Victorian Government Big Cat Hunt

We are at Trentham, at the foothills of the Wombat State Forest, enveloped in a heavy, wet mist with sleeting rain hammering us sideways.
The smells are intensely fresh, our senses sharp. There is a start as someone steps in a pile of still-steaming fresh droppings and says: "Cat scat."We are waiting for the death that stalks the darkness, for one of the big cats prowling silently on padded paws, ready to pounce.
This is no ordinary forest animal. It is grace on all fours. It moves undetected while smelling, seeing, listening to and sensing movement all around it.We've already seen two photographs from local larrikin Rob Curtin, showing a shadowy cat-like creature creeping across a wet track near his home.Curious as cats, we cruise an hour north to discover his green-eyed panther poised ready to pounce is a man-made moggy, formed from fibreglass.Like most of us, Mr Curtin is happy to have a laugh about the so-called cat legends.
But, along with most of the locals who gather at the Pig and Whistle a few kilometres east, he also insists he has seen the real thing, a big cat that cut him off from his house as it prowled outside while he was in his man shed.
Rosie (who didn't want to give her surname) walks her kelpie, Banjo, five times a week through the dense brush and has done so for years without incident.
"But there was a misty morning - can you believe it, a misty morning, ha, ha - and I just suddenly became aware of a shape bounding across the track in front of me in the distance, and it wasn't a roo and it wasn't black. It didn't move like any animal I could think of, it sort of just bounded across the track and was gone."
"But it wasn't a deer, yet I accepted it was a deer. It was a large, dark animal."Frightened, she ran to a neighbour's home, only to be told she had probably seen a deer.
Not long after, another of her neighbours reported his thoroughbred horse was rattled in the middle of the night, while safely locked in its stable.

"When he checked the next morning he found a paw print outside the stable as big as a man's fist, and it unnerved him so much he moved out just weeks later."

Big cat sightings have been reported by countless Victorians. They've been seen slinking around the Otways, the Grampians, in central Victoria, far western Victoria and through the east of Gippsland.
The State Government will finally test truth against fiction with a review of all reported sightings. It is understood up to $20,000 will be spent collating the reports and even testing the carcasses of stock killed in circumstances not consistent with wild dog attacks.
Investigations could start in Trentham where locals lined up this week to discuss the legend.
They talked pumas, panthers, leopards, cougars. Old men, young women, in hushed voices or amid raucous laughter, all claim to have seen what they simply call a big cat.
They talk of large male roos with their heads ripped off. Of cattle attacked and seemingly skinned, carried over fences.
University of Ballarat historian David Waldron is in two minds about the existence of big cats.There is none of the obscene mauling and gut-ripping gore associated with wild dogs marauding."But, given the sheer numbers that have been brought to Victoria and subsequently released into the wild, I can't believe they haven't overrun the state like foxes or rabbits," Dr Waldron said.
On one hand, the lack of proof in the form of carcasses claimed as road kill, after bushfires, or through illness and death, belied their presence, he said.
Urban myth has persevered that US soldiers smuggled big cat kittens to Australia as American platoon troop mascots.
Nothing could be further from the truth and Dr Waldron appears to have been the first academic to have uncovered legitimate big cat sightings and hunts dating back to the 1870s.
From as early as the 1860s to the 1940s when Australia imposed strict quarantine laws, classified newspaper advertisements boasted of tigers, lions, monkeys and other exotic animals for sale in cages on the docks at Footscray.
Then there are people like Dennis and Margaret Wright, from Maryborough, who both claim to have seen big cats but who believe they may have something to do with the supposedly extinct Thylacoleo.
Also known as a pouched or marsupial lion, Mr Wright believes the giant, quoll-like creatures could be mistaken for big cats.
AN enduring myth has been to blame the arrival of big cats in Victoria on US soldiers posted to Australia during WWII.
American GI's were reputed to have allegedly also brought with them big cat kittens as troop mascots.
The animals were said to have been hidden inside foreign barracks and then released in to the Australian wilderness before US soldiers returned home.
But the arrival of ferocious felines on our shores preceded US troops by close to 100 years.
A book just completed by University of Ballarat historian David Waldron is the first to trace and record the real story of the big cat on this continent.
(Yes, if you forget Australian Big Cats printed in 2010)
"The state's first big cat scare occurred in 1873 when police were sent out to search for a leopard-like creature on the loose near Wangaratta," Dr Waldron said.
"And in the 1890's, the South Australian Government hired people from India to hunt big cats roaming around Mt Gambier in Western Victoria."
In 1922,a  puma was shot dead in St Arnaud. The feline was later found to have been an escapee from a circus.
As recently as 1985, police shot dead a lioness roaming around Broken Hill. Press clippings from the time show a Detective Holmes in short-sleeves and tie, rifle across his chest and a foot on the shoulder on the prostrate beast.
She was later found to have been lost from the back of a truck ferrying animals between safari parks.
* Dr Waldron's book, Snarl's from the Tea-Tree: A History of Victoria's Big Cat Folklore, is to be published by Australian Scholarly Publishing and is expected out later this year.