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Matthew Flinders' Cat - Bryce Courtenay


Published: August 2006
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Published: 28th August 2006
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The story of a drunk, a boy and a cat.

Billy O'Shannessy, once a prominent barrister, is now on the streets where he sleeps on a bench outside the State Library. Above him on the windowsill rests a bronze statue of Matthew Flinders' cat, Trim. Ryan is a ten-year-old near-street kid heading for the usual trouble. The two form an unlikely bond.

Through telling Ryan the story of Flinders' circumnavigation of Australia as seen through Trim's eyes, Billy is drawn deeply into Ryan's life and into the Sydney underworld.

Matthew Flinders' Cat is a modern-day story of friendship and redemption by internationally bestselling author Bryce Courtenay.

About the Author

Bryce Courtenay was born in South Africa and has lived in Sydney for the major part of his life. He is the bestselling author of The Power of One, April Fool's Day, The Potato Factory, Tommo & Hawk, Jessica, Smoky Joe's Cafe, Four Fires, Whitethorn and Brother Fish.




Completely satisfied



Great read.


What a great story teller was Bryce. Compassion, adventure and confrontation of the human spirit are well told in this tale of love overcoming adversity.Trim the Master sea going cat has now become my favorite Australian historical ledgend. Recomend this great read to all lovers of a good yarn with a dash of historical fact thrown in. 10/10



Matthew Flinders' Cat

5.0 2


Billy O'Shannessy, once one of Sydney's eminent barristers/lawyers, now sleeps on the bench outside the State Library of New South Wales in Macquarie Street, in the heart of the city. On this particular morning Billy finds a boy next to his bench . . .

He had no sooner done the deed, zipped himself back to respectability and moved out of the foliage than he saw a boy standing beside the bench where he'd left his briefcase. Billy panicked. 'Hey, you!' he shouted out.

The boy turned slowly towards him, then looked away again. He carried a skateboard under his arm and did not appear in the least disturbed by Billy's warning shout.

Billy hobbled over, his heart pounding. If the boy was a street kid he could be in for real trouble, though the need to protect his briefcase overcame his fear. As he drew closer he shouted, 'What do you want? That's my property!'

The boy faced him and it was as if he was seeing Billy clearly for the first time. Ignoring Billy's outburst, he pointed to the wall of the library. 'That your cat?' he asked.

'You leave my briefcase alone!' Billy warned, wagging his finger. With a sweep of his arm, he shouted, 'Go on, get going!'

The boy, unfazed, glanced down at the briefcase handcuffed to the leg of the bench.

'That yours? What's innit?'

'None of your business!'

'Yiz a derro, it'll just be junk,' the boy said dismissively. 'Like them bag ladies pushin' old prams with plastic bags in 'em.' Then, losing interest in the briefcase, he looked back at the library wall. 'Don't suppose derros have cats, dogs sometimes, but not cats, eh?'

Billy saw that the boy was no more than ten or eleven and therefore less of a threat than he'd first supposed. 'Cat? What cat?' he asked.

'That one, on the winda ledge over there.'

'Oh, you mean Trim?' Billy glanced at the windowsill where the statue of Trim stood with his paw in the air and his head slightly raised as if looking at something. At first glance it would be quite possible to mistake the life-sized bronze for a real cat.

'Yeah? That its name?'

'Was his name, he's long dead.'

The boy squinted, attempting to look more closely. 'It stuffed? What's it doin up there?'

Billy realised that the boy must be short-sighted. 'It's a memorial to a dead cat whose name was Trim.'

'That like a gravestone?'

'No, it's a bronze figure.' Billy, who had reached the bench, now sank slowly onto his good knee and proceeded to unlock the handcuff from the leg of the bench. He stood up painfully, holding the briefcase in his left hand, while his right hand gripped and pushed up hard from the edge of the bench.

The boy stood watching, then asked, 'Why'd they make a statue of a cat?'

Billy sighed. It wasn't going to be easy to get rid of the brat. 'Trim was a very famous cat in history.' He pointed to the large bronze figure on a granite plinth that stood four or five metres in front of Trim and helped to conceal Billy's bench from the street. 'He belonged to that man, Matthew Flinders, a famous navigator and explorer.'

The boy looked up at the statue and cast a doubtful look at Billy. 'Cats don't get famous, only people.'

'Well, as a matter of fact, you're wrong, this one did.'

'That's bull, explorers don't take cats with them, dogs maybe for huntin'!'

It was an unexpected reply and told Billy the boy was intelligent and thought he was being patronised.

'He was a seagoing cat.' Billy looked about him as if trying to decide the easiest way to escape. 'Look here, boy, I have to be going now.'

The kid ignored him. Pointing at the statue of Flinders again, he said, 'You just said he was an explorer.'

'Well, yes, a navigator and an explorer, he took his cat with him when he went exploring the Australian coastline.'

'You mean the cat stayed on the ship?'

'Hmm, not always, but you're right, Trim was a ship's cat, the most famous ship's cat that ever was.'

The boy looked up at Billy. 'How come you don't talk like no derro?'

Billy sighed, 'I'm a derelict by choice. As for my grammar, it was my misfortune to be born into the wrong family.'

The boy suddenly paused. 'Cops,' he said in a low voice. He quickly crossed the small courtyard on his skateboard and, instead of taking the pathway, he did an ollie, jumping high over a bed of native iris and landing on the other side, his skateboard wheels hitting hard onto the pavement. Moments later, Billy heard the skateboard jump the kerb and rumble across Macquarie Street. Billy knew the boy couldn't have seen the policeman, that is, if there was one approaching.

Billy followed him. If the boy was correct, he'd better be on his way. There was no time to shackle the briefcase to his wrist and, with handcuffs dangling, he made his way onto the pavement via a small pathway, reaching the pavement at almost the same time as the police officer reached him. Abruptly he walked away, increasing his pace, though his knee hurt like hell.

'Hey, not so fast!' the police officer called after him.

Billy turned, 'Who? Me?' he asked, trying to look unconcerned.

'It's Billy O'Shannessy, ain't it?' Without waiting for a reply, the policeman continued, 'Yeah, I recognise the face. Bit late this mornin', ain'tcha?'

Billy attempted a smile, 'Yes, a little, must have slept in, officer.'

'Know the feeling, hard to get out of a nice warm bed, eh?'

Billy glanced up at the big cop for the first time, trying to see if the joke was intentional. The policeman had a grin on his face and Billy felt momentarily reassured.

The policeman, a three-striper, smiled, then jerked his head to one side, 'Better get going, mate, you know the rules, no loitering around the library.'

'Thank you, officer.' He now recognised the man as Orr, Sergeant Phillip Orr, the sergeant-at-arms at Parliament House, the building next door to the library. He'd once cross-examined him in the late eighties when Orr had been a witness in a case involving a Liberal politician and a television reporter who'd had an altercation leading to a fist fight on the steps of the State Parliament. He now remembered the reason for the fight. It had something to do with the reporter asking the politician if he'd known about a prominent judge who'd been arrested for child molestation and whose case had simply been removed from the police files. The point, if he remembered correctly, and Billy usually remembered correctly, was because the politician had been the shadow minister for the Department of Community Services (DOCS).

Orr had appeared on behalf of the politician. Billy had lost the case for the television station on the evidence of the police sergeant, who stated that the reporter had provoked the politician well beyond reasonable limits, but he couldn't remember if there'd been any particular incident involving himself and Orr at the time.

However, he now recalled that although the Liberal-National coalition won the 1991 election, replacing Labor, the publicity surrounding the case was said to have cost the politician his seat. The new government had promptly appointed him to a senior position in DOCS in lieu of the ministry he'd been promised. There had been the usual five-minute 'perks for ex-pollies' outcry where the premier had pointed out that New South Wales couldn't afford to lose a man of such outstanding ability, integrity and blah, blah, blah, and it had all gone away.

Billy's massive fall from grace was, of course, well known among legal circles as well as to many of the older policemen and that's how he guessed Orr would have recognised him. 'Just on my way now, sergeant,' Billy said meekly.

'Be good then,' Sergeant Orr called, 'Never you worry, Billy, the bench'll still be there when you get back tonight.' He grinned, 'I'll attend to it, personal.'
Bryce Courtenay

Bryce: in his own words...

I was born illegitimately in 1933 in South Africa and spent my early childhood years in a small town deep in the heart of the Lebombo mountains.

It was a somewhat isolated community and I grew up among farm folk and the African people. At the age of five I was sent to a boarding school which might be better described as a combination orphanage and reform school, where I learned to box - though less as a sport and more as a means to stay alive.

But I survived to return to a small mountain town named Barberton in the North Eastern part of the country.

Here I met Doc, a drunken German music teacher who spent the next few years filling my young mind with the wonders of nature as we roamed the high mountains. His was the best education I was ever to receive, despite the scholarship I won to a prestigious boy's school and thereafter to a university in England where I studied Journalism.

I came to Australia because I was banned from returning to my own country.

This was due to the fact that I had started a weekend school for Africans in the school hall of the prestigious boy's school I attended.

One day the school hall was raided by the police who then branded me a Communist as they considered educating Africans a subversive act.

While studying journalism, I met a wonderful Australian girl.

"Come to my country!" Benita invited.

I did, and soon after arriving in Australia, married her. Benita gave me three splendid sons, Brett, Adam and Damon. Brett, who married Ann has given me three lovely grandsons, Ben now 14, Jake is about to turn 12 and Marcus is almost 6 years old.

I have lived all my Australian life in Sydney (the nicest place on earth) and, until I started writing fiction, made my career in advertising working as a copywriter and creative director.

At the age of 55 I decided to take the plunge. I had been telling stories since the age of five and had always known I would be a writer some day, though life kept getting in the way until I realised that it was either now or never.

Bryce Courtenay died at his home in Canberra, Australia. He was 79. Courtenay is survived by his second wife Christine Gee and his children Adam and Brett.

Visit Bryce Courtenay's Booktopia Author Page

ISBN: 9780143004639
ISBN-10: 0143004638
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 592
Published: August 2006
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 20.0 x 12.8  x 3.4
Weight (kg): 0.42
Edition Number: 1