination trials.
He had developed an inoculation that would destroy rabbits without harming humans or other animals. Broughton Island was the chosen site. Over £6000 was raised to fund the experiment and 600 rabbits were initially resettled on the island.
In July 1906, the Pastoralists Review reported:
“The study of rabbit diseases will be the prime object at first but all diseases in stock,
grains or fruit will possibly be studied as well.
Buildings have been erected and the laboratory is now being fitted with the most
modern appliances. Rabbits are breeding rapidly and sheep, horses and cattle for
experimental work are doing well.
Broughton Island is an ideal spot for the work proposed and Dr Danysz, of the
Pasteur Institute, expressed himself as being delighted.”
The report proved to be rather inaccurate as the experiment only involved rabbits -
no sheep, horses or cattle ever set foot on the island. The results of the research
proved to be a failure, with the rabbits remaining on the island and Dr Danysz
returning to Paris. In 1908, the government purchased the buildings and moved them
to Milson Island and the experiment was officially closed. Fourteen years later a crew
who were briefly wrecked on the island commented that the island still abounded
In 2009 efforts began to finally clear the island of the feral pests, in order to protect
the sea-bird population which was losing habitat and being forced off the island. The
eradication program was part of a long-term Department of Environment, Climate
Change and Water island sanctuaries program to eradicate vertebrate pests from
NSW offshore islands to restore seabird habitat. The $60,000 program involved two
years' planning, a calicivirus release in April 2009, and two aerial-baiting programs in
In November 2009, the National Parks and Wildlife Service officially declared
Broughton Island pest-free. More than 1000 wild rabbits and about 5000 rats were
wiped out on the nature reserve, ending a tenure spanning almost a century.
The benefits are now evident right across the small island, with seabird monitoring showing there are now more than 55,000 breeding pairs of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters using the island.
The threatened Gould's Petrel is also nesting again, and two orchid species have also been found for the first time in the island's recorded history.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service continue to monitor the island.
Huts on Broughton Island today.