John Marsden published The Rabbits in collaboration with Shaun Tan as illustrator. The result is a picture book for juveniles for that is a sobering metaphorical analogy for adult readers lucky enough to come across it. Although easily enough applied as a metaphor for colonization in a general sense by those without a grasp of the history of Australian, those in the know will require but a few pages to realize that Marsden’s little picture about white bunnies and brown marsupials is an example of that quite specific genre of symbolism known as an allegory. The Rabbits is an allegorical rendering of the colonization of Australian by Captain Cook in 1778.
The white rabbits who arrive by ship carrying muskets and equipped with surveying tools are of a quite peculiar breed of soft, furry and fuzzy little mammals. They wear military uniforms and are stiffly upright compared to the indigenous marsupials who soon are united by a common and recurring refrain: “too many rabbits.”
Just as with Cook’s arrival in Australian—and by association the arrival of the likes of Columbus, the Pilgrims and a multitude of other British sailors around the globe—everything is friendly and based on mutual curiosity when the rabbits first arrive. Before too long, however, the white rabbits are exhibiting a much blacker nature as exploration transform into invasion.
The Children’s Book Council court some controversy with their decision to name The Rabbits its 1999 choice for Picture Book of the Year in light of the serious themes within a book aimed at such young readership. The outrage expressed by a minority of critics nevertheless did nothing to stop Opera Australia from commissioning an adaptation of The Rabbits. The adaptation went on to win awards for Best New Australian Work, Best Original Score, Best Presentation for Children, and Best Costume Design at Australian’s version of the Tony Awards—the Helpmann Awards—in 2015.