Yowies, ghosts and UFOS at Maitland Gaol for Paracon 2014

COLLECTION: Rex Gilroy with Australian "yowie" casts,  stone tools, which he believes may have been used by yowies, the Blue Mountains, and a sketch of a yowie, as depicted by Rex Gilroy.    Pictures supplied by Rex Gilroy
COLLECTION: Rex Gilroy with Australian "yowie" casts, stone tools, which he believes may have been used by yowies, the Blue Mountains, and a sketch of a yowie, as depicted by Rex Gilroy. Pictures supplied by Rex Gilroy

Rex Gilroy, who has devoted 57 years to investigating the yowie, will address this weekend’s Paracon Australia conference at Maitland Gaol, along with speakers on other disputed topics such as ghosts and UFOs.

COULD legendary creatures such as yowies and black panthers be lurking deep in Hunter Valley bushland?

Scientists insist there is no proven evidence for either while some ‘‘cryptozoology’’ experts will try to convince you otherwise. 

Reported sightings of such mythical beasts over the past 200 years have kept the debate alive that they might be out there.

The sceptical will say the sightings have always been a case of mistaken identity, and mock or shake their heads at anyone who suggests otherwise.

Among the believers is Rex Gilroy, who has devoted 57 years to investigating the yowie.

He will address this weekend’s Paracon Australia conference at Maitland Gaol, along with speakers on other disputed topics such as ghosts and UFOs.

Mr Gilroy reckons he has solved the mystery surrounding the yowie – that it is a homo erectus species flourishing in the bush, wearing animal hides, lighting fires through friction, making primitive tools and communicating in its own language.

He has recovered stone ‘‘tools’’ he thinks that the yowie made, and found a skull in 2005 he suggests is 2million years old.

Mr Gilroy claimed the yowie had been seen throughout the Hunter, particularly around Maitland and the Barrington Tops.

‘‘The yowie lives in the most remote sections of the eastern mountain range, and they have a very long history in the Blue Mountains,’’ he said.

Mr Gilroy said he had a five-minute encounter with a yowie in 1970 when he was walking in the Blue Mountains between the Jamison and Burragorang valleys.

‘‘It was moving slowly with a digging stick, it kept on going, I’m not sure if it saw me, but if it did it kept minding his own business,’’ he said.

‘‘Some journalists over the years have made fun of me about this, but I know what I saw.’’

Mr Gilroy has done extensive research about how he believes the yowie came to Australia, its genetic make up, and how the species has evolved.

He says the yowie is very similar to the American Big Foot.

Author and researcher Paul Cropper, who has spent 39 years looking into the yowie, has spoken to almost 300 people who claim to have seen the yowie.

He receives one or two reports of possible sightings every week and says that while it is highly unlikely they exist, anything is possible.

Professor Michael Archer from the University of NSW has spent much of his career researching Australia’s megafauna. While pointing out that new species are still being discovered, he says a fossil of a yowie or black panther has never been discovered.

The world is a very big place, so could there be creatures lurking in the bush waiting to be discovered?

Not according to Professor Colin Groves from the Australian National University, who is convinced that each reported sighting – even in colonial days – was a case of mistaken identity.

His research into crytozoology, the study of hidden animals, has failed to uncover any evidence that the creatures exist.

‘‘Very often people see something, misidentify it, and put it down to being some other creature,’’ Professor Groves said.

‘‘People see a feral black cat and get a wrong impression of its size and think it’s a black panther.

‘‘The myth of the yowie has grown from the first white person who saw something and were mistaken about what they were seeing.

‘‘Any odd disturbance in the bush is usually put down to the yowie.’’

The earliest reported sighting of the yowie is believed to have occurred in 1795.

Questions about the existence of the creature were raised in the Australian Town and Country Journal in the 1800s after Aboriginal people warned British settlers to be aware of them.

Descriptions of the creature have continued along the same lines since then – a hairy, ape-like creature that is very tall.

It is believed to be between two and 3  metres tall and some say they have backward feet, which confuse trackers.

Royal Australian Navy surgeon Captain Peter Cunningham who farmed near Mount Sugarloaf in the 1820s is arguably the first to have written about the yowie.

He never saw it, but he did hear cries during the night in the summer months that echoed through the mountains, and believed it was the yowie.

He wrote in his memoir Two Years in New South Wales, which was published in 1827, that the Awabakal people believed in a creature called ‘‘puttikan’’, which ate humans and had tough skin that spears could not penetrate.

The creature was apparently afraid of fire and roamed the bush at night, he wrote, although not all early settlers believed in the yowie legend.

Aborigines told Alexander Harris about the yowies that were north of Newcastle in the 1830s but he thought it was a hoax, writing in his memoir An Emigrant Mechanic, Settlers and Convicts or Recollections of Sixteen Years Labour in the Australian Backwoods that the Aboriginal people were trying to frighten them.

In 1986 at Bian Bian Plains in the Barrington Tops, Burris Ormsby, an American academic, and an Australian tour guide, found large human-shaped footprints in a remote section of the bush. Each footprint was reportedly a size 12 or 13 and much wider than a human foot.

Mick Stubbs believes he saw a yowie 60kilometres north-west of Gloucester during a pig hunting expedition in 1979.

He reported that a ‘‘big hairy man’’ moved away from him, and then he heard its footsteps circle behind him. That night he heard frightening screams from the bush.

Another sighting is reported to have taken place near Gloucester in 1993 – long before the murderer Malcolm Naden was a fugitive  in those parts.

The yowie has played a part in Aboriginal mythology for thousands of years, and has many names, depending on which tribe is talking about it.

Wonnarua Nation Aboriginal Corporation’s Laurie Perry said the story of yowies, also known among Aboriginal people as the medicine men, was told to the children.

He remembers hearing the story as a child and said children would not stray away from camp for fear they might encounter the creature.

‘‘We called them medicine men and they were big and hairy and their feet were backwards,’’ Mr Perry said.

‘‘We were told they were dangerous and we were scared of them.

‘‘We were told they roamed the land at night; it was a way of teaching the children to stay at the camp.’’

Nowadays, the Newcastle indigenous representative rugby league team is nicknamed the Yowies.

Mr Cropper has written two books about the yowie and seen and photographed its footprints in the bush.

He saw 30 footprints in an isolated area near Kempsey in 1995, a fortnight after two boys said they saw a yowie standing upright in the bush.

Mr Cropper said the footprints were two-centimetres deep in the ground, and a wildlife expert he took with him said the footprints had to have been made by an animal that weighed half a tonne.

‘‘I don’t think I was being hoaxed – it was a remote area of bushland, and when I walked on the ground you couldn’t even see my footprint,’’ he said.

The scepticism Mr Cropper holds about the yowie is because no one has hit one on a country road or while driving through the bush.

‘‘Thirty years later I’m still sceptical but I’m impressed by the consistency of the stories over that 200-year period, there are a lot of eyewitness accounts and that is impressive,’’ he said.

‘‘In saying that, it’s surprising to me that no one has run a yowie over in a car given if what we are dealing with is so large, and given the amount of four-wheel-drives that are driving across the country in the bush.

Mr Cropper is doubtful the mystery of the yowie will ever be solved. Nevertheless, he keeps an open mind.

Professor Archer’s research into Australia’s megafauna has looked at what might have caused animals including kangaroos, koalas, and lizards to become considerably larger. 

His research has concluded that animals grew larger through natural selection after a severe weather change that made food and water resources less nutritious.

During that time grey and red kangaroos were 30 per cent bigger and koalas were 20 per cent larger.

THEY are seen for a split second before disappearing back into the dark.

Every now and then a grainy photograph,  patchy video footage or dodgy pawprint is produced to fuel talk that big cats roam the Hunter Valley.

 For decades, ‘‘sightings’’ have persisted of large felines stalking national parks from the Hunter to  Sydney’s western fringes  and beyond.

 More than 500 accounts have been logged across NSW.

Some say they are jaguars that could have escaped from the circus or a zoo. Others suggest they were cougars brought here by American sailors as military mascots.

The Newcastle Herald published reports in 2012 of  a panther  around Morisset, Lake Munmorah and Wyee.

Lake Munmorah resident Jim Briggs found paw prints in his backyard at the time, and thought it was a panther due to the size.

Five years earlier a state government  investigation into big cats failed to find evidence of the creatures.

Invasive species experts have blamed sightings on wild dogs, feral cats and wallabies.

Cryptozoology researcher Rex Gilroy believes big cats existed in Australia before Europeans came, and were even around in the ice age.

He thinks the creature could be related to the marsupial lion, believed to be extinct.

A SHARK  of “almost unbelievable proportions” was spotted  swallowing crayfish  pots that were more than one-metre wide.

Some of the shaken Port Stephens old salts who reportedly saw the beast in 1918 gave wildly differing accounts of its length.

 While fishermen are notorious for expanding on the truth,  this tale still reverberates after almost a century. 

 Australian naturalist David Stead wrote about the encounter and spoke to local fisheries inspectors at the time who agreed   it had to have been “something really gigantic to put these experienced men into such a state of fear and panic”.

The experience pointed to  the megalodon, a prehistoric shark whose ancient Greek name translates as ‘‘big tooth’’.

The megalodon was more than 20metres long – four times larger than the great white  –  and is supposed to have been extinct for millions of years.

Mr Stead wrote that the fisherman agreed that it had a “ghostly whitish colour”, but he was sceptical about the lengths the crew gave him.

“One of the crew said the shark was [90 metres] long at least,  others said it was as long as the wharf on which we stood, about [35 metres],” he wrote. “They had seen its terrible head which was ‘at least as long as the roof on the wharf shed at Nelson’s Bay’.”

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