Tuesday 19 November 2019

The Gatton Yowie, 1998

     Monday 9 February 1998: there I was, at my desk, minding my own business - or rather, my employer's business - when the phone rang. I found myself talking to a rather excited man, who initially refused to give his last name, asking if I knew anything about apes in Australia. Apparently, he had phoned the Queensland Museum and had been transferred to Dr. Ralph Molnar, the dinosaur expert, because he was the only staff member interested in cryptozoology. Dr. Molnar had then referred him to me. I told him that, yes, I had recently had published a book on Australian mystery animals, and that I had reluctantly accepted that the "yowie", or Australian version of the bigfoot, really existed. He now wanted me to promise that I would believe his story. I explained that this was too much to ask before I heard it, but that I could promise to take it seriously. He wanted information because of a dramatic incident experienced by a couple of his friends at Gatton, but if I ever mentioned his name, he would deny everything. Clearly, I was not dealing with any publicity hound.

Sunday 10 November 2019

Forgotten Sea Serpents of 1879

     I am about to travel overseas, but first I might as well return to chronicling past sea serpent reports which have apparently remained unnoticed by former compilers. As explained in earlier posts, they were published in various newspapers around the world, then picked up by the press in Australia. Again, I have chosen what appear to be the earliest and fullest accounts, but it is possible that the original reports appeared a couple of months before. In the late nineteenth century the world press took sea serpent sightings seriously - sometimes too seriously. I have omitted some too outrageous to be true, including some in which the animal was alleged to have been captured, or at least a specimen taken, then never heard of again. Anyway, we shall start with the first of 1879.

Tuesday 29 October 2019

Two Unknown Bipedal Apes in the Congo

    This may be my last translation. Charles Cordier (1897-1994) was a Swiss zoo collector who worked for the Bronx Zoo in New York. In the late 1940s he and his wife, Emy made a lengthy expedition to the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), specifically to collect the Congo peacock, which had been identified only in 1936! However, what I presume was his last expedition to the Congo coincided with the violence and anarchy of Congo Independence. Nevertheless, as well as catching gorillas using nets (they don't do that sort of thing any more) in what can only be labelled the geographic centre of Africa, he heard rumours of not one, but two unknown apes.  Here, then, is his account, translated from the French.

Saturday 5 October 2019

The Last (Forgotten) Sea Serpents of the 19th Century

     Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I have been systematically seeking out and publishing reports in Australian newspapers of sea serpents witnessed in other parts of the world which have been missed by earlier investigators, in particular, Oudemans, Gould, and Heuvelmans. This post is the final in the series, and brings the story up to the last years of the nineteenth century. (Twentieth century sightings have been recorded in earlier posts.) Once more, I have chosen the earliest Australian report, but the original may have been taken from a foreign newspaper weeks, or sometimes months, beforehand.

Saturday 15 June 2019

The Great Koolunga Bunyip Hunt of 1883

They sought it with thimbles,
They sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;
They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.
 (The Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll, 1876)
Bunyip: The bogey of the bush, a mythical monster which lurks in the rivers and swamps of inland Australia, and makes Aborigines turn white with terror. Everyone has heard about the bunyip, but no-one can tell you what it looks like.
Koolunga, South Australia: population 195, the epitome of a one horse town. You'll need a really detailed map to find it, so I shall give the co-ordinates: 33½° S, 138.1° E, on the banks of the Broughton River, 33 km south of Crystal Brook, and 46 km north west of Clare.
     Yet, in early 1883 it was the centre of a colourful bunyip hunt which kept the rest of the continent amused long after it had ended with a blast. No doubt many readers in Queensland and Tasmania were asking themselves at the time: "Where the [expletive] is Koolunga?"

Monday 10 June 2019

New Zealand's Mystery Animal

     Going through my papers, I discovered a translation I made from the German more than forty years ago on the waitoreke, an alleged native mammal of New Zealand. It's not doing much good lying on my desk, so I might as well share it with you. Once more, I have preferred accuracy of translation to elegant English. Nevertheless, some of the terms I found obscure, so I cannot guarantee absolute accuracy, but anyone who wishes to check it can find the original document here.
     The fauna of New Zealand has suffered dreadfully from human settlement, and many species have been driven to extinction. To cite just one example: in 1986 the world's largest gecko was discovered as a stuffed specimen in the Natural History of Marseilles, and was recognized as a lizard described in Maori oral tradition, which only a single person had ever claimed to have seen alive. New Zealand is a land where flightless birds take the place of mammals, for the only native land animals are two species of bats, because New Zealand has been isolated from the rest of the world since the age of dinosaurs. It even possesses a strange reptile, the tuatara, which looks like a lizard, but is really the last survivor of a group which otherwise died out with the dinosaurs. It stands to reason, therefore, that any non-flying native land mammal may well be a monotreme, like the platypus and echidna, or something more ancient and primitive. With this in mind, let us proceed to the translation.

Wednesday 1 May 2019

The Beast of Gévaudan - Solved !

     Between 1764 and 1767 a huge man-eater terrorised the region surrounding the southern French town of Gévaudan, claiming between 80 and 100 lives. People, often teenagers, tended the fields bearing spears. A detachment of dragoons was sent to hunt the Beast, and. 10,000 citizens were engaged as a battue to flush it out. Several times its death was announced, but the killings kept going on. It took a number of musket balls at relatively close range. The Beast of Gévaudan has become the stuff of legend and speculation. What was it? Officially a wolf. Or perhaps some huge wolf-dog hybrid. Or a hyaena. Or even a werewolf, according to Montague Summers! But now, at last, a German zoologist, Karl-Hans Taake has examined the primary sources, and definitively identified it.

Tuesday 2 April 2019

Four More Forgotten Sea Serpents

      Once again I shall continue with my program of publishing old "sea serpent" reports which had evaded the attention of earlier researchers, such as Oudemans, Gould, and the redoubtable Heuvelmans. As before, my sources are the old Australian newspapers digitalised by the Australian National Library under the title of Trove. No doubt, as more and more nations digitalise their newspapers, more and more incidents will come to light, if other researchers take the time to unearth them.

Friday 1 March 2019

In a Dark Hut With a Mystery Monster

     Crytozoological references can turn up in all sorts of odd places, and since these publications are likely to have vanished from public memory, it is important that the stories be filed in a central registry - like this one. Readers of this blog with long memories may recall that one such story appeared in the august pages of the National Geographic. Now I have just discovered another one in the May 1915 issue of my favourite magazine, The Wide World which, if you are interested, can be read or downloaded here.

Saturday 2 February 2019

Forgotten Sea Serpents of 1888 - 1889

     Another month, so let's continue with the task of documenting nineteenth century sea serpent sightings which managed to avoid the gaze of all major researchers, such as Oudemans, Gould, and Heuvelmans, but which serendipitously turned up in obscure Australian newspapers, frequently long after the event. In this post we shall concentrate on the years 1888 and 1889.

Wednesday 2 January 2019

The Georgetown Sea Serpent, 1888

     Did a sea serpent turn up in Georgetown Harbour in 1888? On page 573 of The Great Sea-Serpent (1892), A. C. Oudemans features a list of hoaxes, culminating at the bottom of the page with:
The sea-serpent is distinctly seen in Georgetown Harbour, on the 20th. of August, 1888, sleeping on the surface, &c. - Chambers' Journal, 1888, Nov. 24. - (R. P. G.)
    The three last initials stand for Mr. R. P. Greg, who provided him with his whole collection of clippings. But why was it classified as a hoax? Did he know something he wasn't telling?