It’s no secret that Australians love their pets, so it’s only natural that many dogs, cats and birds have made headlines for their quirky natures, intelligent ability and overarching loyalty to their owners. Here’s a deep dive into some of our nation’s most unique pets throughout history.
One of Sydney’s most famous characters in the early 20th century, Cocky Bennett was a larger-than-life, sulphur-crested cockatoo that lived until 120 years old – making him the longest-living parrot in Australia.
He had a very interesting life, spending his first 78 years sailing around the world with Captain George Ellis in the South Sea Islands’ trade. When Captain Ellis eventually died at age 87, Cocky Bennett was taken into the temporary care of the captain’s nephew, before being sent into the care of pub licensees Joseph and Sarah Bowden in Melbourne. After Joseph Bowden’s death in 1889, Sarah married Charles Bennett, and the two became the licensees of the Sea Breeze Hotel at Tom Uglys Point in Sydney. It was here that Cocky Bennet became a novelty to the locals and passing sailors alike. Known as the ‘cock of the bar’, Cocky was an extremely talkative character, and even had several catchphrases that would send pub-goers into outrageous fits of laughter. As he got older, he began to lose most of his feathers. One of his popular jokes was to say, ‘If I had another bloody feather, I’d fly!’
The average life span of a cockatoo is 80 years, so Cocky Bennett’s age was an incredible feat that was characterised by an incredible life.
Zoe the police dog
Zoe, a white German shepherd, was one of Australia’s first police-trained dogs, and was the first dog in the world to respond to commands via radio signal.
After the success of trained police bloodhounds in the United Kingdom to help aid in the tracking of missing children and criminals, Australia’s police force followed suit. Without access to bloodhounds, German shepherds became the dog of choice for police, becoming extremely popular in the media. Considered an Australian household name in the 1930s and ‘40s, Zoe apparently knew 380 tricks and stunts, and when she wasn’t busy working on serious detective cases, she would perform at charity events.
In 1941, Zoe became a fortified star at the annual police carnival, where she appeared to drive a miniature car and pilot a plane, known as the Zoeplane. Both vehicles were rigged and were engineered to move on command when triggered by Zoe’s weight.
As Zoe aged, she went deaf and died in 1946 at 11 years old, with her death making local papers.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was home to several white fluffy cats dubbed the world-famous pylon cats.
Their owner, Yvonne Rentoul, was an ex-servicewoman who convinced the Department of Main Roads to lease her the south-east pylon lookout, located almost on the bridge itself. Between 1948 and 1971, Rentoul (and her cats) lived in and operated the Pylon Lookout – an exhibition full of dioramas, souvenirs and maps targeted to tourists.
George and twins Bridget and Pylon were the fluffy feline stars of the show, and were often photographed walking atop both the pylon and bridge’s frames. To pass each other, the cats would leap over one another and would risk falling to the death below; yet they weren’t bothered in the slightest, and would immediately run back up to the top if taken downstairs. To keep the cats safe at night, a cattery was eventually installed on the pylon’s roof where they would sleep. When they could, the cats loved to sunbathe above the passing cars, trains and boats below, unphased by the stomach-churning heights.