Erosion caused by rabbits in a gully in South Australia

Erosion caused by rabbits in a gully in South Australia

I’ve spent this morning decorating Easter eggs and making origami Easter bunnies with my child. Tomorrow I’m going to host an Easter egg hunt and in the past three weeks, I’ve attended a chaharsanbe-suri fire, a Norouz party and a 13bedar picnic. In short, I’m having a great time celebrating spring! 🙂 The only problem is that it’s not actually spring in the Southern Hemisphere. To the extent that the four seasons are a meaningful concept in Australia, it’s early autumn.

Before you jump to the conclusion that it’s just me and my migrant family who cling stubbornly to Old-World traditions that are meaningless in the new environment, bear in mind that mainstream Australia is similarly out of touch. Along with Christmas, Easter is the main holiday season and business in chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies is booming.

Celebrating the Northern Spring in the Southern Autumn may be disconnected but one of the main symbols of the celebration is even more inappropriate: as is well known, rabbits are a serious introduced pest in Australia. Rabbits were released into the wild in Australia to make Australia look a bit more British: for hunting and possibly also as prey for foxes, who were introduced at around the same time. As one early settler, who wrote home to Britain for the delivery of a few rabbits wrote:

“The introduction of a few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home, in addition to a spot of hunting.”

It’s been an expensive nostalgia: 24 rabbits introduced in 1859 multiplied to many hundred millions by the 1920s. Today, the annual direct cost of crop damage from rabbits is estimated at 113 million dollars and comes on top of indirect costs in top soil erosion as well as flora and fauna biodiversity losses resulting directly from rabbits.

Because rabbits have been so disastrous in Australia, there has been a campaign to replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Bilby. However, the campaign hasn’t been particularly successful: none of my local supermarkets carries chocolate Easter bilbies but all of them carry shelves and shelves of chocolate Easter bunnies.

In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond explores how societies choose to fail or survive. One characteristic he identifies of self-destructive societies is that they fail to adapt their cultural values to new environmental conditions. Australia is one of his case-studies of a contemporary First-World nation holding “disastrous cultural values:” values undermining a society’s self-interest and long-term survival.

Celebrating spring in autumn and iconizing bunnies is good fun and may seem relatively innocent – in the same way that wanting Australia to look more like Britain and hankering after some fox and rabbit hunting was good fun and seemed relatively innocent a century-and-a-half ago…

As we enjoy this Easter holiday season in Australia, it also provides us with an opportunity to reflect on how out of touch we are as a society with the land we love.

PS: After discussing this post with my daughter, we agree that our origami Easter bunnies are actually Easter bandicoots and that we are waiting for the Easter bandicoot to hide our eggs tomorrow!

Author Ingrid Piller

Dr Ingrid Piller is Professor of Applied Linguistics at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Ingrid’s research expertise is in the fields of intercultural communication, bilingual education and the sociolinguistics of language learning and multilingualism in the contexts of migration and globalization.

More posts by Ingrid Piller
  • Happy Easter from the Northern Hemisphere. My two daughters have already done two easter egg hunts today (Saturday), with two more to follow tomorrow — and way too much candy, cheesy plastic toys finding their way into the house 😉

    • Thanks, Christof! Frohe Ostern! Plastic toys are another good example of disastrous cultural values. Future generations will view the proliferation of plastic toys in the same way we now view the introduction of rabbits in Australia, except on a grander scale: we are junking up the planet for entirely trivial reasons …

  • Xiaoxiao Chen

    Thanks, Ingrid, for this special and interesting post about Easter. It seems that it is the introduction of Rabbits in Australia that had caused the environmental damage rather than the preservation of Easter. But because of the rabbit concept in Easter, the tradtional celebration has been unexpectedly linked to the disastrous environmental effects in Australia brought about by rabbits, the animals. Hence there is sort of contradiction between the preservation of traditional customs and the protection of environment? But it may be very hard to replace or get rid of some tradition that has lasted for generations and that can remind the mainstream society of their British or European roots. isn’t Australian also different from the other First-World nations in their celebration of Christmas? How about singing “dashing through the snow…” at Christmas here? This, of course, is a different case from the one discussed in the the Easter post post.

  • vahid

    A cool post, indeed! Many thanks! I have introduced the post to a group of colleagues/friends who I’m sure will enjoy reading it too.

  • Golnaz

    Thanks Professor Piller for posting such a nice post. This was exactly the question that when my Italian friend said Happy Easter to me came to my mind! What is it all about? any chocolate, cake or special custom.