I had never intended becoming a killer, but it happened. And it wasn’t my fault. Honestly. I was driven to it.
I blame an Australian landowner named Thomas Austin who, in 1859, got the hunting bug.
Eager for something to shoot, Austin released 24 wild rabbits onto his property and had a jolly time chasing them.
Inevitably – and most unfortunately – some of the rabbits managed to escape and soon began to party, and – as rabbits do – to breed like… well, rabbits.
Fast-forward 150 years and this passionate cook is having to deal with some of those early vermins’ descendants – hundreds of them.
The varmints are doing serious damage to this primary producer’s pastoral plot, digging holes every few centimetres.
Now, I don’t know how ‘they’ know these things, but apparently there are 600 million rabbits on this continent (give or take a few million), and despite the best efforts of scientists using myxomatosis and calicivirus, the rabbit population is out of control.
Not wishing to use poisons, which would lead to slow and excruciatingly painful deaths, to say nothing of harm to indigenous wildlife, I received professional advice, which was loud and clear: “Shoot the buggers”.
So the answer was to resort to the gun.
Local reaction was swift and bemused: “The cook’s getting a gun! Heaven help us.”
What wasn’t appreciated by my neighbours, as they ran for cover, was that I used to shoot rather well. I was captain of my school shooting team, and was a marksman in the cadets, where I excelled with a mighty bren gun.
And here we’re only talking a .22. Yes, they’re still called by the old imperial inch measurements. Converted that’s .5588cm.
The ingredients needed in order to become an active authorised killer are: A licence, a gun, a gun safe, a separate ammunition safe, bullets, and rabbits.
First apply for a gun licence. Easy, pop along to the police station. After the licence has been applied for, there’s a 28-day cooling off period.
This is to allow someone with urgent murder on his or her mind, the chance to settle into the idea that you can’t fall out with husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, neighbour, or pets of neighbour, and rush off to get a gun and return and shoot the enemy. No, this is not the US.
I thought the 20-question test would be a breeze.
I failed two key questions and had to re-take it, much to the amusement of the local cop shop, and my deep embarrassment.
Second attempt scored 20 out of 20 so, brimming with confidence, I went to the nearby gunsmith to acquire a weapon.
This is where I had something of a shock. The gun, a Marlin .22, cost less than $300, whereas the gun safe cost almost twice as much. Then the gun safe had to be bolted into my cellar, according to prescribed specifications, followed by an inspection from the local firearms officer.
Soon, I’d got my licence, bought my bullets (for a mere $8.50 a box of 50), and was ready for action.
It was a beautiful winter dawn as I stepped out of the house.
Frogs croaked, cattle moo-ed, and birds frolicked in their wildly-named collective groups: pandemoniums of parrots, herds of wrens, unkindnesses of ravens, kettles of hawks, convecticles of magpies, and twacks of ducks (seriously).
And there they were, scratching madly around the vineyard: the rabbits.
Three shots. Three direct hits.
It is said that if you want to eat an animal, you should be prepared to kill it yourself.
(And as Homer Simpson points out: “if God didn’t want us to eat animals, why did He make them out of meat?”)
My feeling of triumph at having sourced my own food on the property was tinged with a certain sadness about ending three lives.
No time for emotion, I was now faced with a real challenge: skinning and gutting the creatures.
Here, I turned to the Internet, where YouTube has a host of helpful videos, such a wide range of ‘styles’. The most hassle-free turned out to be by an English butcher called Mark. Nice man, clean cut, relaxed manner and very good with his cleaver…
It turned out that there’s nothing much to it – easier than plucking a chook. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say, that my partner Ann had to leave the house until every last scrap of waste had been thoroughly and properly disposed of… and the air had cleared.
Into the Pot!
I was now ready to cook the most expensive dish of my life: Wild Rabbit Casserole.
The rabbit was jointed then the pieces were browned in a mixture of extra virgin olive oil and butter with whole cloves of garlic. They were then removed from the pan – along with the garlic – into which was put a mirepoix of finely chopped vegetables: onion, carrot, celery and leek.
Once browned, wine was added (from the estate, of course, an aged chardonnay), chicken stock, crushed tomatoes, a few strips of orange rind, a sprig of thyme, a couple of bay leaves, and a little sugar, salt and white pepper to taste .
This liquid was reduced to a thick consistency, the rabbit and garlic put in, the heat reduced and the casserole allowed to simmer for a couple of hours.
I worked out that the first casserole had cost me, taking into account the cost of the rifle, the gun safe, the bullets, and the licence, about $1,300. Fortunately the vegetables were home grown.
Certainly, the price per dish will come down the more I shoot the rabbits (thanks to the Law of Diminishing Returns).
The sad part of this whole saga is that, by the time the casserole was cooked, I just couldn’t face it. So, off it went to the local cops who had helped me with my licence. They tell me it went down a treat.
Locally, I’m now known as Elmer “watch the woad wabbit” Fudd. I don’t mind. Just like my fetching new rabbit-fur beret… I can wear it!