An ongoing dispute between neighbours over a roaming cat escalated into a two-and-a-half hour stand-off that involved four police in Mildura on Sunday night.
The feud between Wergaia man and artist Robbie Wirramanda-Knight and his neighbours, Karen Ridge and Robert Vigors, went viral in December after a video of a confrontation between the two parties was posted to social media.
The video showed Mr Vigors and Ms Ridge approach and then racially abuse Mr Wirramanda-Knight’s family as they worked in their garage art studio, before Ms Ridge attempted to pull down an Aboriginal flag hanging from the garage door.
The incident immediately sparked the #TooStrongForYouKaren hashtag, and in the fallout over the ensuing weeks Mr Vigors was fired as the franchise owner of the Mildura and Irymple McDonald’s restaurants by the company.
For the past two months, the feud has simmered and involved a number of allegations exchanged between the neighbours. During this period, the Wirramanda-Knight family have had their cars vandalised - including tyres punctured and slashed on multiple occasions - and received racist mail.
On Sunday, the latest instalment of the dispute involved a captured cat, a tense confrontation between Mr Wirramanda-Knight and an unknown agent for Ms Ridge and Mr Vigors, several police officers and, eventually, an animal patrol officer.
Speaking exclusively to NITV News, Mr Wirramanda-Knight said after recently seeking advice from the local Mildura Rural City Council in relation to nuisance cats entering his garage art studio and spraying his art works, on Friday he sourced an approved cat trap from a local wildlife control worker and laid it in his garage art studio.
By Saturday morning, the trap had captured a trespassing cat.
Following the local council’s basic cat-trapping protocols, Mr Wirramanda-Knight told NITV News he then attempted to contact the council’s animal control department.
“Sunday I called… the wildlife officer to come pick it up, he said he couldn’t come till Monday,” Mr Wirramanda-Knight told NITV News. Mr Wirramanda-Knight then gave the cat water, food and ventilation.
On Sunday afternoon, Ms Ridge identified the cat as belonging to her.
“Sunday my wife was in the garage doing art… we had the door open again. I was giving the cat fresh water and food and then my neighbour walked into my garage hurling abuse,” said Mr Wirramanda-Knight on Monday.
In the spat that followed, Mr Wirramanda-Knight alleged Ms Ridge breached the conditions of an intervention order placed upon her by entering onto his property, verbally abusing Mr Wirramanda-Knight, and calling a third-party to attend the property and attempt to act on her behalf.
Both parties contacted police to attend.
A live feed video of the protracted incident was posted to Facebook. The footage and additional recordings have since been obtained by NITV News.
“Finally the police turned up who I thought were going to actually help … however that’s not what happened,” said Mr Wirramanda-Knight.
Over the course of the video, footage shows two marked police vehicles attending both addresses, with the police officers first speaking with Ms Ridge, Mr Vigors and their unidentified third-party, before returning to ask Mr Wirramanda-Knight to release the cat.
When Mr Wirramanda-Knight objects and insists on following the local council’s advice on nuisance cats, one officer tells Mr Wirramanda-Knight that a warrant could be obtained to search his premises and charges sought for the theft of the cat.
“The police went to console Karen and once the police tuned up she went from abusing me to breaking down into tears… then they came to threaten me that I would be charged with theft of a cat,” said Mr Wirramanda-Knight.
In Mildura, the local council law states that all cats “must remain securely confined” to their owner’s property. Under Section 23 of the Domestic Animals Act 1994, owner/occupiers are able to trap nuisance cats trespassing on their property.The offending animal is then to be collected by Council and impounded. When an owner of the cat can be identified, they are notified and fined before the animal is returned.
Over an hour-and-a-half later, another police vehicle arrives on the scene and a fourth officer confers with the police officer who suggested charges of theft could be pursued against Mr Wirramanda-Knight. At the conclusion of their discussion, the fourth officer departs.
Shortly afterwards, a Council animal control officer arrives and after a small degree of cat-wrangling, extracts the animal from the trap and impounds it. The remaining police then leave the premises, followed by the animal control worker.
Later on Sunday night, two more police officers returned to Mr Wirramanda-Knight's address to speak to him about a security camera recently placed at the front of his property to deter vandals.
Mr Wirramanda-Knight described the attitude of the police as “unacceptable” and questioned why the officers attending the latest incident seemed uninterested in hearing his side of the story.
“The smell of white privilege is just so strong where I’m living,” said Mr Wirramanda-Knight.
Victoria Police told NITV News they had received reports of “a cat stolen from a Mildura address” on Sunday at 11 pm.
“The cat was located safe and well and was taken to the local pound where it will be reunited with its owners. It was determined that no offense [sic] occurred,” a spokesperson said.
A spokesperson from Mildura Rural City Council confirmed that a cat was “contained” in a trap and collected by a council officer on Sunday night.
“The cat was impounded at the Mildura Animal Pound and released [Tuesday] to its registered owner, and the release fee paid by the owner,” said the spokesperson.
On Monday, Mr Wirramanda-Knight met with police detectives to discuss potential breaches of the orders of the intervention order placed on Ms Ridges and Mr Vigors.
State Independent member for Mildura, Ali Cupper, will also meet with Mr Wirramanda-Knight to discuss the matter this week.