Barry Toohey has a shed full of memorabilia and a head full of memories, especially about legendary rabbit dealer Jack McCraith.
Story By Ken Eastwood
Barry Toohey doesn’t pull any punches when he describes his employer of more than 40 years – the legendary rabbit king, Jack McCraith. “He was an old bastard of a thing to work for,” he says.
In the 1950s, Barry started working for Jack in his massive Melbourne rabbit factory that skinned 8000–12,000 rabbits a day. He then travelled across the country as one of Jack’s drivers and ended up running Jack’s farm at Rosebud down the bottom of the Mornington Peninsula, Vic.
He is one of the last people alive who worked with Jack, and features in the 1996 book Rabbit King: The Story of Jack McCraith and the Rabbit Industry.
But he says the book, which was paid for by Jack, really only says positive things about the multimillionaire who controlled the rabbit industry in Australia for 40 years. Barry says Jack was business savvy, making a large profit from supplying fur to the Department of Supply during World War II. “He was one of a kind – he could turn his hand to anything and do it,” Barry says.
But Barry says he wasn’t the nicest bloke to work for. “He sacked a bloke who’d worked for him for 25 years because he was old and knackered,” Barry says. He can now laugh about other times, such as when Jack gave him just one R.M.Williams boot as a gift, or when Jack offered to scale and fillet a 13-kilogram snapper that Barry had caught while Barry cleaned the boat. After filleting the fish, Jack gave Barry his share – a package with nothing but the fish head. “Well, it’s my boat,” he said.
Still living in Rosebud with his wife Val, 73-year-old Barry has a shed full of memorabilia, and a head full of great stories. He swears like a trooper, has never been afraid of hard yakka, and has a heart for the bush.
This story excerpt is from Issue #79
Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2011