In the Queensland Museum, Dr Ralph Molnar once showed me a cast of a footprint that was beyond weird. It was long and thin, with a groove down the middle. But apart from a couple of small side claws, the truly astonishing feature was the pair of huge, central clawed digits which bent downwards at a vertical angle of almost 90 degrees. It was hard to see how any animal could walk that way. Yet the explanation was simple: it belonged to a wallaby. Wallabies and kangaroos do not always hop; over short distances they walk, the large hindfeet moving in unison, and the smaller forepaws being extended for support. Often, particularly over difficult terrain, the hindfeet are placed right next to each other. This is what happened in the above case, making it appear a single footprint, and the long central toe of each foot bent vertically down to gain purchase, because it was travelling through mud. I have also been caught out in another case, where a wallaby's combined hindfeet produced a composite, apparently single footprint. Moral of the story: the simple explanation is more likely to be the case.
With this in mind, I'd like to share some clippings Dr Molnar gave me of The Brisbane Courier of 1918. They refer to footprints discovered on Stradbroke Island, one of the large sand islands which guard the approach of Moreton Bay, east of Brisbane.
May 27th, 1918
I find it unlikely that a bipedal bogey with a four foot stride is still lurking around the island across the bay from my home. I shall therefore treat this as one more glitch in the even running of the universe. Who knows? The tracks may really have been left by a wallaby, of which there are two species on the island. On balance, it seems least unlikely. If so, however, the description does not ring true. A spacing of four feet would indicate that it was definitely hopping. It should therefore have left a series of two parallel prints of the front part of each hindfoot, with the heel showing only on rare occasions. And no matter how you view it, a wallaby's footprint should not be as wide as long.
I don't know what species was called "wander bird" in 1918. However, I do know that birds with a four foot stride are rather uncommon in this part of the world.