Monday, 5 November 2012

Tales of the Australian Bigfoot

     What is more unbelievable: a ghost, a flying saucer, or a yowie? Obviously the last. We know very little about the intermediate state of the soul, we know even less about life in outer space, but we know that a big, hairy ape stomping around marsupial land - and quite undetected by science - is impossible. Bats flew here, and seals swim to our shores. But apart from that, no regular (eutherian) mammal larger than a rat has even reached Australia without human assistance. So you should not be surprised that, when I first heard about yowies, I was sceptical. My scepticism was not lessened by the fact that the main proponent of the legend (not mentioning any names!) was a well known crank. I therefore wrote an opinion for the journal, Cryptozoology debunking the early reports. When it came to my book, Bunyips and Bigfoots, I started the chapter on yowies as an unbeliever, and ended as a believer. As far as scepticism goes, I have been there and done that. Then, after the book was published, new reports started coming in. And since they have not yet been published, or published only in summary, I think it is time to put them on the net.
     As background for the first two reports, I should point out that, in the years 1976 - 1977, there were well publicised sightings in the northern highlands area of New South Wales, especially inside the small town of Woodenbong - encounters at very close range, and with physical traces. All this has been previously published, most recently on pp 236 and 239 - 40 of The Yowie by Tony Healy and Paul Cropper (which is still in print, hint, hint!) In December 1996, I spoke to a woman who told me she had reports of yowies at Killabakh and Wingham, both close toTaree, as well as Kilivek, in the Casino region.  She provided no further information, but did mention that her daughter and her daughter's first husband had both seen yowies when they were children.  I therefore set out to interview them both by telephone on the same day.

     1. Leslie Davis, aged 33 (in 1996). The event occurred when she was about 16, (i.e. probably 1979), most likely during summer, for it was hot. The time was mid-afternoon, say between 3 & 4, and the place, her grandfather's farm at Theresa Creek, a tiny spot about 26 km in a direct line from Kyogle.
     She had volunteered to take the horse back to the dairy, about ½ km from the homestead.  She remembered riding bareback, which was unusual.  About 100 yards from the house, the horse started to play up, and refused to go further.  About 150 yards away stood a hill, topped by very tall trees.  It was part of the rainforest backing onto the Camira Plateau.  She dismounted and stared at the hill and the trees for about a minute, trying to see past the glare and the shadow, for she was looking into the sun.  One of the trees didn't look right; it had long hair of an auburn colour.  Then it moved and went away.  Leslie herself returned to the house.  She was definite that it could not have been a human being.  It was hairy, and very big - about 10 feet tall. Later her sister rode up to the hill, but her horse also played up, and the dogs barked.  Only later did she hear about the "hairy men" supposed to have been in the area.

     2. John McLean, also aged 33. His encounter took place when he was 14 or 15 (ie 1977/78), on a moonlit night in winter, for the creek was icy cold. The site was Toonumbar Dam, 13 km west of Kyogle and about 20 km north of Theresa Creek, in a very bushy area.
     Mr McLean was quite straightforward about it.  His initial response to my questions was: "What is there to tell?"  I had to pry the information out of him, and it was not given chronologically - which is a good reason to believe it was genuine.
     He was at a school camp.  He and a friend were fishing in a creek at night, with no other light but the bright moon.  Some of their friends started throwing stone into the water to scare them.  Then they (the friends) left.  When, a couple of minutes later, some more stones were thrown in, they assumed it was their friends back again, until they realised the rocks were huge.  Then they looked up and saw that they were being thrown by something huge about 30 or 40 feet away.  He estimated its height at twice his present height of 6 foot 3.  They ran for their lives.

     Comment: Individually, these are not good sightings, but they do add support to the other, more spectacular sightings in the area.  Considering the witnesses' ages, and the lapse of time, I'm inclined to think their estimates of heights were exaggerated.  It should be noted that the events occurred about the same time as those at Woodenbong.

     3. On 13 August 1998 I received a phone call from a Paul Clacher, who told me that, about 1974, he was camping with a girlfriend in Macintyre Gorge, west of Ashford, NSW. (This would be about 29° 20'S, 151° E.) He woke up when he heard a rustling near the edge of the tent. There was full moonlight outside, the tent was thin, and from within he was able to see the silhouette of a humanoid shape which towered over the tall (5½ - 6 ft) tent. At first he thought it was a large man. It was ambling or rocking from side to side, and tried to open the zip. Then, it attempted to open it from the top. It was grunting and groaning and getting angrier. At last Paul worked up the courage to shout: "Hey you!", upon which it turned and ambled off.
     He enquired among the locals, who said that the creatures lived in an extremely rugged area known as The Dungeons. The Aborigines took them for granted, and called them ghosts.

     4. In 2001, Stefan Thomas described his experience back about 1987-88, when he was aged 13 or 14. He claims his father, who was also present, is in denial about it.
     They were both in the front seat of a Hiace van, coming back from the Logan City Youth Club. It was 9 pm or later, and pitch dark, without any street lights. They had crossed the Waterford Bridge, and were taking the back route through Logan Village, heading towards Jimboomba, and turned into Camp Cable Road. The incident occurred about 20 metres from the turn off. There was bush land on either side, and barbed wire.  Just outside the van's headlight range (he thinks they were on high beam), a tall, black, upright shape walked across the road. It was about as tall as the van ie 6 feet.
     As background, I should point out that this is a rural residential area, only about 10 km south of the sprawling conurbian of Queensland's capital city, Brisbane.

     5. Often the most interesting encounters are made by folk who request anonymity. In 1996, I heard of a series of spectacular sightings by a family living on a farm near Stanthorpe, Queensland, located next to what was described as thick, but not dense, forest. Stanthorpe, I might add is located at 28° 40' S, 151° 57' E, on the fringe of the ranges forming the Queensland-New South Wales border. It is regularly cited as having the lowest minimum temperature in the state, with the result that a statue of a brass monkey sits just outside its post office. While I am aware of the name of the family involved, my contact had been with their neighbour, Mrs Stellamary Matheson, who had been investigating the case. To quote from her letter of 26 July 1996:
     Rather than photocopy pages of notes, I will just summarise where we are at for your information. . .
     Our friends began renting their stone farm house last February, and the first sighting was in the first week. They live a very non-aggressive lifestyle with 3 children aged 12, 14 and 15. They play with their calves, ride their horses, play with their dogs, cats and chooks [fowls] and live a very happy, simple lifestyle. We feel this creature is curious, and watches the children and may hang around for a while which means we may come up with something. The mother feels privileged that they are being checked out by this creature which overseas findings say, is gentle towards both man and beast, so they do not feel threatened.
     Mrs Matheson then listed a number of experiences which she agreed were inconclusive, and could have prosaic explanations: "nests" in the bush, flattened areas of grass, marsupial bones with the fur ripped off, droppings with what appeared to be strange hair, scratch marks on a tree,  rough imprints on the ground, and the fact that a blue tent, fence wire cutters, and a hammer all went missing when left outside - as did the family cat. The family felt they were being watched at night. The parents had seen slow moving eyes at night around the fowl pen, high up, and heard heavy breathing outside windows at night, while the two daughters heard heavy breathing and the dropping of wood during the night. There was also "a low masculine pained grunting sound, a high pitched masculine scream."
     The most unusual thing that really has the men stumped, are two bent star stakes. One was found and replaced and two weeks later another was bent in the same way. Bent at almost a 90° angle along the fence line shredding the barbs of the middle wire as it was bent along, pushed straight down with great force on hard ground discolouring the steel at the bend, parallel to the wires - not pushed out as if a speeding kangaroo had banged into it. There are no vehicle or animal marks. It is out in the bush. Hair has been collected off the fence but this may or may not be related. One of the girls had seen the creature just walk over the top of a fence, so why bend the star stakes? Tracks each side of the section of fence were followed. Nothing revealed.
     Then there were the sightings by the three children on eight separate occasions. Mrs Matheson described the three most spectacular.
     (i) One night the youngest was going to the toilet and when she walked past the sun room with its big glass windows looking out into the patio area with three big stone arches, she saw a tall hairy creature sheltering from the drizzle under the middle arch. He had wet rain on his head and shoulders. It was standing quite erect and looking into the room. We measured the height she felt it reached against the arch, and it came to 7'6". It had black and dark brown, long hair with dreadlocks coming down to its shoulders and no neck, much shorter hair on its chest, and beautiful tan coloured hair on its legs, a little puffy at the knees and long hair down over its feet like the feathers of a draft horse. It was a bit fluffy in the groin area. It had a flat nose with two round nostrils meeting in the middle like a gorilla nose. From where she stood, through the glass to where it stood, will have been approximately 18 to 20 feet.
     (ii) The eldest ( a very practical young man who laughed at his sisters' stories, until he ran into it himself) was taking a short cut through the bush to catch the high school bus. He almost walked into a tall, hairy man. It looked at him and just kept on going. The boy knew his track to the road was just behind him and he was out of there real fast. We measured again a tree to the height he estimated it had reached: 7'6". We paced the distance between them, and it was approximately 15 metres or paces. It had a foul smell, dark brown and black long hair with dreadlocks down to its shoulders. Walking slighting stooped with long arms.
     (iii) The boy had just finished splitting ironbark pieces for wood for the night's fires. He carried one armful into the house and returned for the next. Outside the door, bending over the wood pile, collecting some wood about two metres maximum from the door, was the hairy man. He turned in his bent position, saw the boy, who fled inside with his heart pounding so badly his mother thought he would have an asthma attack. By the time he told his family and they came out, the hairy man had gone and so was some wood.
     At this point, the family, along with the Mathesons, searched the neighbouring deserted farmlets and bush. They saw no sign of any split wood, fires, camp site, or dropped timber. But they did see lots of naturally fallen timber. There would have been no reason for any hermit to steal their timber. Also, if for some bizarre reason, he was wearing an ape costume, he would have had great difficulty climbing over the fence without getting caught in the wire, leaving hair, dropping wood, or falling over.
     And, needless to say, there isn't (supposed to be) any native animal which could be mistaken for a 7'6" ape at close range.

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