Sunday, 5 May 2013

Littlefoot in Australia?

     For a storyteller, there are only so many variations on the human condition you can invent. People with animal heads or other features can always be placed in far off, exotic lands. The wild man, who lives like an animal, can be placed in the depths of the wilds. Giants - well, they are too big to be living right next door. But tiny humans can fit in anywhere, so perhaps that is why such stories abound all around the world. Europe has its fairies and elves, while among the Australian Aborigines, the little hairy men, under various names, take their place. And just as Europeans who still believe in fairies still claim to have seen them, the same is true of the Aborigines.
     For instance, during the Gayndah episode, which I reported in my last post, the term,  jongari was introduced to the white community. Here is what was recorded by the Fraser Coast Chronicle of 10 February 2000, on page 5.
     According to Mally Clarke, anyone who sleeps at the Scrub Hill farm runs a fair chance of hearing the Jongari at night. "One Islander fellow who stayed here once got a real fright," she said. "He was out chasing cows one night and came back shaking because he had seen a little hairy man. We all laughed because we knew what it was."
     Four years later there were three separate sightings. "Someone once rang the police to say they had seen them running across the road from the old drive into the farm," Mally said. "Years ago they would play with the kids. I saw one once and thought it was a monkey because it was all hairy."
     Such legends, however, are completely unknown to the average white resident. So when they claim to see them, I start to take notice.
     Take, for instance, the article entitled, "In search of a hairy quarry" published in the Courier Mail (Brisbane) on 29 January 1994, on page 6.  The tone was tongue in cheek, but the protagonist, Grahame Walsh was a man normally to be taken seriously. He has spent his life documenting 1,500 Aboriginal art sites in Western Australia's Kimberleys, and was instrumental in setting up boardwalks to protect from tourists the rock art of Queensland's rugged Carnarvon Gorge (approximately  25° S, 148 ° E). I shall quote the relevant sections:
     If you happen to be wandering about the Carnarvon Gorge, best keep an eye out. That's where Junjuddis mostly hang out. You'll know one if you see one - little hairy fellers just over a metre tall. Torso like a man's. Limbs like an ape. Kind of smelly, I hear.
     According to former Carnarvon National Parks and Wildlife officer Grahame Walsh, Junjuddis are out there. He tells of seasoned bushmen who won't camp in Junjuddi country. Once, near the backblocks at the headwaters of the Maranoa River, Mr Walsh himself saw fresh tracks.
     "They were like a 5-year-old would make," he says. "I followed them up a hill but then I lost them. About the only thing that could have made similar markings was a hairy-nosed wombat walking on its hind legs - and they're rare as Junjuddis anyway."
      . . . .  .
     Injune timber-getter Leo Denton has also seen tracks and heard cries "like chooks cackling" in places where there are no hens. His wife Joy tells of seeing fresh Junjuddi tracks "like a kid's bare feet" in the dust.
     Yet another timber man, Graham Griggs, now living in Biggenden, is said to have been kept awake at night by Junjuddis leaping mischievously in the shadows outside his bush camp. "He said they were jumping in between his tent and the fire," recalls Grahame Walsh of the incident. "They were leaving tracks all around. They scared him so much he came into town.
     "There were a lot of reports 20 years ago, but people don't get out on their properties the way they used to. In the old days, if they wanted to check something, they went on horseback. Nowadays people go in a vehicle."
     . . . . .
    Grahame Walsh is unfazed: the ruggedness of the Carnarvon Gorge terrain would make it quite plausible for a tribe of wee ape men to live unmolested in the area, where often the only means of human entry is a rope down a cliff face.
     Stories like this disturb me, because they sit in a limbo between the impossible and the unprovable. If anybody really did see something so weird, the odds are they would never report it - not if they knew what "laughing stock" meant. They would keep it to themselves, and the evidence would never accumulate. On the other hand, if someone like me, for example, were to announce in a local newspaper that I was interested in hearing about them, I'm know what response I would get. The word would go out: "Here's a proper Charlie who really believes tall tales. Let's provide him with a few."
     Have people been treating Mr Walsh as the launching pad for preposterous tales? If so, what about the tiny tracks he himself followed?

      Once a couple drove all the way from the Gold Coast to Brisbane to show me a photo of a bushland swimming hole they had used while holidaying in Victoria. They saw nothing at the time, but when it was developed, however, they noticed what appeared to be a couple of hairy junjuddis standing under a bush in the background. When I saw it, my mind boggled. The shapes of the creatures were blurred, just outside the level of resolution of the film, but they certainly did look like a couple of hairy midgets. However, as I gazed closer, a more mundane explanation occurred to be. I think they were two rabbits, sitting up on their haunches, one facing the camera, the other side on. I don't think the couple were happy when I told them so. (In fact, I believe this is the same case reported here.)
     In 1968 George Gray was allegedly attacked by something resembling an ape about 4 feet high, and the case has become a classic. However, I think Ed Skoda has effectively demonstrated that he was the victim of a prank.

    If what happened at Charters Towers in 1979 was also a prank, it was a much more complicated one. Charters Towers, population 8,222 at the time, is an old goldmining town at 20° 02' S, 146° 17' E, overlooked by the 300 foot Towers Hills. The original report was on page 1 of the Northern Miner of 23 February 1979:
Bizarre Tale of "Small, Hairy Men"
     A young Charters Tower man has told police he was grabbed by "small hairy men" on Towers Hills last Monday night. The young man, who declined to be named, said the strange beings held him by the leg until he threw stones at them. Police found him running wildly down Rainbow Road with a rock in his hand. He had blood on his leg. The blood did not appear to be his own.
     The drama began late Monday night when Michael Mangan, a 19-year-old apprentice, rushed into the police station to say his mate has disappeared on Towers Hill. Police were sceptical when he began talking about "small, hairy men". He was ashen-faced and visibly upset. However, they agreed to accompany Mangan to the Hill to investigate. It was on the way to the hill that they found Mangan's friend running down Rainbow Road in an agitated state.
     The incident capped off months of "sightings" by Mangan and his friends on the hill. Michael said he first saw one of the "small, hairy men" about six or seven months ago.  "I was parked on the hill with my girlfriend at the time," he said. "I looked across to the passenger side of the car and saw a black, hairy face at the window. I screamed because I got such a shock. Then my girlfriend looked across and she screamed too," he said. "I started the car to get out of the place and this thing raised his hand and smashed the passenger side window. We got out of there in a hurry."
    Michael described the "thing" as about one metre or less tall and covered in black hair. He said it appeared to be half-man, half-ape.
     "I told one of my mates about it and he said he had seen things himself on the hill," said Michael.
     " I took my sister and some friends back there a few months later. We were just sitting there with the wireless turned down low when we heard a noise like the sound of two empty cans being hit against each other. They seemed to be getting closer so we got out of the place. On the way home, Debbie and the other girls said they could see eyes shining in the blackness," he said.
     Michael and his mates returned to the hill last Sunday night but they saw nothing. On Monday night, Michael and three of his mates went back again.
     "One of the blokes had had a few drinks and decided to go for a walk to see if he could find one of the things," said Michael. "He's a pretty tough bloke and isn't scared of anything. We could hear him yelling out as he walked up the hill and we thought he was just mucking about. I yelled out to him to come back but he just kept getting further away. He was a bit under the weather but we were sober," he said.
     Shortly after, Mangan reported the disappearance of his friend to police, who later found him running down Rainbow Road with a rock in his hand and blood on his leg.
     Two of Mangan's friends also had a strange experience while camping on the hill. Mangan said they told him their car had been interfered with during the night. When they awoke, they had trouble starting the car and the sun shield had been dented by something.
     Some of Mangan's friends want to go back to the hill to try and catch one of the "things". "I don't care what they do but you won't catch me up there again," Mangan said yesterday.
     Mangan is emphatic that the "things" are not goats or kangaroos or even humans. Officially, the police are somewhat mystified as to what Mangan and his friends actually saw on the hill.
     On Monday 5 March, The Townsville Daily Bulletin picked up the story, but they were unable to add any details. Instead, they mentioned letters to the editor and poems in the local newspaper, and the local radio station playing "The Purple People Eater" and "They're Coming to Take Me Away".
     So what do have to go on? Essentially, it is the evidence of two witnesses: Michael Mangan for the first, and his unnamed friend for the second. Both presented to the police in a very agitated state, which suggested that, if the whole thing is hoax, both are very good actors. Also, the fact that the second man wished to remain anonymous, and only reported to the police when they found him, is another point against a hoax. Was a third party playing tricks on both six months or so apart? In 1992 I asked a contact in Charters Towers to make some enquiries. It appears that none of the other people involved in the case had come forth. Mr Mangan was dead, but his mother advised that he insisted on the truth of his account for the remainder of his life. The police thought it was some sort of prank. Well, they would think that, wouldn't they?

     Let's have a look at another, simpler sighting in southeast Queensland. The site was at approximate 26° S, 152° E. It was published on page 14 of the Telegraph (presumably in Brisbane) on 2 Oct 1979.
Yowie! One look was enough
from Craig Stevens in Murgon
     Residents of Murgon, about 275 km north-west of Brisbane generally are sceptical about an alleged sighting of a yowie in their area, according to Murgon Shire chairman, Cr Bill Roberts. A former Murgon resident, Mrs Roy Locke, said she and her husband saw a metre tall, hairy animal standing by the roadside near Kilkivan, about 20 km out of Murgon, when they were driving from Hervey Bay to Murgon.
     Cr Roberts said: "We heard a report that someone had found ape-like footprints in our area, but no one I have spoken to knows who it was," he said. "We have had our share of the supernatural, with many reports of unidentified flying objects following cars and other strange stories."
     Mrs Locke, now living at Theodore, 230 km west of Bundaberg, said she saw the animal just before dusk. "It had broad shoulders and stood looking at us as we drove past," she said. "We did not go back for another look, and would not have told anyone about it if we had not heard a report of someone finding ape-like footprints in the area."
     Yowies are claimed to be relatives of the abominable snowman or yeti of Asia, and bigfoot of Canada and America.
     Cr Roberts said: "I suppose there are a few belts of virgin forest behind Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserce (6 km from Murgon) where a yowie could live without being disturbed."
     Chairman of Cherbourg's local aboriginal council, Mr Les Stewart, said he knew of no Aboriginal explanation for the yowie. "We have no kadaitcha men or witchdoctors here," he said. "But there is a small man called Junjurrie who was seen here as recently as eight years ago. He was about a metre tall and used to play with the children in the old hospital. Several adults claimed to have seen him when they heard the children laughing at night. But I don't know whether he was hairy or not."
    Thus, a familiar scenario is played out: someone totally unfamiliar with the legends sees something simple, but inexplicable, prefers not to mention it until inspired by a second report, and then Aboriginal folklore is called in as a possible explanation.

     In February 2000, I received a letter from a Mr Brian Lund, from which I shall extract the relevant sections:
     1997 - month and day never recorded in my diary.
     Place - near "May Downs", nth east Central Highlands, ie. between Middlemount and St. Lawrence ...
     I am an owner/operator of a grader, on contract hire to local shire council & was grading a gravel road when I saw (at a distance of between 750 & 1000 meters) an unknown animal cross the road ahead of me. Having worked & spent over forty years in the bush, I know all (?) our Australian (common) fauna, and whatever this was, I have never seen before. It was a bright sunny day, cleared brigalow country with buffel grass, occasional brigalow trees/ clumps & patchy regrowth, although the animal was first sighted on the actual gravel road & watched as it crossed the table drain & on/into the grassy verges. One could be forgiven for thinking it was a kangaroo with longer front legs & a funny gait. (No roo I've ever seen moved like it.)
     Sorry I can't recall any more, but these days I carry a small pair of binoculars on the grader, should such an opportunity arise again.
     The area is the hilly and mountainous country northwest of Rockhampton. Middlemount is situated approximately at 22.8° S, 148.7° E, and St Lawrence is almost due east, on the coast. Of course, nothing in the account suggests the animal was small. Indeed, considering the distance, it is more likely to have been large. And, as we all know, long front legs or not, when a kangaroo walks, it goes hunch-backed and slowly on all fours, or else it hops. But let Mr Lund continue...
  1994 or 1995 - Friends of mine with D8/D9 dozers were dam sinking south west of (?) Longreach in semi-desert country, very dusty. One morning the wife of the duo arrived at her machine to find baby (and only baby) [emphasis in original] footprints around it in the dust. (When she told me, it seemed she & her husband really were loath to do so.)
     1993 - A neighbour (for want of a better descriptive) was telling me he had seen this little creature (3 ft to 4 ft high or less) on/near his dam wall on a number of occasions. It had bright yellow or red eyes and was (I think), black & hairy.
     My eldest lad used to tell me he had seen a similar creature when camping out on the back of our property. [The short evil creature supposedly has a tall thin good counterpart in Aboriginal legend, but I had never heard of this duo, despite spending time with Aboriginals in the early sixties.]
     He then goes on to point out, correctly, that the vast majority of people pass through the bush at speed, their eyes fixed on the road ahead. He, on the other hand, used to watch the animals and birds as he handled his grader, from the seat of which he could see farther than the average motorist. Much of the country he passed through had little or no human presence for days or months on end. He also pointed out that most people simply ignore any skeleton they happen to see, and so have little idea of what it was in life.
     He also made another comment which is rather interesting, if somewhat off the topic:
Another point to note - mid to late- last year [ie 1999] I heard a female expert on tree climbing kangaroos (once again - ABC Radio) state that there were only two colonies remaining in Qld, both in F.N.Q. [far north Queensland], so I rang her to tell her of another colony in Central QLD (I didn't tell her I had actually shot one, whilst it was up a tree) but, until I go back there and photograph it, I doubt she would believe me. [The colony is well protected on private property & no shooters allowed near their habitat.] I think she was also upset because I wouldn't divulge their exact location.
     Scientific authorities are constantly recording the presence of native animals outside their known range, so it is incumbent on them to listen to the public on the matter - and for the public to notify them. In this case, if there really is a population of tree kangaroos in the central highlands, they probably represent an unknown species.

     You will note that the last two of Mr Lund's anecdotes were second hand, and thus subject to greater doubt. As for the rest, there do not appear to be any internal contradictions, nor any banal explanation. Also, it is likely that the witnesses would have been believed if they had reported something more mundane. In short, as with most of the incidents recorded in this blog, the only reason to doubt them is that they are fantastic. But even the fantastic must be taken seriously if it presents itself often enough.
     So what are we to make of them - assuming they can be believed? Nothing in the first hand encounters is inconsistent with an animal ie a bipedal beast rather than a hairy midget. Tony Healy and Paul Cropper devoted a whole chapter on the junjuddi in their book, The Yowie in which they included even more first hand accounts. It is noted that all those by white people and most of those by Aborigines are consistent with animals, and the few concerning intelligent "little hairy men" are all by Aborigines. Is this sufficient reason to discount them? Put it this way: as pointed out in my first paragraph, in those areas of Europe where the fairy tradition is still active, there are people who claim to have seen and interacted with them. This logically points to one of two possible conclusions: (a) there is an element of truth in the old legends after all; or (b) they are making it up, using the existing folklore as a framework for their own personal yarns. In view of the inherent improbability involved, option (b) ought to be the default position. In such cases, a stranger and non-believer is more credible than a resident believer. I suggest that the same rules should apply to the indigenous people of Australia as to the indigenous people of Europe.
     If they are both real and animal, what are they? It took me a long time to get used to the concept of a yowie (see my posts for  November and December 2012). The thought of a second species of unknown primate roaming marsupial land is a bridge too far at present. However, it stands to reason that any big bipedal ape must have been a little bipedal ape at some stage in its development, and there is no reason to assume its accompanying mother will always be visible to the human witness.
     Gary Opit, who is also a practising wildlife zoologist, has recorded a number of first hand encounters with both big yowies and little ones, and the stories are well worth reading. Of particular interest is his description of the deep, pulsating bellowing calls he heard at night, which he interpreted as the territorial call of a large primate. Now, the bush at night can be a weird and disturbing place, and few people know all the sounds it can produce. Dr Steven Van Dyck, also a wildlife zoologist, claimed once to have be scared out of his wits by a loud nocturnal bellow which turned out to have been the rutting call of red deer stag. It is not well known that Australia is home to a lot of feral deer. It is unclear whether Prof. Opit factored this in. His description appears to be of something different. A contact of his also reported regularly hearing the same thing in spring, while the red deer's rut ends about June. Also, he (Opit) heard something similar in the rainforest of New Guinea, where deer are not known to occur.
     Prof. Opit also heard a different call, which he interpreted as coming from a smaller primate. Also, there was apparently additional circumstantial evidence of a small, bipedal primate in the area. He made the obvious point that, if these are territorial calls, then the smaller animal must be an adult of a different species, rather than a juvenile yowie.
     Well, I don't know. The sounds of the bush can be confusing, and I know of no-one else who has reported it, so I prefer to reserve my judgment.
     My thanks are extended to Paul Cropper, Dr Ralph Molnar, and Brian Lund for the documentation on which this is based.


  1. 'if someone like me...were to announce in a local newspaper that I was interested in hearing about them...The word would go out: "Here's a proper Charlie who really believes tall tales. Let's provide him with a few."'

    I'd be intrigued to know if you've ever tried such an approach Malcolm because one thing I've learnt from reading your blogs for a quite a while now's in spite of your religious affiliations you've got one of the coolest most rational most naturally openminded minds out there and whilst I could imagine you being embarassed at the thought of having your leg pulled I'd be highly surprised if anyone'd ever succeeded in deliberately pulling the wool over your eyes.

    True brilliance I personally hold comes from an authentic desire to get at the truth even when it's precisely the opposite of what one'd prefer to hear which to mind pretty much covers you.

    The sort of people easy to mislead're precisely those people for whom agenda's everything hence they test to destruction anything they don't like and swallow whole anything they do which ain't you.

    In fact I'd go so far as to say you'd probably make a pretty damned brilliant interrogator of people with strange stories to tell precisely because you'd have just the right amount of wariness to balance your intense but urbane curiosity.

    If you haven't done it especially on a regular basis yet mate think about it because you'd be a natural and here I'm not referring to sophistication of presentation or brilliance of technique but your authentic will to know.

    Just a thought.

    1. I haven't done it, for the reasons given. Also, if the phenomenon is real, it is likely to be a fairly rare one, so the attempt is likely to fail on that reason alone. However, it would be worthwhile doing in connection with other cryptids. In other words, when/if I get around to writing another book (publishing is in the doldrums in Australia at present)I shall include a chapter on "littlefoot". On being interviewed, I would raise the issue, but be careful not to discuss it in terms of "little hairy men". Two things I have discovered. The first is, that the stranger the story, the more likely are the witnesses to request anonymity. The second is that, if you make enough enquiries, you will be hit with tall tales. I have heard several narratives from people who sound completely sincere, but on which I have serious reservations - especially since one of them would have been physically impossible. Flushing out credible accounts of events which are both rare and of high strangeness is one of the hardest tasks of any anomalist - which is why I believe I believe in recording any one which comes my way.

  2. Malcolm,
    I've found some old newspaper accounts of "little hairy men" through my research. One such creature was known as the Jerrawerra and was said to inhabit the Macleay and Clarence valleys according to an 1880 article. Another report from 1878 of a similar creature occurred around the Lismore area. You can read the accounts here