Malcolm Naden spent seven years in the wilderness, but Christopher Knight went bush for 27 years

During his seven years as a fugitive, Malcolm Naden was part man, part myth.

Hiding in the Barrington Tops with a long beard, dirty clothes and bare feet, it’s no surprise that Naden could easily have been mistaken for something else.

Which is why, we expect, he’s been compared to a yowie.

As dedicated readers of this column would know, we carried a story last week about a yowie sighting in the Barrington Tops.

“It was probably old Malcolm himself,” Bub Gray said, on the Newcastle Herald Facebook page.

Of the mysterious yowie, Steven Henry said: “Ask Malcolm Naden. He lived with them for nearly seven years. He could tell some good yowie stories”.

Perhaps Naden had a tea party with a family of yowies.

They might have showed him the way down the nearest rabbit hole. After all, anything’s possible.

Anyhow, you might think Naden did well to last seven years in the bush without being caught.

But have you heard of Christopher Knight? He lived as a hermit in the wilderness in Maine in the US for 27 years.

At age 20, Knight was working for an alarm-installation company near Boston.

One day, for no obvious reason, he quit his job and went bush.

He didn’t tell family or friends. He just checked out of society.

He camped in a clearing, hidden by boulders, about 50 kilometres from his childhood home.

Like Naden, he stole food from cabins. But this is where the comparison ends.

While Knight stole to feed himself and survive, he wasn’t a willing criminal.

Thieving made him feel ashamed.

Caught in the Act

Knight was finally caught by an earnest sergeant, who installed motion detectors at a summer camp kitchen – a common target for Knight.

Knight admitted to committing more than 1000 break-ins at various places near his camp.

He pinched food, kitchenware, torches, gas bottles for cooking, novels, clothes – even a radio and battery-operated TV.

His journey is revealed in Michael Finkel’s new book, The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit.

Finkel was the only journalist to gain access to Knight.

The story reveals that Knight found solitude, peace and serenity in the woods.

One of his favourite activities was hiking to a ridge to watch early-morning fog, as it formed in a valley.

In the woods, he was never bored or lonely.

“If you like solitude, you are never alone,” he said.

In all his years in the wilderness, he claimed to have said only one word. He once came across a hiker and said “hi”. He said he never talked to himself. All he wanted was to be left alone.

He said he never became sick because “you need to have contact with other humans to get sick”.

He said he never became sick because “you need to have contact with other humans to get sick”.

But he suffered from sore teeth and his eyesight had deteriorated. 

Completely Free

Knight was often cold and hungry, but he felt free. Solitude heightened his perception.

“I lost my identity. There was no audience, no one to perform for. There was no need to define myself. I became irrelevant,” he said.

“My desires dropped away. I didn’t long for anything. I didn’t even have a name. To put it romantically, I was completely free.”

Knight spent seven months in jail. He now lives with his mother and works for his brother in a scrap-metal yard.

Normal life, though, makes him depressed. He misses the woods.

And for the life of him, he can’t understand why people spend hours each day at a computer to earn money.

Summing up Knight’s experience, Finkel wrote: “It was as if he went camping for a weekend and didn’t come home for a quarter century”.

Asked why he did it, Knight said “It’s a mystery. I can’t explain my actions. I had no plans when I left, I wasn’t thinking of anything. I just did it.”