The Rabbits

The Rabbits Summary and Analysis of Illustrations 11–15


The narrator says the rabbits stole the marsupials’ children. The text is displayed across a series of documents that rabbits in black coats and topmast hold out while standing in a line. The documents bear official-looking insignia, ornate signatures, and fingerprints.

Behind the rabbits stand a group of marsupials looking at the sky. In the sky, their babies are being flown away on white box kites that are dragged on white strings by a line of black flying machines. The flying machines billow black smoke and look more like boats than airplanes. The box kites cast square shadows on the grey earth.

“Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits,” the narrator says, adding that there are millions and millions of rabbits living everywhere the marsupials look. The narration is accompanied by a black, white, and grey illustration of a river lined with crowded housing towers. The buildings rise to various heights but are identical in style.

The sky is full of smog spewed out of countless smoke-emitting pipes scattered throughout the cityscape. Pollution is also represented in several large pipes that spill effluence into the black river in the center of the image. In the foreground is a statue of a giant rabbit holding a pole with an electric lightbulb at its top. Electric cables strung from the pole go in every direction, crisscrossing the sky.

The narrator says that the land is bare and brown and the wind blows empty across the plains. In contrast to the preceding illustration of the congested cityscape, the illustration depicts an empty wasteland environment beyond the wall of the city. The sky is a brown gradient, and tall fluted pipes coming from the city spit out black sludge on to the non-city side of the wall. A small marsupial body, curled up dead, is the only figure in the devastated landscape.

The narrator asks where the rich, dark earth has gone; where the smell of rain dripping from the gum trees has gone; and where the billabongs full of long-legged birds have gone. The text of narration, etched in white, stands out against a deep black void. On opposite sides of the facing pages stand a rabbit and a marsupial, staring at each other across the emptiness. A flock of white birds flies out of frame.

The narrator asks who will save the marsupials from the rabbits. The haunting final line of narration stands out on a black frame, at the center of which is an illustration of a rabbit and a marsupial standing across from each other in an empty landscape. It is nighttime, and the navy-blue sky is spangled with stars. Between the rabbit and marsupial is a small puddle; the surface of the puddle reflects the starry sky.


Continuing with the themes of cultural erasure and grief, the narrator next recounts how the colonial rabbits stole the marsupials’ children. The accompanying illustration depicts rabbits holding out official-looking government documents while marsupial children are flown away from their families on box kites pulled by planes.

The phenomenon of the marsupials’ children being stolen is an allusion to the Australian government’s policy of assimilation, which saw Indigenous Australian children removed from their traditional families in an attempt to make them reject and forget their indigenous cultures and languages and adopt the lifestyles and languages of Australia’s white-majority settler culture. Known as the Stolen Generations, children of Indigenous Australians were taken from their families from 1910 until as recently as 1970. The government believed that children were easier to assimilate into white society than older indigenous people, whom the government expected would die out with no descendants to pass their culture on to. These assimilation policies and tactics have led to trauma and grief for Stolen Generation survivors and their descendants.

In the story’s final illustrations and lines of narration, Tan and Marsden show the eerie result of the rabbits’ colonial project. Where there were once rich colors and diverse flora and fauna, the rabbits have constructed effluence-emitting, crowded cities rendered in black, white, and grey. The illustration emphasizes the uniformity of the rabbits’ culture as expressed in their identical architecture and ubiquity of clocks, which symbolize the rabbits’ collective embrace of productivity through collective adherence to a common schedule.

Beyond the city walls lie barren wasteland where the city’s population’s sludgy refuse is dumped. Returning to the themes of grief and environmental degradation, the narrator laments the loss of the fertile soil, the gum trees, the natural billabongs formed by floodwaters, and the majestic birds who lived there. To emphasize the loss the narrator outlines, Tan illustrates a blank black void, against which a flock of birds scatters.

The story ends on a note of grief and a sense of powerlessness. Having been subjected to the rabbits’ insidious and overt forms of terror and violence, which drastically depleted the marsupial population, the living marsupials ask who will save them from the rabbits. In contrast to the images of rabbits spreading over the landscape, Tan illustrates a final encounter between a single marsupial and a single rabbit, who meet across a small puddle that reflects the night sky.

This final image reminds the reader of how, on their own, the marsupial and the rabbit are not so different from each other—the initial impression the marsupials had when they met the rabbits. The image invites the reader to question why the rabbits, when acting collectively, treated the marsupials with such monstrous disrespect. Alone together, in a landscape devoid of the trappings of the rabbit-imposed culture, it appears as if the marsupial and the rabbit can see each other eye to eye. Interpreted this way, the image seems to answer the narrator’s question by suggesting that saving the marsupials from the rabbits will require a joint effort between the rabbits and the marsupials. In this way, the allegory ends on a note of hope, seeing potential for settlers and indigenous people to find a place of reconciliation that acknowledges colonial atrocities.