Glenn Druery’s toughest race: how the preference whisperer set the cat among the dogs

The man who disrupted Australian politics is causing another upset by wading into Sydney’s Scotland Island dog swimming race – with his pet TonkineseGlenn Druery’s toughest race: how the preference whisperer set the cat among the dogsThe Scotland Island dog swimming race has taken place in Pittwater, in Sydney’s north, every Christmas Eve for the last 44 years, but in this year’s race a wild-card entrant has thrown the cat among the pigeons (or the dogs more accurately). It’s an 11-month-old Tonkinese cat named Gus.
Gus’s owner has a history of shaking up contests. Glenn Druery, when he is not training Gus on Middle Harbour, he is better known as the “preference whisperer” due to his knack for getting minor parties across the line in complex Senate election deals. In September 2013, he helped Motoring Enthusiast party’s Ricky Muir get elected as a senator for Victoria on 0.5% of the primary vote. ABC election analyst Antony Green said at the time that the series of deals Druery had brokered made a “joke” of Australia’s democratic system. Druery brushed off the criticism : “I think, for democracy to work, everybody needs to have a say and be able to get elected; that’s fair and that’s reasonable.”

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The same system of harvesting preferences from minor parties was deployed by Druery to some degree of success in New South Wales in 1996 and 1999. He also twice stood as a candidate himself. Druery’s ingrained competitiveness doesn’t stop at politics, he has also twice competed in the 5,000km ultra-endurance cycling event Race Across America.
Gus the tonkingese cat enjoys activities like kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding and swimming in the sea.


Gus the Tonkinese cat enjoys activities like kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding and swimming in the sea. Photograph: Alec Smart
So can the man who disrupted Australian politics cause another upset by propelling Gus to victory on Christmas Eve against all odds?

It’s unlikely.

Tonkinese, which are a cross between Siamese and Burmese, are not shy of water like most domestic cats, but they’re not naturally as strong as the larger dogs competing in the 500 metre swim. However, under the rules Druery can swim alongside Gus to enable it to climb on to his shoulders. The same rule applies to smaller dogs such as chihuahuas that compete in the event.

There’s also the other 70 dogs – and their reaction to a cat in their midst – to consider.

Toby Jay, who co-manages a barge service around Scotland Island, says: “It should be kept as a dog race. With 50 to 60 dogs, all pretty excited, I would fear for the cat’s safety.”

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Sam Collins, owner of a groodle named Murphy – twice-winner of the award for the fastest dog living on the island – is not keen on Gus entering the race. “However great a story this is I don’t think it’s in the best interest of any of the animals,” Collins says. “There are roughly 70 dogs in an excited state and I can only think that bringing a cat along would be cruel to the cat. It definitely could be attacked. It could also cause owners to lose control of their dogs.”
Sam Collins and his winning groodle, Murphy, pose with the top prize.


Sam Collins with his winning groodle Murphy. Photograph: Alec Smart

Druery says Gus won’t panic. “We’ll be very aware of dogs in the water.”

“I’ll be swimming right next to Gus, so if there’s any problems he’ll climb straight on to my shoulders. Gus’s safety is foremost, I’m confident he’ll be OK.”

Druery has contested the race a few times before. His black border collie, Bob, competed twice, finishing third on its first attempt in 2014, and in 2015 was overall race winner, breaking the 10-minute record for the fastest crossing.

Sadly, a few months later Bob deteriorated rapidly and it was discovered he was stricken with incurable cancer. “We were heartbroken,” Druery recalls. “I still have the large bottle of beer Bob won in the race, which remains unopened. Perhaps we’ll open it after this year’s race to toast his memory.”

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‘If there’s any problems he’ll climb straight on to my shoulders,’ Glenn Druery says.


‘If there’s any problems he’ll climb straight on to my shoulders,’ Glenn Druery says. Photograph: Alec Smart

A Christmas tradition

The Scotland Island dog swimming race has been held every Christmas Eve since 1974, when two Pittwater ferry captains insisted that their respective vessels were faster than the other. This friendly rivalry escalated to a brag that each captain’s dog – one a German Shepherd named Connie, the other a black kelpie named Diesel – was a faster swimmer than the other, ultimately resulting in a challenge to prove it.
The rivals decided the best way to settle the score was a doggy-paddle race from Bells Wharf on Scotland Island to Church Point, some 550m across Pittwater. And so a tradition was born, with 14 entrants in the inaugural year as others joined the friendly rivalry, curious to see if their dog could better Connie and Diesel (Connie beat Diesel, who failed to finish, although she was not the ultimate winner).

Since then, the event has been modified, with dog owners paddling water craft in front of their pets to entice them forward.

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A drenched dog is congratulated by his support team after finishing the race.


A drenched dog is held up by his support team after finishing the Scotland Island dog swimming race. Photograph: Alec Smart

The entry fee consists of a long-necked beer bottle and a large tin of dog food, which are pooled and then divvied up between winners of the three respective dog size categories.

Big water dogs, such as labradors and other retrievers, predictably fare best overall, but the prizes are divided between the first three finishers in big and small dog categories.

The Diesel award – a stainless steel letter ‘D’ trophy named after a multiple-winning dog called Diesel King that dominated in the 1990s – is presented to the fastest dog resident on Scotland Island.

No one is expecting a water-loving Tonkinese to take it home, but then again, stranger things have happened.

The 45th Scotland Island dog swimming race commences at 5pm at Church Point on 24 December. From there, punts will take dogs and owners across to Scotland Island.