Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Weird Little Visitor to Gayndah

     I appear to be out of the loop as far as mystery animal reports are concerned. When the "bear" or "jongari" paid a call to Gayndah, I was the last to be told. Steve Rushton, who lives nearby, heard about it. The message got passed to my friend, Paul Cropper in Sydney, and to Tim the Yowie Man in Canberra. Heck! Even the BBC got into the act before me.
     Gayndah, at 25° 38' S, 151° 36' E, stands inland, in a valley on the Burnett River in southeast Queensland, with a current population of 1745. The story began with an article on page 3 of The Fraser Coast Chronicle of 28 January 2000.
      Mysterious animal sightings by Jim Martin
     The Gayndah Shire Council will consider offering a reward for the capture or even a photograph of a strange animal seen in or near the township, according to Gayndah mayor Peter Huth. Mr Huth said councillors had at first not taken the stories about sightings of a strange animal in the district seriously but "the more you hear about it the more it makes you think there could be something in it."
     The animal was described by Boyd Street resident Shirley Humphreys as about a metre tall. "It looked like it had black hair about 2in (5 cm) long all over its body," she said. "It was the shape of a man but looked something like a bear. It didn't walk or hop, but ambled along."
     She said she saw the animal about 70 metres away just on dusk about three weeks ago on the sand by the river. It quickly vanished into nearby trees.
     Mrs Humphreys said strange things had been happening around the property for some time. Before Christmans eggs and other items kept disappearing overnight from inside the shed. Tools were found scattered around outside the shed on several occasions.
     She said local legend had it that a circus vehicle had overturned on the Binjour Plateau many years ago and some animals had escaped. Stories circulated that a bear was among the animals. Some locals believe the animal now roaming the area is the Bijour bear or a descendent.
     Mrs Humphrey's brother Allan Bucholz, who lives on his orchard about a kilometres or so up the road from his sister, said he had a fleeting glimpse of a similar animal four or five weeks ago. He had been sitting on a tractor in his orchard when he saw the animal which quickly disappeared into the trees. "I was a bit reluctant to tell anyone about it." Gayndah poundkeeper John Bowen said over a period of about eight or nine months he had answered calls from several people who had sighted similar strange animals and wanted to know what they were.
    About six months ago another fellow upstream of the river bridge had called him about a strange animal. The man described it as about a metre tall. "And then about eight months ago the people who had the cider store in town at the time said they had seen a strange animal looking through the window at them a few times," he said. "People have pulled me up in the street and asked me if I had caught the animal yet. There must be something in it."
     Pretty soon, the local Aborigines got into the act by announcing that the animal was a jongari, a member of a tribe of little hairy men, who haunt the Aboriginal folklore the way elves and dwarfs haunt that of Europe. (More about this next month.)
     I myself was unaware of these local newspaper reports. They were only sent to me by Paul Cropper - bless him! - well after the event. But when a summary was printed in The Sunday Mail (Brisbane) on 13 February 2000, I now knew the names of the two principal witnesses. Two days later, I got on the phone and interviewed them.
First Witness: Allan H. Bucholz, 67 year old orchardist
Time and Date: about 2 weeks before Christmas 1999 (not one week, as the press said), at about 11 am.
Site: On his property. He ran a 5 acre orange orchard just on the other side of the Burnett River from Gayndah. The countryside in the general vicinity is almost wholly orchards and farms. His property reached to the river, where there is a steep bank about 20-30 metres high. He was on his tractor right on top of this bank.
Narrative: He noticed the animal about 15 metres away from him (not 50 metres, as the press said), and about a metre from an orange tree. It then moved behind the tree, and passed out of sight. It was in sight for only a few seconds. Despite the brevity of the sighting, he could see that it was not a dog or a wallaby. His first thought was that it was a wallaby, but it did not hop. Instead, it walked on its hind legs like a human being - or rather, like a penguin, for its legs were short. It was less than a metre high, and covered with black hair (but not real black) about 2 inches long. He saw it side on. Its head was pointy, like a wallaby's ie it had a longish snout (a significant feature). He could not remember any ears or tail. Certainly, it had no long tail like a wallaby's.
Aftermath: He told only his wife and his sister, who lives on a property 1½ km away. For several nights she had experienced things going missing from the packing shed. A container of biscuits had been taken outside, opened, and eaten. Eggs were taken from a carton. A pig brand disappeared. Water melons had been taken about 50 metres into the midst of the fruit trees and eaten. Then, two days after his sighting, she saw it too. She asked the council to bring in dog traps. They didn't, but the council ranger brought it up at a council meeting, and that was how the press found out. His sister was in the room with him during the interview, so I interviewed her too.
Second Witness: Shirley Humphreys. She had been running an orchard in the district for 33 years. In contrast, he has been there only about ten.
Time of Day: Just on dusk - but visibility was still quite good.
Site: Next to her property. This is also in an orcharding area, but nearby, along the river is some very, very dense vine forest. However, it was clear where she was. Next to the river bank is a large area of sand.
Narrative: She went out to switch on the irrigation, and looked down towards the sand patch. The animal was waddling or "ambling" across the sand about 70 metres away, and disappeared into some thick bushes. She saw it side on. It was about a metre long, covered with dark brown to black hair about 2 inches long. It was the image of a bear in shape, but was walking bipedally on short legs. When pressed, she said it had little arms - reaching perhaps to its waist. She could not say whether the face was long like a bear's, or flat like an ape's.
Tracks: Before that, she had found footprints in wet soil. They were a bit like a dog's, but much bigger and longer. They were definitely not wallaby tracks.
Another Witness: 6 months before, some people on the other side of the river complained to the ranger that a bear had looked in through their window. They have since left the area.

     There was a sequel to this story, in the form of a front page story in the same Fraser Coast Chronicle of  Wednesday, 1st March 2000.
Quick-draw camera enthusiast takes shot of Gayndah's mysterious visitor by Jim Martin.
     Gayndah was abuzz again yesterday following another sighting of a strange bearlike animal in the riverbed near the town on Monday about 2pm. Bushwalking friends Peter Raffels and Julian Nott, who reported the sighting, were able to get photographs of the animal. . . .
     Mr Raffels and Mr Nott, who both own businesses in the town, said yesterday they were photographing around a riverside bushwalking track project when they spotted the animal. Mr Nott, a former National Parks and Wildlife Services ranger at Cooloola, said they had photographed there a couple of months ago but the light was too harsh, so they had decided to try again yesterday. Mr Nott's daughter Heather was with them.
     Mr Raffels said they had just alighted from the car and he had taken the camera from its case when Mr Nott yelled out. Mr Raffels looked up, saw the animal and snapped two pictures. Heather also saw the animal. The men, who described themselves as the biggest sceptics in town about the previous sightings, said the animal they saw yesterday had the face like a wombat but a muzzle like a dog. It was definitely not a wallaby or a kangaroo and looked like a compact animal. On seeing them it did not snarl or growl, and "bumbled off on all fours."
     The men said after sleeping on it they would probably not now have done what they had done when they dropped the negatives into Joanne Wenck at the Gayndah Gazette, a fortnightly newspaper.
     Unfortunately, the published photo shows merely a dark shape in the corner which could be anything. Since it moved off on all fours, it cannot be certain it was the same species referred to by Mr Bucholz and Mrs Humphreys.
     My experience is that newspaper reports of mystery animal sightings tend to degenerate over time into a circus. However, the original witness game enough to face public ridicule is probably genuine. Certainly, what the elderly brother and sister described bears no relation to anything known, or even alleged, in the country. A wallaby? I don't believe anybody in Australia could possibly not recognize a wallaby at 15 metres in the middle of the day. Besides, when a wallaby moves, it either hops, or it walks slowly on four legs, with its head down, because its forelimbs are so much shorter than its hind limbs.
     There are a number of animals which can sit up on their haunches (but few of them a metre tall), but none of them can walk on two legs. A bear can't either. (And, needless to say, a bear only a metre tall on its hind legs would have a very much bigger mother very close at hand.) A juvenile yowie? A yowie is supposed to be an ape, the Australian equivalent to the bigfoot. Its children are not supposed to have long snouts and stubby legs.
     As for a jongari, all I can say is that it doesn't sound much like a little hairy man to me.

1 comment:

  1. Based on the description (size, color, dog-like muzzle, ability to walk on both two and four legs, penchant for mischief, taste for watermelons), it sounds like a Olive baboon (Papio anubis). What a baboon would be doing wandering around Australia is a whole different question.