The careful observer will notice that the average cat found in the top end is a bit different to cats in other areas of Australia.
Domestic cats like many animals vary in shape and colouration over their range. In Australia cats are not native and have a recent arrival date at the hands of people. Cats over most of Australia look fairly similar – so the fact that the cats of the top end are distinctly different tells us something about their history.
The majority of street and feral cats in Australia show a very British/European ancestry. This is not surprising – cats were first known to be brought to Australia from England on the first fleet. In general cats of European origin are larger, more solid and tend to be brown tabby or black and white.
More tellingly many of the cats there are a particular pattern known as classic or blotched tabby. This mutation is known to have come from England/Europe and is the most common tabby pattern in cats descended from there. In the top end cats are thinner, louder and more active.
Red/ginger is more common and most tabbies are other patterns (ticked, mackerel and spotted) where blotched/classic tabbies are relatively rare. Additionally Siamese and Burmese colours are much more common here. So what does this mean. Basically it points to an Asian origin for the cats of the top end. As part of our work we have traveled across much of northern Australia and while the cats of Northern western Australia and Queensland have some Asian influences they are are mostly of European origin.
Some have theorized that this means that the cats of the top end where introduced before Europeans invaded southern Australia. It does seem likely that their origin is from Indonesia rather than Europe and Indonesians have traded with Aboriginal people of the top end for hundreds of years.
However for many years the European settlements of the top end would have had close relationships with other settlements in Timor and Indonesia. Quarantine preventing importation of cats from overseas only came into force after the first world war so there is plenty of time for the Darwin cats to have “crossed the ocean”. What ever the origin the cats of the top end are a unique and beautiful pet.