Years ago I pitched an article to a magazine on the latest hunt for mystery big cats in the bush near north-western Sydney. No, said the editor, because ‘nothing ever happens’ when people look for big cats.

[Even less happened with this short-lived magazine, by the way, except bankruptcy and, for hapless contributors, ‘cheques in the mail’ of which there have been, in stark contrast to said cats, no reported sightings at all – but I digress.]

He clearly thought yarns of big cats roaming the Australian bush were crap. Or scat. How wrong can you be…

Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers (Strange Nation Publishing) must be the most detailed compendium of Australia’s best documented cryptozoological conundrum. Authors Michael Williams and Rebecca Lang shine more light on the mystery than has ever been shone before.

There’s no doubt big cats are out there in the outback. The mystery is what kind of cat, and whether other animals account for some of the sightings. These range from feral dogs and foxes to rather more unlikely candidates such as the long-extinct marsupial lion.

The Grampians in Victoria host the most sightings but there are other hotspots across Australia; this is a mystery with regional variations and little chance that a single species is behind it all.

As expected there are no firm answers, but I came away thinking the most feasible explanation in most cases is that feral domestic cats are simply breeding bigger out there. We’re talking up to double normal size. Which, just like the whole story of big bush cats, is actually a lot bigger than it sounds.

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