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Gang-gang: Of flags, taxidermy and feral cats

The fact of cats being so much in the news for so many reasons (for example the new recommendation that for the sake of wildlife Canberra become the first city to keep all cats indoors, always) coincides with the arrival on my desk of a hair-raising new book, Taxidermy Art.*

Every picture in Taxidermy Art is quite shirt-fronting and will startle (and with luck sometimes even sicken) sensitive readers.

Here is Sarina Brewer's Franken-PussyWe've selected it not only because it's not so shocking as other things in the book but also because the Minneapolis artist's depiction of cats as critters from horror movies fits nicely with the contemporary Canberran and Australian demonisation (at least partially deserved) of cats as killer brutes.

The ACT government, already in the vanguard of cat-containment with some folk in some new suburbs required to observe cat curfews, is now imagining that one day the city's cats never be allowed to roam outdoors. Debate on this coincides with the news that some scientists now blame Australia's feral cats for "the second great wave of extinction (of native creatures) since European settlement". It's estimated that feral cats (there may be 15 million of them in Australia) kill 75 million native creatures a night.

Canberra's roaming domestic cats pose a special threat to wildlife because this is a bush capital in which most cats seldom have more than 500 metres to go to find some wild things to ambush. Your cat-loving columnist recalls with mortification the occasional atrocity committed by his own cats. Then, too, in another testimony to just how bushy the bush capital is, thousands of Canberra cat-owners have known their cats to be killed while tormenting snakes. Our dear Molly used up at least one of her nine lives in a snake encounter in our garden and then at last, maths not being her strength (so not knowing she'd used up her nine), approached one snake too many.

And to digress for a moment, during the recent Black Mountain Wildflower Ramble this columnist was pleased to have a fine brown snake, glossy with good health, amble right past the toes of my expensive, designer hiking boots. It is wonderful to think that flower-bedecked biodiverse Black Mountain is, like the Garden of Eden, blessed with flowers and with serpents.

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Cats figure a lot in Taxidermy Art and this turns out to be because ethical taxidermy artists never kill anything but do rely on roadkill and that, especially in cities, cats make up a lot of the things killed.

"Sarina Brewer" the book explains "is the Grande Dame of Rogue Taxidermy."

"She conjures up figures that may or may not exist in nature. Evident in all her work is the hand of the artist; many pieces are re-embellished with colourful pigments and all bear painstaking workmanship. Sarina uses only ethically procured animals, such as roadkill, livestock remnants, animals that have died of natural causes and destroyed nuisance animals that are donated to her."

Whitlam, the suburb

 Of course the vaunted and highly-likely (said to be Whitlam-family approved) suburb that will be named after Gough Whitlam is bound to be governed by at least a cat curfew. 

Whitlam has never been far from sensitive Australians' thoughts in recent days and he leapt to my mind when, last weekend, I minced into the Canberra Contemporary Art Space premises at Gorman House.

It comes to pass that one of the displays there at the moment is of Archie Moore's subversive imagined flags of 14 Queensland Aboriginal nations. Every one of his flags is special but his flag of the Kamilaroi Nation (pictured) is a bedazzling work. Do try to go and see it in its (linen) flesh.**

It reminds us of how a new national anthem and a new flag (the latter a design without the unAustralian Union Jack cluttering it) were dreams of dear Gough's. Perhaps, if his prime ministership had not been such as candle in the wind with the life-span of a butterfly (there's this column's annual mixed metaphor!) he might have achieved those grown-up changes.

For those of us who would love a new flag, and especially one that somehow embraces the Southern Cross and a strong Aboriginal presence, Moore's Kamilaroi flag bristles with ideas. Those ideas stand no chance in today's unhappy, Anglophile Australia (knights and dames!); but deep in our hearts, some of us do believe, that we shall overcome one day.

*It is hard to imagine a better (for some) or worse (for others, especially the squeamish) Christmas present than Taxidermy Art - A Rogue's Guide To The Work, The Culture, And How To Do It Yourself, by Robert Marbury. It will be published and will be in shops in November.

**The display 14 Queensland Flags continues at CCAS Gorman House until November 15.