Bigfoot Encounters

Australia's "The Yowie Man"
Courier Mail - September 25, 2001, Tuesday
Copyright 2001 Nationwide News Pty Limited


The Yowie Man
"There was no way, absolutely no way, that a grizzly could survive in the harsh Aussie bush for such a long period of time"

The story of a mystery bear on the loose in Queensland is one of the classic cases in crypto-naturalism, not only in Australia, but the whole world. The Yowie Man reports

LOCATION: Gayndah, a small rural town, previously known for its oranges, in the Burnett region of southern Queensland.

The investigation: I was woken at 6.30 am by a call from ABC radio in Hobart, Tasmania. The morning announcer, Tim Cox, who has been in touch with me on numerous occasions before for opinion on mysterious phenomena around Australia, was on the other end of the line.

"Yowie Man, Yowie Man, have you heard the news?" he asked enthusiastically.I immediately assumed that a Tasmanian Tiger must have been captured inTasmania. Why else would he be ringing me at such an ungodly hour?

"There's a grizzly on the loose in Queensland." Never in my wildest dreams did I think that he was going to say that! He went on: "It's big news, in fact it's headline news of the day, and I
thought you'd be on top of it." I ended up offering my "expert" opinion on the breaking news, but only afterhe briefed me on the story.

In 1959, a circus van supposedly overturned on the Binjour Plateau, some 400 km north of Brisbane, and some animals escaped. . . including a grizzly bear. Up until a few weeks ago this was nothing but folklore to locals of the Binjour Plateau.

However, a recent spate of sightings of a strange bear-like creature haverekindled the belief of many old-timers that there may be some truth to thelegend . . .

Over the past few days several credible and respected members of the Gayndah community have experienced bizarre encounters with a bear-like creature that is rumored to be a descendant of the escaped circus beast.

A Gayndah mango grower, Shirley Humphries, saw the animal just on dusk on the sand near the river. It then quickly vanished into scrubland, but not before it took some mangoes, eggs, ripped a biscuit tin open and tried to escape with a jar of Vegemite.

With just Tim Cox's summary of the news report to go on, there were some things that just didn't seem to add up. Like:

1: How could the creature be the descendant of a grizzly? That would mean there would have to have been more than one grizzly on the loose in the Aussie bush. Yeah, right! There was Buckley's chance of that. Unless it somehow mated with a bush pig or something; and

2: Have you ever seen Pooh Bear munching on a Vegemite sandwich? No -- that's because bears like honey, not Vegemite!

After making more general comments on other cryptozoological incidents in the Gayndah region, I then moved the interview on to a spate of reports of thylacine on Tasmania's rugged west coast -- at least I was fully briefed on them!

As soon as I'd finished talking to Tim, thinking that I may get other calls about the bear-like creature, I decided to call it the Gayndah Bear. I gave my mate Steve Rushton, a Queensland-based mystery investigator, a call to see what his spin on the sightings was.

Steve claimed that an old book he'd dredged up from the basement, called Diaries of a Swagman, written in the late 1800s, contained stories of wild bears throughout Queensland, so this wasn't a totally new phenomenon. Despite Steve giving his qualified support for the grizzly theory, I was
still far from convinced. So much so that even before checking the reports first-hand, I issued a $10,000 reward for the "live capture of a grizzly bear in the Gayndah region".

Although I didn't exactly have $10,000 lying around, I was prepared to take a loan because a grizzly living in the Aussie bush would be one of the most significant discoveries possible for a crypto-naturalist. With all the experience in North America I'd chalked up over the previous
three years, there was no way, absolutely no way, that a grizzly could survive in the harsh Aussie bush for such a long time. Among the many calls I received that day, one was from Peter Huth, the Mayor of Gayndah, who invited me to come up to Queensland and help solve the
mystery of the Gayndah Bear.

How could I refuse? With overwhelming interest, more than any other cryptozoological case I've ever dealt with spiraling out of control, I had to get to Gayndah. I booked the next available flight to Brisbane.

Friday, February 4, 2000
After a sleepless night fielding countless calls about the bear, andpreparing for my trip, I staggered on to the direct flight to Brisbane at 6.15 am. On arrival at Brisbane airport, with no time to lose, I hired a car and drove for five hours to Gayndah.

Here is an account of the events that occurred in the ensuing 48 hours, the craziest two days of my life -- an absolutely insane series of events that could only happen in Queensland and, as my friends keep saying, could only happen to me.

Noon: arrival in Gayndah

Just what the heck was going on here? Before meeting the Mayor, I stopped to check my message bank. My mobile phone had been out of range for most of the drive up and my message bank had received 181 calls in the previous five hours!

There were calls from just about every media organization in Australia along with many international news agencies, and even someone from the World Wildlife Fund, who was seriously concerned about the welfare of the bear. And that was just the first 30 calls.

2.30 pm: the mango farm

Shirley Humphries, a 63-year-old orchard keeper was pleased to meet me -- she saw me as an ally, someone who would believe, or at least listen in detail to her improbable encounter. She showed me where the bear stole the eggs off her farm machinery, ripped open her biscuit tin and tried to escape with the jar of Vegemite.

"It really scared me as it was like nothing I'd seen before," she confessed. "It was the shape of a man, but looked something like a bear. It didn't walk or hop, but ambled along."

After a quick survey of the mango orchard and adjacent riverbed -- and with time ticking away to my meeting with the crew from A Current Affair -- Shirley introduced me to her 67-year-old brother, also a mango farmer on an adjoining property, Alan Bucholz.

Alan also witnessed the "bear" disappear into the trees down by the river. "I was a bit reluctant to tell anyone about it," Alan told me.

3.15 pm: the center of Gayndah

An albino bear had commandeered the Mayor's car. It turned out to be a toy bear that had been put there by a bunch of blokes from the pub, but that didn't stop local road workers from having a bit of fun with it.

3.30 pm: the TV crew arrives

Down by the river crossing, A Current Affair investigative journalist David Margan introduced himself and his camera crew. They were fairly skeptical about the whole situation, but seemed happy to be out in the scrub rather than in the city shooting the standard bankrupt/con-man type yarns.

After letting rip with one of my famous yowie calls, we began a long trek along the river, our eyes peeled for any sign of the bear. All sightings had been along the river.

I then told ACA that if anyone was planning to try to claim the reward then they should keep an eye out for overturned rocks (show of strength), broken roots or logs (foraging for food), traces of fur on bark or fences lining the river and paw prints.

After demonstrating these sleuthing tips, I did a piece to camera saying that all good citizens of Gayndah should leave out rotting garbage to attract the bear, particularly fish bones and innards, to be quiet (bears have an acute sense of hearing) and to wear perfume. Much to Margan's mirth,
I then proceed to spray lashings of Channel No. 5 over both of us. The next day

The next day local Aborigine Sam Hill shared his thoughts with us. "They used to be everywhere and live beside us as a smaller race of people," said Sam, referring to his theory that the bear could be a Jongari, a small, hairy creature from Aboriginal mythology.

"Years ago they would play with the kids. My friend once saw one and thought it was a monkey because it was so hairy," he said. As recently as 1994, a Carnarvon National Parks and Wildlife Officer, Grahame Walsh, apparently spotted a Jongari wandering around the nearby
national park. Sam described the Jongari as, "Just over a metre tall with a man-like torso,
long ape-like limbs and smelly".

Subsequent weeks: Gayndah
The bear fever that gripped Gayndah created significant interest from far afield for several months. In late February 2000, two locals, Julian Nott and Peter Raffels, supposedly captured the bear on film. They never forwarded me a copy of their photo, but I managed to view it in a local newspaper clipping sent to me. It was blurry and inconclusive.

A variant of the circus story even started circulating. Apparently in 1959, the circus convoy was descending the Binjour Plateau to the coast when the driver of one of the trucks spotted a bear-like animal on the road, causing the driver to lose control and crash. A search of newspaper reports from the time failed to confirm either version of the circus truck crash.

The Yowie Man's verdict

I still haven't had to part with $10,000 . . .

If you wanted to pick out a crypto-naturalist case for a textbook, this would be it. It has all the ingredients of the typical crypto-naturalist mystery: small country town, credible eyewitnesses, local paper runs story, person puts out reward and other media pick up on it. Town is split, more and more reports come out, no evidence is found for a few weeks, until someone takes
a dodgy fuzzy photo. By then a burgeoning industry has commenced as a result of the media coverage, and the town is left with a myth -- a lasting calling card . . . a legend that can be passed down to future generations.

Extract and illustrations from The Adventures of Tim The Yowie Man (Random House, $16.95)

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