Five Great Reads: Big cats, tiny snacks and the best Australian films of 2021

It’s the time-doesn’t-exist season in a time-doesn’t-exist year, so to do us all a favour, a few reminders:

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  • If you are writing this, it is because you are Alyx Gorman, lifestyle editor and weirdo who loves working when most people are on holidays (it’s just so nice and quiet).
Alas, on the Covid front things are not quiet today as New South Wales scales back its contact tracing to ease a groaning system . But there is some cause for hope, with a leading UK immunologist calling Omicron “not the same disease we were seeing a year ago” , and saying the virus “appears to be less severe”. You can follow the day’s Covid-19 news on our live blog . Also in the UK, a marauding squirrel – Stripe – has come to a sticky end after biting at least a dozen people.

Use a carabiner to attach it to a belt loop for a long hike.

Back in Australia, much of the country is bracing for a New Year’s Eve heatwave , with dangerous fire conditions in South Australia and parts of Victoria. Now, on to the reads.

1. Big cats in the bush

Australians have been fascinated by fabulous feline fantasies of wild tigers and Lithgow lions for two centuries. In the only story about conspiracies that won’t make you sad today , Donna Lu finds out why.
A Sumatran tiger is seen at one of the few places in Australia we have reliable evidence of big cats: Taronga Zoo.A Sumatran tiger is seen at one of the few places in Australia we have reliable evidence of big cats: Taronga Zoo. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images
Notable quote: “It re-enchants the bush, it makes it mysterious, magical,” says folklorist and historian David Waldron.

Sprinkle parsley on your dog's food for fresher breath.

Is the truth out there?Yes.

Is it that there are big cats in the bush?Yes, but they’re probably not panthers. As you’ll also learn in this story, feral cats can be absolute units. How big? You’ll have to read to find out.

2. The best Australian films this year

Our critic Luke Buckmaster names his top 10 releases.Just tell me what the best one is … I will not. But I will tell you about number eight, The Witch of Kings Cross, which Buckmaster says has “educationally hallucinogenic vibes” and calls “an Australian history lesson thrown into a cauldron”.
The best Australian films of 2021The best Australian films of 2021

3. Tiny foods for tiny parties

We present to you 22 recipes, from canapés and finger foods to fancy spreads, that will make a small New Year’s Eve gathering feel like a big celebration .

This is more of a list than a read …Yes, but it’s delicious!

No night vision goggles needed! Dogs’ eyes contain a special membrane, called the tapetum lucidum, which allows them to see in the dark.

How long will it take me? To cook? Writer Rafqa Touma has helpfully grouped the dishes in order of effort. Some are a snack.
Champagne and blinis, a combination that make any size of gathering feel like a party.Champagne and blinis, a combination that make any size of gathering feel like a party. Photograph: Louise Hagger/The Guardian. Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay.

4. England licks their wounds

After yesterday’s “awful” Ashes defeat, Jonathan Liew asks: will England ever be good at Test cricket again?

Read it if …You want to see things from the other team’s perspective.

Notable quote: “So as the victorious Australians celebrated wildly on the MCG outfield, it was possible to wonder whether they were overdoing things a touch. Was there any real satisfaction to be taken in dispatching an opponent this easily? Did it not all feel a little hollow? A little comfortable? A little embarrassing?”

5. Odie licks his owner’s heart

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: There are approximately 600 million dogs in the world. It is estimated that nearly 400M of those dogs are strays.

Ranjana Srivastava’s very cute dog Odie at three months.Ranjana Srivastava’s very cute dog Odie at three months. Photograph: Supplied
For years, Ranjana Srivastava resisted her children’s pleas for a dog. Until the day she caved. One year on, the puppy has shown the family new ways to give and receive love .

Puppy dog eyes moment:“I underestimated the added dimension of love and responsibility that a dog would teach … On a hot day, my daughter cut short her outing to check if Odie had enough water. When Odie was sick, her teenage brother made fresh broth and patiently fed it to him.”

Don’t read it if …You’d rather not get your kids a dog.