I have little reason to follow Rugby League after the demise of the North Sydney Bears. But the sesquicentenary of the introduction of European rabbits to Australia and the "Rabbiting On"competition has had a lot of people ask me about the origin of the name "Rabbitohs" for the South Sydney team.
Despite once being a "rabbitoh" myself, I was a bit embarrassed not to know. Not a South Sydney Rabbitoh. After a very unsuccessful under-7 season, the coach of the Mosman Rovers decided for the under-8s, he'd get the Mums to sew on a Rabbitoh emblem and we became "Slim's Rabbitohs" that year. Naturally Slim was a very large man. Like all Rabbitoh supporters he was passionate. We didn't take that much notice living on the north shore: on our side of the Harbour we had Manly to hate and that exhausted our stocks of passion.
So I've done some research and it seems there are two lines of thought on the Rabbitohs name. The first and most often repeated is that many of the players sold rabbits to earn a few dollars and after skinning on a Saturday morning, often played with blood and fur on their jumpers. Their cry of "rabbitoh" selling their wares was repeated as a put-down by other teams. Often this origin is attributed to the Depression years, but apparently it dates back further.
The second story is that South's playing field - Nathan's cow paddock later turned to Redfern Oval - was so bad the other players would refer to the "rabbit holes" that became "rabbitohs".
I like the first version better. It goes with the hard struggle image of Souths. Whatever the origin, it seems a uniquely Australian name and another way feral animals have seeped into our culture. By the way, Slim's strategy worked: we came third in the under-8s (I still remember that try against Asquith Ds).