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Best of 2006

(January 1st - December 31st, 2006)

Howard Wilkinson

Fountains Abbey

Kathy Wheeler

Tribute to a Mate

Springdale Heights, Albury, NSW, Australia

March 1996 - 24th July 2006

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© 2006 Kathy Wheeler, All Rights Reserved.

Billy was more than just a cat, he was a great mate.

Billy joined the family as a kitten - a lively ball of ginger fluff who could turn my old work boots into a game of hide-and-chew.

He loved to sleep - often and anywhere, but a frequent favorite was the top of my aviaries. He knew that showing a hunters interest in my birds, or any birds for that matter, got him into deep trouble. So being an intelligent feline he shifted his attentions elsewhere.

He was a wonderful guard-cat - he would not allow strange cats onto the property and only barely tolerated our younger second cat. She was a dreadful tease thou, and the two of them fought like siblings.

Billy preferred human company when it suited, and his own when it didn't. He could studiously ignore being called, until his hiding place was discovered. Then it was "oh were you calling me???"

He loved to supervise human activity - when that didn't interfere with the important job of sleeping. Gardening in particular seemed to intrigue. He would curl up on the mulch where I was working and pretend to snooze. As soon as I got too far away, he'd move his cat-nap to right in the way again. He was great company.

He was always discouraged from getting on the benches, but one year was often found curled up asleep in the hand basin or kitchen sink.

Boxes were also a welcome mystery to be sniffed at, rubbed up against and if empty - jumped into. They were also good places for him to ambush his humans from.

But boxes were not a good substitute for a cat-cage when transporting a less than enthusiastic cat to the vet. Billy's talons were quite long enough and sharp enough to shred cardboard - and did.

When he was frightened or feeling dangerously playful his normally tawny eyes became huge black bottomless pools. This was usually a warning sign that said "do not mess with me if you value your skin" or "if you want to play great but be quick or be scratched!"

In his later years he became a half-hearted mouser. He would catch them and proudly bring them to us to show off his prowess. He never quite got the hang of it thou, as when he open his mouth to meow in greeting his prey would drop out, and run for it's life.

He grew up as a suburban house cat, but quickly adapted to being a farm cat when we built a new home on 22 acres. He loved it! He loved the freedom to roam, places to explore and hide, the sights and the smells. We would tease him to watch out for the "pouch-rats" (kangaroos), leave the "flying rainbows" (eastern rosellas) alone and to be careful around the neighbour's cattle.

He would often accompany us on walks around the property. He created a new game. On the way up our hill he would lag behind, then run fill tilt past us and stop and wait for a pat. He would meow in appreciation, tail held high like a flag-pole, then slowly walk off with us again ... but at a pace calculated to let him lag behind for the next game.

Billy was a first rate sticky-beak with an insatiable curiousity. He would climb over and through our little Bobcat earthmover and often curl up for a nap on the drivers seat. When Mick the mine contractor from over the paddock parked his Caterpillar excavator out the back of the house for the weekends - it had to have the Billy seal of approval too.

When we sat around the open fire toasting marshmallows on chilly winter evenings Billy was often close by. Eyeing the tounges of flame suspiciously he would never come too close, preferring to sit on "his" rock a safe distance away, just watching.

He could purr loud enough to be heard clear across a room, and had such a large vocabulary of different meows he seemed to be almost able to "talk". One afternoon he started vocalising as he strolled in the front door, and continued to string different sounds together one after the other until he'd covered the entire 15 metres to the kitchen. Wish I knew what he was trying to say, and I don't think it was "what's for dinner".

The base images used for this panorama were taken originally for the WWP event "Borders" in March 2006. Billy had obviously seen me heading off across the paddock, camera in hand, and took it on himself to check out what I was doing. He followed me down, leaping through the longer grass, sat by my feet while I was shooting, and followed me back to the house. The pano was intended to capture the change from daylight to dusk - the border between the light of the setting sun and the dark of the growing shadows. Due to other things getting in the way it was never completed.

Four months later on Monday the 24th of July 2006 Billy didn't come home for dinner. Late Tuesday we found his bloodied body and the tracks of at least 2 large hunting dogs on our property. He was only a short distance from the safety of a large gum tree, but he never made it.

1996 - 2006
"He deserved much better than this."

We miss you mate.

PostScript: The council have since tried to stop the "dog men" illegally running their hunting dogs in this manner - without restraints, and without muzzels, on public streets and jumping fences into private property to attack and kill. But they still do it when they think no one is looking. Just a few days ago we found a dead young kangaroo on our property - just metres from the fence and public road these gutless dog-men use.
Camera: Nikon D70
Lens: Peleng 8mm
Bi-pod (hand held - 2 feet)
Software: PTGui (Mac), Photoshop elements, CubicConverter

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