Louis Pasteur

A few years after Ned Kelly was robbing his first bank at Glenrowan, Louis Pasteur was trying to kill off the rabbits that had been over-running the country since Arthur Phillip brought six with him in the First Fleet and a grazier introduced them in 1859 for fun.

Thomas Austin was a grazier who brought twenty-four rabbits into the colony of Victoria for sport and as a ready food supply. After a few weeks and he realised what he had done, he tried to undo the damage by improving his shot but when after a few months he was outnumbered by about twenty million to one, he decided it was time to call in the professionals. In 1887, the by-now desperate colonial government in New South Wales advertised around the world for a scientific solution to the rabbit plague problem. From Paris, Louis said he would do it, but only if they let him build a lab in which to develop a vaccine to combat the cholera that was wiping out the chickens in Europe. After somehow managing to convince the NSW government that chicken cholera would kill rabbits in Australia, they gave him Rodd Island in Sydney Harbour to experiment on. It was there that in one of the first naturally secure biolabs he would incubate a strain of cholera that would solve the rabbit plague in Australia while simultaneously developing the vaccine that would save the chickens in Europe. In 1888, Louis’ nephew, Dr Adrien Loir, sailed out from Marseilles with Dr Louis Germont, and an interpreter, and together they established the first branch of the Pasteur Institute outside France.

The result – an anthrax vaccine that saved cows and sheep from the deadly anthrax virus.

And the rabbits? Well, the NSW government finally decided that maybe chicken cholera was perhaps not the best solution to eradicating rabbits and they rejected his vaccine. But we did get a half-decent anthrax vaccine that saved at least as many cows as it killed. But it was short-lived and had a substantial side-effect – death. So two Australian scientists, McGarvie-Smith, who had worked with Loir and Germont on Rodd Island, and Gunn, a lab assistant who Loir gave his notes to, joined forces and ultimately they produced an effective, single dose vaccine, which gave the cows a good chance of survival from the disease and the vaccine.