Normanton. This is a town close to the Gulf of Carpentaria, at 17° 40' S, 141° 15' E. The sighting was actually made about 60 km to the east by George Wellers, a tour coach driver from Cairns, in mid-1996. He contacted me by telephone on 10 December 1997, after hearing about me from another witness in Bundaberg. He had been returning to Normanton after delivering some tourists to the railway station. It was the middle of the day, bright and sunny, and grass stood about knee high on both sides of the road. About 200 yards away, the animal emerged from the grass on the right hand side, and crossed the road at a pace between a walk and a run. It was the colour of a dingo, and that was what he first assumed it was. Then he realised that it was more like an oversized house cat, about as high as a man's knee. The tail was long and thin, with the end section (say 2-3 inches, or 5-8 cm) darker. He didn't see the face well, as it was side on. The body was slim, and there were no markings.
Later he visited Dreamworld, and when he saw the cougar he could see that it looked just like the Normanton beast, except that the latter was lighter in colour.
Comment: Considering the distance and short duration, I would not consider this a good sighting, and I wonder how he could be so certain about the dark tuft of the tail, but the tip of cougar's tail is darker. Also, the coat varies in colour.
Cooktown. (15° 30' S, 145° 10'E). On page 32 the Brisbane Sunday Mail of 5 April 1998 printed an article entitled, "Sighting revives cat fears". The relevant paragraph was as follows:
The Cooktown Cat was reported to be about 45 cm (18 in) high and 60 cm (2 ft) long, with a fluffy tail about 75 cm (2 ft 6 in) long with a curl at the end. Joe Meaney and his wife, Yvonne say they saw the animal about 10 km from Cooktown. "We saw this thing on the road and realised it was a cat. It turned and leapt from the centre of the road to the grass. It was three times the size of a normal cat and had a big footprint." Mr Meaney said the body was too long for a feral cat and was quite different from a quoll, a native marsupial cat. . . . Mr Meaney said the animal looked something like a mountain lion, sandy in colour with darker colours and tufts of hair coming from its pointy ears.So, on Good Friday, 10 April I phoned Mr Meaney. That opened a can of worms. Every witness had heard of other witnesses. Some people called them "black mountain cats". Let us start with the first witness.
Joseph Meaney, former fitter and turner, was at the time aged 57 and an invalid pensioner. Born on the Atherton Tableland, he had kept tree kangaroos as pets and was familiar with feral cats. The incident happened a couple of weeks before, probably 24 or 25 March 1998. It was about 22 km from Cooktown by road and 10 km in a straight line, not far from the airport, and the township of Martin, on Railway Avenue, his home road, on the way to Laura. (Note: he said it was somewhat south of Cooktown, but my map shows the road to Laura paralleling an abandoned railway heading northwest by west of Cooktown, with two airfields next to it.) A fairly dense forest of tea tree, bloodwood, and ghost gums flanked both sides of the road. It was about 10 am, in fine weather, although it had recently stopped raining - hence the good footprints.
The distance was only about 30 metres. When they saw it, it had obviously just crossed the road, and was standing on the right hand side with its hind legs towards the centre of the road. It then turned around, looked at them, and returned the way it had come by leaping 5 metres from the middle to the left side of the road in a manner which really impressed him.
It was about half the size of a cougar (his own words), or as big as a blue cattle dog, but with an elongated body and shorter legs. Its coat was a general tan colour, without any markings, but darker on the shoulders, rump, and tail. It had a shortish face, and he particularly noticed the fine tufts of hair on the tips of its ears. Its body was long, and in good condition. He was especially struck by its tail, which was thick and bushy, long in comparison to a normal cat's, and with a curl at the end. I asked if by "bushy" he meant like a German shepherd's. He said no; the hair was fine and thick, but the tail was of uniform thickness. (This is a good description of a cougar's tail.)
I asked how, if it was only the size of a cattle dog, he could be sure it was not a feral cat. He replied that the tail was much longer and thicker, and it was very big for a cat.
Comment. Despite the last paragraph, it should be pointed out that the maximum known size of feral cats is the same as that of a fox. Also, in their book, Australian Big Cats Michael Williams and Rebecca Lang provide good evidence, including photos of pelts, of feral cats as large as dingoes. Note also that this was not far from the Daintree sighting referred to in my last post.
The same day I telephoned a Mr Keith Edmonds, who told me of his experience late one drizzly night about six months before ie approximately November 1997. It happened about 20 km north of Cooktown, in the midst of fairly open scrub - tea trees, and so forth. He was coming round a crest or bend, and had slowed down to about 20 kph because he was approaching a water crossing. Just then, the animal walked in front of him - maybe only 20 metres away - right in the middle of his headlight beams. He slowed almost to a stop, and received a side-on view, without the animal facing him. The sighting lasted only a couple of seconds, but he had no doubt at all it was a black panther. It was about half a metre high, with a body a metre long, and an equally long tail.
On 25 June 1998 I spoke to Mrs Kerry Morgan, who lived on a 160 ha property on Cameron Creek Rd about 20 km from Cooktown. The creek flows into the Endeavour River, and is situated at the bottom of a mountain range, deep in rainforest and scrub. I presume it was towards the north because, as will be evident later, it is near the Hopevale Mission.
They ran goats on their property but, at the date of our interview, they had hardly any left. Over the past two years 50 to 55 goats had disappeared. They used to hear a lot of screaming by the goats at night, and the animals took to leaving the paddocks and returning to the vicinity of the house at night. One day, about 3 pm, she was in the paddock when she heard a goat bleating. The direction and movement of the sound suggested it had been picked up and was being carried away by something. She grabbed a lump of iron and followed the sound for about a mile without actually seeing the predator. It had apparently dropped the goat, when she then picked up and carried home. However, it died three hours later. He husband, Shane told her the puncture wounds were peculiar and not dog-like. You should be aware that dogs tend to kill by ripping and tearing, whereas cats kill by a bite to the neck or, in the case of big cats, by holding the prey's throat in its jaws until it suffocates. I would be surprised to hear of even a large dog carrying away even a small goat.
A few weeks later she saw, in broad daylight, at a distance of about 150 metres, a big cat pick up a goat in its mouth and carry it away. Obviously, anything which could do this would have to be pretty big. Compared to the size of the goat, she felt it was as big as a lioness. Certainly, it was larger than a big, big dog. It was cinnamon in colour, and was smooth and silky, with an agile, catlike movement. The face was roundish and it had a fluffy tail. I asked some misleading questions about the tail, and got some misleading answers. She said it was bushier than a fox's. Later on she saw a second cat, which was sandy in colour.
Mrs Morgan then provided some secondhand stories.
(i) Her husband, Shane had not seen the animal directly, but had seen numerous tracks. He claimed to be good at tracking, and to be able to confirm they were made by a cat, rather than a dog. I am not in a position to test the claim.
(ii) Her 14-year-old daughter had gone swimming with three or four friends at a swimming hole a few miles away. She noticed a tree with many scratches on it. At one point, she emerged from the swimming hole and climbed up a bit. Lo and behold! There was a big cat rubbing itself against the tree about 20 feet [6 metres] from her. She left in a hurry, without making any attempt to identify it, but she claimed it was a cougar.
(iii) A lady friend and her son had been visiting the Morgan place at night, and had stopped the car at the property gate, about 800 metres from the house. In the headlights they could see a big cat watching them. According to the son, it was bigger than a German shepherd.
(iv) An Aboriginal friend and his family live two or three miles [3 or 4 km] away in a house adjacent to the Hopevale Mission. They had seen the cats several times, and were familiar with it - not to mention terrified. He also claimed to have found a cache of dozens of goat skulls, and Mrs Morgan told me he lived in the same direction that the cat was heading when it took the goat.
She also said that Shane had heard tell of such cats near Mackay, which makes me wonder whether than are not scattered sparsely along the whole east coast.
Moreton Telegraph Station is on the Wenlock River at approximately 13° 02' S, 142° 37'E, or about 80 ENE of Weipa, and thus a lot farther north than the other sites. On 25 October 1998 I interviewed by telephone Mr JH, aged 43, who occupied a responsible position in the area, and requested anonymity for that reason. He was also a "hobbyist shooter" who often found people ready to pay him for his hobby. He had shot lots of feral cats, thousands of pigs, and "acres of dingoes."
In February 1998 ie eight months before, he had been hunting pigs between two small (15 - 20 metre) ridges, just north of the station. It was about half an hour before sunset. Visibility was good, and he had a clear sight for about 300 - 400 metres. Just then he saw the mystery animal come out of a marshy area about 250 metres away. It was in view for no more than 10-25 seconds at the most. As soon as he saw it, he raised his gun to look through the sights, but only managed to glimpse the tail as it disappeared.
At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks, because it was a cat, but much too big. This one was about the same height as a blue heeler dog, but one and a half times as long. (A blue heeler is a rather compact dog.) Its back was low slung, with a tail perhaps as long as the head and body combined, or maybe even slightly longer. It was bushy, about as thick as a German shepherd's, but pointed and held low, not quite touching the ground. Its head was short and typically feline, but appeared oversized in comparison with the body, which was jet black.
Iron Range National Park (approximately 12° 40' S, 143° 51' E, or 100 km east of Weipa). JH told me that it was common knowledge that some tourists had made similar sightings there. I therefore wrote to the chief ranger, who telephoned me two months later, on 7 January 1999, when he had returned from holidays. He then quoted from the park's "sightings book". However, I shall remove the surnames from the first account, because I was not able to contact the witnesses myself.
(1) 3 May 1998: Three men came into the park HQ in a highly excited state. They were father and son, Les and Aaron K, and their friend, Ben W. They had done a fair bit of pig hunting and were familiar with the local wildlife. However, that day, early in the morning, but during daylight, a large brown animal loped across Portland Road, inside the park, between Portland Roads and the Cockhard River. It was 75 cm [30 in] high at the shoulder, and was catlike. At first they were reticent about calling it catlike, but that was what it looked like. Its unusual loping movement was what first caught their attention. Furthemore, they had taken a photograph of the footprint, and also drew it. The ranger then showed them Dr Trigg's book on scats and tracks, and it conformed to a cat print, only bigger. The case could not be followed up because they could not show exactly where they had seen it.
(2) 26 August 1998: An elderly couple, J. Edison and spouse came into the ranger's station and the ranger's wife recorded their statement. I therefore telephoned one of the witnesses on 10 January 1999. Her name was Joan Edison, and she and her husband, Alastair were both journalists with the Sydney Daily Telegraph, but were involved in putting together the paper rather than writing article. They had driven around the outback, had done a lot of camping, and were familiar with dingoes.
The incident occurred about two days before they reported it to the park HQ. They first mentioned it at the Archer River Roadhouse when they saw a notice about a missing black dog, but the dog had a white breast plate and a normal gait.
It took place in the late morning on a perfectly clear day, near the crossing of the Wenlock River and the new by-pass road to Cape York (not the old Telegraph Road). She also suggested that it was about 100 km north of the earlier Wenlock River sighting, but I suspect it was closer. She confirmed several times that the distance was about 100 metres. She guessed the sighting lasted about a minute. At first they thought it was a black dingo, until it crossed the road in front of them. It was completely black. They failed to get a good look at its head, but it was bigger than a dingo - say as large as a collie, or a big German shepherd. It was slim, with a long, feline tail, and loped with a definite feline manner. The closest animal she could compare it to was a black jaguar (mentioned several times).
(3) The ranger also told me there had been numerous other sightings, especially in the area of the town of Portland Roads. One ten-year-old boy came face to face with one and was, according to his mother, "struck dumb" and unable to talk about it for a day or so.
I tell you, there is a dangerous, intrusive predator threatening our wildlife and livestock all the way along the seaboard and a couple of hundred kilometres inland all the way from the far west to the far north. I hope the scientific fraternity and the state governments eventually get around to doing something about it.