That’s when the trouble began.
The race’s entry fee is a can of dog food and a cold longneck. When Druery’s wife tried to hand over the entrance fee for the race in 2019, with cat food instead of dog food, she was told to “f— off”, Druery said.
‘There’s a lot of dark stuff [happening] in the background.’
Alec Smart, who runs a local Facebook page
Gus went on to beat some dogs in the 2019 race. Most of the crowd “went nuts” watching Gus but Druery said “someone came out of the crowd and said ‘I’m gonna f—ing get you and shoot your cat’.”
“I work in politics,” Druery said. “This [usually] doesn’t bother me. But they’re threatening my cat!”
There were other threats in person and online. Druery attributed the abuse to a “very small percentage of parochial locals who want their little piece of paradise kept for them”.
Photographer Alec Smart began attending the race in 2010 for the quirky photo opportunity. Smart was asked to take over the event’s Facebook page in 2017, which he agreed to.
“The year the cat came up, people turned unfriendly and angry,” said Smart. He believes there was a “minor coup” within the loose group of residents who organise the race by people who “didn’t like outsiders” and disliked the event’s growing publicity.
Smart said some residents had severed contact with him and others started a rumour that he was trying to commercialise the race and was “in cahoots” with local businesses in Church Point who benefit from the crowds. He has since changed the Facebook page to a local news page called “Pittwater Observer”.
“There’s a lot of dark stuff [happening] in the background,” Smart said.
Shane O’Neill, who lives on the island and had been part of the Scotland Island Residents Association, said there was a minority of people who believed Gus didn’t belong in the event.
“It is a dog race. I know it’s trying to be funny and a bit tongue in cheek … I don’t think people are coming to watch a cat swim. They’ve been coming for years. There’s not just 2019, there’s been big crowds coming [for] a long time.”
O’Neill said concerns about the event’s size, and COVID-19, spurred organisers to keep the race on the Island between two piers for the last two years but acknowledged there was a level of parochialism surrounding the event.
“Even if a mainland dog wins, the trophy still goes to an Islander or Bay dog. That’s the tradition.”
O’Neill said it was an “animated” event that brought the community together and said he’s diving in this year with his Irish wolfhound-cross, Daisy.
This race will return to its full stretch this year and was spruiked on the Scotland Island Residents Facebook page as “The locals Island Dog Race”. The event usually proceeds with council sign-off and water police ensure no boats pass through the area, but the Northern Beaches Council said they hadn’t heard from organisers this year.
Druery said Gus still enjoyed swimming in the harbour but had found a new hobby: mountain biking. Gus hitched a ride with Druery and his wife last year on the 350-kilometre-long Central West Cycling Trail.
“We include him in our life with everything,” he said.
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