Looking Back – Walnuts and Rabbits (May 2023)

By Leo Billington

Walnut Park

In about 1889, after their marriage Ellen Mary and her husband, Leon Wuttrich made their home at Walnut Park Hazelwood North, where they remained for about nine years. The 10 acres of walnut trees planted by Leon round that property remained for many years as a local memorial. It has been written that the walnut grove was popular for Sunday afternoon picnics and pleasant walks, particularly for townsfolk.

Leon had taken up the property around three years earlier and quickly earned a reputation for his ingenuity as a dairy farmer. One innovation he promoted was the DeLaval cream separator, initially invented in 1878 by Swede Gustaf De Laval and the Dane, L. C. Nielsen when they made the first practical centrifugal cream separators. DeLaval was formally established in 1883 by Gustaf.

In February 1886, Leon proudly announced he had made an arrangement with the Gippsland Dairy Company to supply that company with 20 quarts of cream per day. With his acquisition of a new DeLaval Cream Separator, he believed he could earn greater profits by selling cream rather than making butter. Basically, Leon was also inviting others to learn about new technology.

Newspaper add for the  Walnut Park clearance sale

After selling his farm in October 1895, the Wuttrich family moved to Moe. Ellen and Leon had four children – eldest being Melina who died at 8½ months in 1897, second daughter Cosette, whoo married and moved to Brisbane, Fred who died aged 12, from a sudden appendicitis attack in 1915 and Eric. Eric was born in Moe in 1902 and eventually shifted to Esperance where he was a farmer. Ellen died in December 1951 aged 84, and Leon died in March 1938, aged 83.

Although the walnut grove is no more, the farm, once owned by Mr George Jones, is still known as "Walnut Park." After selling "Walnut Park," Leon moved to Moe and acquired a good deal of land on the Moe Swamp and at Westbury. He also built the Moe Bush Nursing Hospital and owned shops and private houses in the town. His keen, extensive interest in horticulture was widely known alongside specialised knowledge of waterlilies and roses. Leon’s cremated remains were interred at the Springvale Crematorium.

Current sign of Walnut Park farm

Both Ellen and Leon were Swiss descendants – Ellen’s father being an expert vigneron managing the Chateau Tabilk vineyard and cellars at Nagambie. While at Hazelwood North and then at Moe, Ellen’s generosity was well-known with regular gifts of home-grown produce and flowers. She was also a volunteer worker at Moe’s Bush Nursing Hospital.

Leon became a long-serving member and director of the Moe Co-operative Dairying Pty Ltd – he was actually a founding director. He was a member of the Board of Management of the Moe Recreation Reserve. Included in his raft of community interests was as a regular attendee of the Moe Presbyterian Church services and his annual visits to district state schools on Arbor Day to share his knowledge of plants and trees. Leon was also a founding member of the Morwell branch of the Australian Natives’ Association.

While at Hazelwood North, he donated land sited opposite his farm on which the Hazelwood North Mechanics Institute was built, surrounded by trees planted by himself. These days, the Hazelwood North Community Hall and the former Hazelwood North Presbyterian Church stand on part of “Walnut Park”.

The accompanying map outlines Leon’s farm, south side of Church Road, Hazelwood North.

Newspaper announcements for Hazelwod Rabbit Destruction Leagues

Now, about rabbits.

Keith Greenfield of Billa Kalina Station, a large cattle-grazing property near Roxby Downs once wrote a poem about rabbits. There were five stanzas. The first one went like this:

I’m a fluffy little bunny, some people think I’m cute
But the plain and simple fact is, that I’m a country killing brute
For I ringbark all the branches, then I chew up every leaf
And to the native creatures, I’m a terror and a thief

from Great Australian Rabbit Stories by Jenny Quealy, 2010

One is never sure how a rabbit population is counted with some accuracy. Seemingly there are rabbits everywhere. One estimate from 1920 thought there were 10 billion rabbits in Australia. The population is currently estimated to be 200 million.

Looking at our local history, before World War One, rabbits were causing consternation and anxiety within those families trying to eke out a living on small farms.

Rabbit Destruction Leagues became popular. For instance, in August 1915, the Morwell and Yinnar Gazette reported that the farmers living in the not-so-flat land of Budgeree formed their own league. Apparently, there was “lively interest from all the district farmers.”

Newspaper announcements for Jeeralang Rabbit Destruction League

In March 1914, Mr Neil McFarlane was appointed chairman of “the Vigilance Committee of the Jeeralang Rabbit Destruction League.” He was determined to keep a watchful eye on all properties.

As reported in the Traralgon Record, February 1913, District Rabbit Inspector, Mr E O’Connell visited Tyers, Callignee and Traralgon “for the purpose of giving demonstrations in the mixing and laying of poison, and other methods of exterminating rabbits. All the meetings (as advertised) will be held at 2 p.m, and farmers and landowner's are expected to attend. Apart from the legal aspect of the matter - it being a criminal offence to neglect to destroy rabbits - it is to the interests of everyone who values his property to do his best to combat the pest……”

In March 1915, at a well-attended community meeting held in the Yinnar South State School, a Middle Creek Rabbit Suppression League was formed. A few months earlier, the Hazelwood South Rabbit Destruction League was formed, with its own set of 20 rules designed to “destroy all vermin.” A Vigilance Committee was required to have regular meetings, and then report back to the President and Secretary.

There were other examples of Rabbit Suppression Leagues formed during these early years – such as Maffra, Gunyah, Ryton, Bairnsdale, and Dargo. During 1898, such action was not considered urgent by the Shire of Warragul.