1990 - Aboriginal Legends Frank Povah
Aboriginal Legends, By Frank Povah 1990
According to Frank Povah a lecturer and writer of mixed Aboriginal and European decent, the "Yuuri" is a little man, not much higher than 4'. Franks says, "My Grandmother wanted to take me up and show me where they were. When she first seen it she thought it was a Sheepskin Hagen on a post, but when she got close to it, she could see it was a little "Yuuri". Covered in hair with long nails and big teeth. She thought it was more frightened of them than they were of it.
Never used to interfere with anyone, just went about in it's own way. Grandma was going to take me up and show me where it lived, but I said Grandma, do you think it's right we should go and disturb them if they don't disturb us? But she said, 'I just want to show you were it lives so you can pass it on'. One of the people living up there said she sighted one.
It came to her camp for a drink of water. She was up there by herself. She had dogs that'd eat anybody who came to the place and they just run in the hut, whingin and cringin and when she looked out she could see somethin goin away. When she got up in the mornin there was little tracks just there, walkin around the camp near her water bucket. She said it must of had a drink of water and went back off to the hills."
The legend of the "little" Yowies are steep in the Aboriginal tradition, Frank Povah continues........"Yuuriwinaa in our language means 'hairy Woman', not so much hairy man, but hairy Woman. But they can change from a Man to a Woman whenever they want to. They are short, about 3', bit more, real hairy and real Stinkin. They've got teeth like a Greyhound, big fangs I have always believed that they lived in the thick scrub.
There was an old clever feller used to live on the other side of the river from where the actual community used to live. We used to go round to his place a lot and listen to his stories and talk to him. One night he sent us home early. He said. 'Look, when you hear the trees start to whisperin, it's time to go home. When you get home, go straight to bed'.
So when we gets home, Aunty said to us, "Arfter tea straight to bed'. When lying down in the bed we could hear the leaves and boughs rustlin on the tin, and Aunty says, 'There you go, see. There's some little people out there, the little Yuuriwinaa.
If you fellers were out there they might of got you tonight'. The next mornin when we got up she took us outside and in the soft sand around the house she showed us all their little tracks, four toes people. Full footprint, instep and all that, heel. Just like a Human footprint but with only four toes not five." "Me cousin was walkin home one night and on the mission there's no lights and its very dark.
This little thing, which he said was a small hairy man, jumped on his back. He tried to throw it off and he couldn't and ended up with claw marks on his back and neck. Had to go to Hospital, but he did'nt tell them what it was. They wouldn't have believed him anyway. One of the white property owners actually seen one. It jumped out infront of his car.
Near the Aboriginal Mission up there. They had the Police involved, local paper, and one of those Professors from Armidale University down there tryin to investigate it. At night they used to play football on the mission, on the oval there. One feller was on the sideline and he was counting the blokes on the field and there's one extra. When the blokes ran past, he looked at em and one of am was a little hairy man. Anyway, the hairy man grabbed the football and run off into the scrub and they never seen him or the ball again!"
Although Frank talks of the "little hairy men", there are also many stories of the larger variety. The Aboriginals from the Blue Mountains in N.S.W. who tell of the more fearsome creatures who are responsible for many deaths of their people. Legend has it that they would stand in the hollowed out trees waiting for their people to walk passed.
They talk of decapitation and bodily dismemberment. Depending on which tribe and the location they lived in Australia, the Aboriginals had various names for the Yowie such as Yuuri, Yowri, Yahoo, Yaroma, Dulugal, Noocoonah, Dooligah, Gooligah, Quinkin, Thoolagal, however on the Western side of Australia they have different sounding names as Jingera, Jimbra and Tjandara.
The Australian and New Zealand Monthly Magazine in 1842 wrote: The natives of Australia have, properly speaking, no idea of any supernatural being; they believe in the imaginary existence of a class which, in the singular number, they call Yahoo, or, when they wish to be anglifierd, Devil-Devil. This being they describe as resembling a man, of nearly the same height, but more slender, with long white straight hair hanging down from the head over the features, so as almost entirely to conceal them; the arms as extraordinarily long, furnished at the extremities with great talons, and the "feet turned backwards", so that, on flying from man, the imprint of the foot appears as if the being had traveled in the opposite direction.
Altogether, they describe it as a hideous monster, of an unearthly character and ape like appearance. On the other hand, a contested point has long existed among Australian naturalists whether or not such an animal as the Yahoo existed, one party contending that it does, and that from its scarceness, slyness, and solitary habits, man has not succeeded in obtaining a specimen, and that it is most likely one of the monkey tribe.
Another good read on the subject of Aboriginal legend is from the book "Out of the shadows", by Tony Healy and Paul Cropper. This book is also available in our merchandise section of the Web Site.
Here's a small sample of what Paul and Tony have to say on the matter: "It seems that Aboriginal belief in the hairy men extends from the Cape York right down the east coast to Victoria and occurs in at least some parts of South Australia and western Australia. It seems, however, that Aboriginal belief in the hairy men extends from Cape York right down the east coast to Victoria and occurs in at least some parts of South Australia and Western Australia.
It seems the ape-man tradition was and is strongest in the mountainous, forested areas of the east coast, from southeast Queensland to nor eastern Victoria. While that notion of modern sighting reports and while it seems logical in terms of food supply and habitat it could of course merely reflect the fact that most of our own research has been conducted in that region.
Hairy man traditions collected from tribal aborigines by interested Europeans in the colonial days appeared to be fairly consistent. According to most of those early accounts, the creatures were believe to be the same height as a man or somewhat taller. In the 1840s a white settler was told by Port Phillip Aborigines that the yowie was a tall as a 'big one gum tree', and in the folk tales of the Yalanji people of Cape York, Turramulli, the giant quinkin, towered above the trees.
The yowies were also said to be more powerfully built than men; the legs and arms were long and the hands were equipped with sharp claws. The neck was said to be almost non-existent, so that as with the creature Mr. Guines shot, the head seemed to be set right onto the shoulders.
They were often said to be mountain dwelling, nocturnal man-eating and capable of climbing trees. Frightful screams and growls and an overpowering stench were sometimes mentioned.
Although they were often said to be mortally afraid of yowies, there are several accounts of Aborigines besting them in the fight or even killing them. Harry Williams, an old Ngunnawal man, told of seeing a large group of warriors kill one on a hillside below the junction of the Yass and Murrumbidgee rivers near the present site of Burrinjuck Dam, in about 1840. They dragged it down the hill by the ankles.
He described it as'... like a blackman but covered all over with grey hair. One thing the blacks occasionally said about the feet gives a bizarre twist, so to speak, to the whole picture: some Aborigines stated that the creatures' feet were turned backwards so that their tracks confused anyone attempting to follow. Readers familiar with the yeti legend will remember that sherpas often say the same thing about the abominable snowman's feet. Although much of the Aboriginal hairy man tradition recorded in the colonial days and more recently tends to support the modern image of the yowie as a hairy giant, the subject is complicated slightly by the fact that many Aboriginal people also believe in very small hair-covered, man-like creatures.
These entities, variously known as winambuu, waaki, junjadee, nambunj or 'brown jacks' appear to fill more or less the same niche in Aboriginal Australia as leprechauns, fairies and elves did in Europe: they have supernatural powers, guard certain places, punish wrong-dowers and protect the sick and lost children." - Out of the Shadows (Get the book!).
The Yalanji tribe from Cape York told of the giant Turramulli, who they said towered above the trees. They said its feet only had 3-clawed toes and had only three clawed fingers. It was said that he was awesome in size and covered in hair with no neck and resembling a Human. In 1970, Percy Trezise and Dick Roughsey discovered two ancient Aboriginal paintings of the Turramulli.
Percy Trezise tells of a story of the Aborigines engaging in long wars against the primitive hominids thousands of years ago. In the Canberra Historical Journal, Graham Joyner talks of the true meaning of the names Yahoo and Dulugal: "Early references to what had commonly become known as the yahoo, but to which the name 'devil-devil' was frequently found attached, provide some particularly difficult problems.
Why, for instance, was this phenomenon widely known among the Aborigines by two names - and two very different ones - which appear to have been borrowed from the English language? What are the implications and what can be known about the entity behind these labels? To answer such questions it will perhaps be best to begin by summarizing the data on which an assessment of the meaning of the word may be based. Use of the work yahoo falls into two periods, although this distinction is more apparent than real because it depends on the availability and interpretations of sources.
In the earlier period, up to the 1850's it most usually appears in connection with accounts by travelers about Aboriginal beliefs in spiritual being both beneficent and evil, where the former is said to be either crudely understood or entirely absent while the latter (the devil) is identified with the yahoo. Into this category fall James Holman's account from 1835, a lengthy paper by an anonymous writer in 1842, Louisa Anne Meredith's reference in her notes and sketches published in 1844 and George Willmer's remark's in 1856.
How far these writers were responsible for their own observations and to what extent they relied upon each other does not greatly matter in this context. In addition there are a number of references from the same period that do not concern an evil spirit but treat the yahoo rather in terms of a kind of animal.
These consist of a qualification in the 1842 article that existence of the yahoo had long been a subject of contention among Australian naturalists, a believe note from 1843 about a monster called by the colonists 'Yaa-hoo', speculation in 1847 by an unknown writer that the bunyip (or 'Yaa-hoo') of the Aborigines at the Hunter River should be classified with the carnivorous species and a brief description in 1847 by a writer passing under the name of Alexander Harris is a man-like animal spoken about the Aborigines of the Hunter River, although here the name yahoo seems to have been added by the editor.
In the second period, that of the late nineteenth century, the name yahoo was primarily used by European settlers to describe an unknown animal, while the few contributions from Aborigines support this interpretation. For instance the 'wild man' covered in hair and with long nails, seen in the Jingera Mountains near Cooma in 1871, was associated with legends among the settlers there of a mysterious yahoo.
A writer in 1876 maintained that the yahoo of Aboriginal tradition did indeed exist and was seen by white men, though rare and seldom encountered. The field naturalist H J McCooey preferred the terms 'indigenous ape' or 'Australian ape' for what he said the Australian bushman call the yahoo. William Telfer, the shepherd of the Tamworth district, knew of an Aboriginal tradition of the yahoo as a hairy man like a monkey.
He identified it with the supposed gorilla, which he observed in 1883 and which was often seen in the mountains thereabout. John Gale used the name Yahoo as another name for the hairy man of the Brindabella ranges.
The Aborigines of Braidwood allegedly spoke of the "big fella devil" or Yahoo, which was regarded by them as an animal to be feared and avoided, while white settlers there had a belief in the Yahoo as a large man covered in hair. Turning now to the dulugal, we initially find a similar situation. Horatio halem who visited Australia with the United States Exploring Expedition between the years 1838 and 1842, recorded in 1846 that there was a lack of religious feeling among the Aborigines. He added that it was not true, as had been frequently asserted, that the natives had no idea of a supreme being.
They even had knowledge of a sort of angel. Hale admitted that these stories may have been influenced by contacts with the white settlers. More to the point, Hale also reported that the Aborigines in the Wellington district had an imaginary being resembling a black man of superhuman strength, who was not, an object of worship but who was held in superstitious dread.
He insisted that this being was entirely of Australian origin, although he cast doubt on his own assertion by adding that the Aborigines had learned from the whites to apply to him the name of devil. Different accounts of this character were given in different areas and, wrote Hale, 'at the Muruya [Moruya] River the devil is called Tulugal'.
However, as in the case of yahoo, such an account tells us little more than that the Aborigines feared something man-like called 'tulugal'. About the turn of the century, R H Mathews made some relevant entries in one of his field notes books on South Coast languages. These mention the 'thool-a-gal', a being larger and stronger than a man with claws on his fingers.
In his notebook Mathews placed these comments under the heading 'myth'. A broader definition was give by A W Howitt in 1904, although his material was actually collected before 1889. Howitt pointed out that among the Yuin tribes of the South Coast, who occupied the country between the Shoalhaven River and Cape Howe, 'tulugal' was the spirit or ghost. He then added by way of explanation:
The Tulugal, as I have said, is the ghost from tula, a hold, or a grave, and gal, the possessive postfix, of or belonging to. The word, however, means not only the human ghost, but also is applied to beings who lived in trees, rocks, or caves in the mountains, and who were credited with stealing and eating children. It was said that long ago the old men used to go into the mountains, which lie at the back of the Yuin country, where they thought tulugal might be, and after making a noise like a child crying, they would watch for a tulugal peeping out of its hold.
Having found its abode, they made a fire and bunt it. Howitt noted a belief that sometimes the tulugal or ghost tried to get back to the body and the yuin were always afraid that the dead man might come out of his grave and follow them. At this point we must make a diversion to note that, prior to and concurrent with the work of Howitt and Mathews, intermittent reports had emanated from the South Coast of a creature referred to as a gorilla.
The man-like animal seen and described in some detail at Avondale in the illawarra region by George Osborne in 1871 was believed by him to be a gorilla. An animal similar but considerably larger was seen in the Bulli Mountain. In 1882 McCooey observed what he called an 'Australian ape' or 'indigenous ape' on the coast between ulladulla and batemans bay. In the following year what was called a gorilla was again seen in the ranges near Mt Keira.
It resembled a man but was covered in long hair and had long sharp claws. Finally the surveyor Charles Harper claimed in 1912 that stories of an Australian gorilla, hairy man or some such animal had for many years past emerged from the coastal range between the head of the Clyde river and the Victorian border.
According to Harper scientists asserted that this animal was a myth and that it did not then exist and never had existed, although the old generation of Aborigines maintained the contrary in both cases. In none of these descriptions is the name dulugal mentioned.
Special credits to: Paul Cropper & Tony Healy, Graham Joyner and Frank Povah.
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