Tuesday 3 March 2020

The Footprint on the Cliff Face

    If you visit Carnarvon Gorge, Central Queensland, as thousands do, you will come to a cliff face where the aborigines have carved the footprints of numerous animals, perhaps as a blackboard for their children. Only a sign erected by the National Parks and Wildlife Service will alert you to the fact that one of them is not referable to any known animal. However, a keen cryptozoologist will immediately recognize its similarity to a footprint found north of Cardwell, nearly 900 km away.
     Well, that was what I wrote on page 69 of Bunyips and Bigfoots, introducing the chapter on the north Queensland tiger. To my surprise, however, in the quarter century since then I have discovered that I appear to be the only person aware of it. Those who mention it always cite my book. The current staff of the Carnarvon National Park don't know about it. They used to, and they should, but they don't. With this in mind, it is time I set the record straight.
     During the first half of last century, legends abounded of a large, striped, cat-like animal, presumed to be a marsupial, dwelling in the fastness of north Queensland. You can read about some of the reports here. In fact, as the article explained, the legend really began in 1871, with a letter published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London.
     A second letter was published on 5 March 1872, on page 355 of the Proceedings, and it relates the experience of a surveyor, Mr. Hull on the Murray and Mackay Rivers, north of Cardwell, where he and his team heard roaring three nights in succession, and they discovered a footprint in the soft soil. As it turned out, Alfred Hull was, at the time, busy having his diary published in the southern Queensland newspapers, and he stated the dimensions of the footprint to be 4 by 4½ inches, or 10 by 11 cm, as I related in the first volume of the Journal of Cryptozoology.
     In any case, here is Alfred Hull's sketch of the footprint, which he assured the correspondent was correct in every detail. It is not referable to any known species.
     The site, or course, was in far north Queensland. However, Carnarvon Gorge is situated at approximately 25° S, 148° 10' E, and consists of a spectacular complex of gorges, now served by a large number of walking trails. More to the point, the cliff faces and rock shelters also feature spectacular examples of Aboriginal art, the most spectacular being on the hard-to-access Art Gallery.
     Carnarvon Gorge is not easily accessible to a person like myself acting alone. However, in 1978 and 1986 I booked excursions with companies providing camping tours of the canyon. Because I had taken a large number of photos on my first visit, I left my camera home on the second one. I could have kicked myself! Here is an extract of my diary for Saturday 29 March 1986. At the time, we had done a complete circuit, and were heading back to camp.
     It seemed only reasonable to continue on to the Art Gallery, 5.6 km from the campsite. The trouble was, the trail was very hot and tiring. Beyond the 10th creek crossing it rose ever upwards. Some time after noon we came to a stairway in a cleft in the rocks, and as it was the only shady spot we sat down to eat our packed lunch. At the top of the stair was the Art Gallery - that vast cliff face covered with aboriginal art - stencilled hands, boomerangs, coolamons, nets, goannas, etc. Since I was last there, however, they have added a walkway (at least, I don't remember it there before). Without the notices on the walkway I wouldn't have seen the spirit figure or realised that the most common engraving represented a vulva. They also pointed out an engraving of a 5-toed paw of any unknown animal. I immediately remembered the footprint of the North Queensland 'tiger'.
     If I had had my camera with me, I would have taken photos of both the engraving and the sign. As it was, I made a rough sketch of it on a scrap of paper, and later transferred it to my diary. I shan't copy it here because it was very crude but, like Mr Hull's sketch, it displayed the same oval pad, not present in any known native animal, and with five toes - not four - in a line above the pad, but I think somewhat thinner than on Hull's footprint.
    For various reasons, I haven't been back since - at least not to the Art Gallery. You can find plenty of photos online of the art at that site, but none of them, as far as I am aware, covers the specific small nook which bears that engraving. In 2016 a correspondent, Chris McLean decided to make written enquiries to the authorities at Carnarvon Gorge about it. It turns out no-one now knows anything about it. The sign directing attention to it no longer exists. Some time in the last third of a century, when facilities were being up-dated, somebody decided to remove the sign.
     But the footprint is there. I saw it. I recorded it. If you ever visit the Art Gallery, you may be able to locate it. If you can, please send me a photograph.


  1. https://donsmaps.com/carnarvon.html


  2. Thank you! However, this is not it. The engraving in question possessed five toes. Also, according to the website, the photo refers to the Cathedral Cave, rather than the Art Gallery.