The Rabbits

The Rabbits Themes

Colonial Invasion

The most prominent theme in The Rabbits is colonial invasion. Collectively narrated from the perspective of numbat-like marsupials whose country is invaded by rabbits, the story tracks how the rabbits use advanced technologies and greater population numbers to turn the marsupials' country into a colony. An allegory based on the historical example of the British colonization of Australia, The Rabbits depicts the horrors of colonialism from the perspective of the indigenous inhabitants of the country. While most narratives in a colonial nation such as Australia are told from the perspective of the settler majority, Marsden's authorial decision to tell the story from the perspective of the displaced indigenous inhabitants invites the reader to share in the collective grief of the marsupials whose country has been invaded, whose culture has been erased, and whose natural habitat has been destroyed.

Erasure of Indigenous Cultures

Attendant to the theme of colonial invasion is the disrespect and erasure of indigenous cultures. As the colonizing rabbits spread their population of settlers across the marsupials' land, they completely disregard the culture the marsupials already have in place in favor of implementing the culture the rabbits bring from their imperial homeland. While the marsupials live in trees and speak their languages, the rabbits build housing blocks and speak in their own tongue. The rabbits also import livestock, drinking culture, and an industrial, systematic approach to food production and resource extraction. When the marsupials fight back against the rabbits displacing them from their homeland, the rabbits use their more lethal weaponry and greater number of soldiers to quell any uprising. As a final blow against the marsupials' indigenous culture, the rabbits enact an official government policy that separates the marsupials' children from their families; in doing so, the rabbits try to ensure that the marsupial children cannot pass on the languages and traditions of their indigenous cultures. While readers may be confused about what motivates the rabbits to treat the marsupials with such disrespect, every aspect of the brutality the rabbits show toward the marsupials and their culture is based on the mass-scale, systematic cruelties that British settlers have shown toward Indigenous Australians.

Environmental Degradation

Another major theme in The Rabbits is the environmental consequences of colonization. As soon as the rabbits invade the marsupials' country, they bring out scientific instruments to appraise the landscape and plan how they will shape the terrain according to their tastes. The construction of the rabbits' housing and cities involves destroying the natural habitats of creatures already living in the territory. Food and housing production on an industrial scale—needed to support the rabbits' exploding population—results in further environmental destruction through resource extraction: the narrator comments that the rabbits "ate our grass, chopped down our trees, and scared away our friends," the last clause referring to the animals, such as mice, displaced from their habitats. Once the rabbits' grey cities are established, and their pollution spews out of various pipes and tubes, the narrator describes the land as "bare and brown," lamenting the loss of the fertile soil, the scent of rain dripping from gum trees, and long-legged birds living in flood-water-created billabongs. Ultimately, The Rabbits shows how colonization and modern conveniences of cities greatly impact the environment, emphasizing the contrast between an indigenous respect for the earth and a colonial indifference.


From the mention in the opening line of "many grandparents ago," The Rabbits foregrounds the marsupials' collective grief at the land, way of life, and individuals who have been lost as a result of colonial invasion. By narrating the book from the collective perspective of the displaced indigenous marsupials, Marsden invites the reader to share in their grief. The narrator first recalls how the country was once full of biodiversity, but soon moves on to how the marsupials watched powerlessly as the rabbits radically altered the landscape and displaced and killed indigenous inhabitants. As the atrocities against the marsupials mount, so too does the narrator's sense of grief. By the end of the story, the narrator concludes with the line "who will save us from the rabbits?" This line underscores the sense of powerlessness in the face of colonial oppression that still affects the marsupials. With no reprieve from the colonial oppression of the rabbits, the marsupial narrator has no cause for optimism, and is left to grieve a trauma that is ongoing.