"Night of the Yowie''
A Professional Account
From Reporter Arthur Gray
DATE : April 1999, Region Southern New South Wales
Two of us - one an experienced Yowie researcher, the other a journalist with little idea of the risks - set out in the early evening to search for clues to one of Australia's least known but most dangerous and unpredictable creatures.
But what began as a fairly uneventful couple of hours listening and watching turned out to be an expedition into the unknown - and the uninvited - which could well have ended in tragedy.
Dean Harrison is a 29-year-old Sydney sales manager who spends much of his leisure time hunting for evidence of yowies. Two years after his first close encounter with the animal he is keener than ever to expand his knowledge of a creature that is so secretive and mysterious that it has defied the best of investigators to get close enough for a photograph that will satisfy the scientists.
But Dean is ever the optimist. That's why he is willing to travel from his Castle Hill home to the Blue Mountains on weeknights and some weekends to spend hours on night-time expeditions, often alone, to gather evidence and, hopefully, snap the creature in action.
The fact that communities of yowies appear to exist less than 100km from Sydney's central business district may come as a surprise to most people. Dean Harrison is not one of them.
Aborigines have known for countless years that yowies have inhabited stretches along the Great Dividing Range, and the Gross Valley, for example, is just one of the areas where they can be found.
Dean's belief, supported by other researchers, is that the yowie population is on the increase since the Aborigines, who hunted them almost to extinction with spears and clubs, have largely ignored what was once a fearsome opponent. Even today, though, Aboriginal elders continue to pass on warnings of the yowie's treacherous nature.
Suburban expansion also has brought them into closer contact with people and domestic animals, which is one explanation for the number of animals, such as chickens and goats, found either savaged or dismembered.
Dean is well aware that the yowie can be moody and unpredictable and that every expedition presents new and unusual dangers. He also acknowledges that most people are sceptical of his findings and even those who have sighted the creature are loath to discuss their experiences for fear of ridicule.
Even so, he has around 50 recent case histories. Locations, types of terrain, dates, times and descriptions are all logged at the time. It is surprising how closely accounts tally.
Investigators believe that the yowie is akin to the Abominable Snowman, the Yeti and America's Bigfoot, or Sasquatch. Reports variously describe it as a man-beast with long, lank brown or black hair, muscular, between 2.13m (7ft) and 2.74m (9ft) in hight with long, canine-like teeth, or fangs, and blazing red eyes sometimes rimmed with yellow.
In their book, Out of the Shadows, Tony Healy and Paul Cropper say that when white pioneers began to encounter the creatures they frequently used the term "hairy man" and to favour yahoo among the various Aboriginal names for it.
But the biggest mystery, perhaps, is why one has never been trapped or found dead.
With these odds in mind Dean and I set out to find one. We drove to an area of the Grose Valley he knows well, parked the car and walked downhill about 300 metres to where we set up camp on a semi-circular rocky outcrop. It was an ideal spot, according to Dean, since it commanded a wide view of the valley and was close to well-trodden bush paths normally taken by yowies on night forays.
Unarmed, we wore heavy shoes in case of snakes and carried insect repellant. Our only other equipment was two hand torches, an automatic camera and a night vision scope which greatly magnifies the available light.
"We'll have to talk in whispers." said Dean before we settled down. "No smoking, by the way."
Before the vigil began, and while it was still light, Dean pointed out several indelible clues such as day-old footprints in a straight line (unlike a human's) at least 1.5m apart: slim, sturdy trees almost gnawed through at height varying from 2.1m upwards bisected by vertical gashes where the animal had winkled out a witchetty grub using a stick left at the scene: teeth, or fang, marks on the bark indicating a mouth about 66mm across (about the width of the average person's mouth).
Since the yowie is mainly nocturnal we stretched out waiting for darkness. The night was moonless and the only sign of life came from the twinkling lights of houses on a ridge about 3km to our north. Occasionally a Mountains’ train rumbled by in the distance.
Otherwise, the silence was deafening. Not even a lizard stirred. It was uncanny. Eerie almost.
Nearly three hours went by. Talk was reduced to a whisper. It seemed that it was the yowies' night off. "Let's have a smoke," I suggested. Dean, too, lit up on the assumption that if we hadn't been spotted by this time a lighted cigarette might spur them into action. The ploy seemed to work. Several dogs close to homes about 500 metres away and just off the highway began barking furiously.
"A sure sign they're around," said Dean, his hopes rising. "We may be in for a good night." To our left, at a distance of about 150 metres, something was crashing through the bush - heavy, lumbering footsteps. Whatever it was had spotted us and was wary. "It's him alright." Said Dean.
The thing advanced steadily then stopped about 50 metres away. Ten minutes later another one began its approach directly ahead of us. It closed in to have a look but remained in hiding.
Then a third appeared, stage right. This one was much more venturesome and advanced steadily. We could hear its heavy steps and low, guttural grunting. Although there was barely a glimmer of light the creature had clearly picked up the reflection from the face of Dean's unlit torch and pulled back.
"Damn it," said Dean and apologized. "He was certainly coming up to have a look at us."
Disappointed, we trekked back uphill to the car, reassessed our situation and set off in another direction - and eventually into danger.
We stood at the intersection of two paths. Earlier in the night Dean had scouted the track leading off to the right, a narrow, twisting path with a blind corner where it was too easy to become trapped. He had no doubt that there was a least one yowie lurking in the undergrowth because of the odour it left - a fetid, rotten-egg smell so typical of the creature.
As we passed a footprint we had already identified and turned a bend in the trail we heard a low growl. Suddenly IT rose from its hiding place, about 30 metres away, snarled and charged towards us, red eyes ablaze.
"That's him," Dean shouted. "Move back Arthur, back, back, back!" Bushes and saplings were ripped aside as the yowie, angered by our presence, exploded out of the trees. The face was fearsome; the noise just frightening. We began to backpedal as the creature advanced. Then, momentarily blinded by the light, mainly from Dean's torch which was stronger than mine, it stopped at the edge of the woody undergrowth defying us to venture closer.
Dean's warning was needless. I was already making my way up the track behind us. But he kept the torchlight focused on the yowie's face until he, too, could retreat with some degree of safety.
Dean had the creature in full view. I had half-turned in readiness to flee and caught only a glimpse. But it was enough. As we retreated along the way we had come, fearing we might be outflanked, blackness closed around the yowie like a cloak.
Dean said later: "If I hadn't had such a powerful torch I think it would have got us." I shuddered at the thought.
Back at the car, breathless and frightened but with a feeling of achievement, we took stock. It was now more than five hours since we had set out.
Our major concern was that Dean's camera had been left in the car and that our chances of getting a photograph, difficult as that would have been, had vanished - at least for the moment. So we decided to go back, this time with the camera, in the hope that Bigfoot was still around.
We were not disappointed. We ventured farther down the same track, past the spot where the yowie had appeared, and just as suddenly disappeared. The darkness closed in on us. Again we waited and watched. "I think there could be as many as three around here," said Dean.
Now the chase was on. Torches in hand and armed only with the camera, we peered into the darkness and listened as twigs and branches crunched under the yowie's weight. Thn it was quiet again as the quarry, acknowledging our presence, remained hidden behind a clump of bushes. So the waiting game began. We took up position facing the thickly wooded area, which sloped sharply away from us and into a valley, and began another vigil.
Dean was the first to break the silence. "They react to music," he said. "Perhaps we should have brought a cassette player," I replied jokingly. "No, I'm serious," he added and began to whistle. Half-heartedly I joined in. Then Dean began to warble a few bars of Advance Australia Fair, followed by Waltzing Matilda.
We couldn't see it but we sensed that the yowie had taken up its customary crouching position, waiting for us to make a move. I suggested that God Save the Queen might bring it to its feet. But even a royal command performance failed to spur it into action.
Then, from a distance of about 40 metres and almost directly ahead of us, came a warning familiar to yowie hunters. The creature was telling us to back off. It stamped its foot twice in quick succession. The ground trembled. The noise was thunderous. But there was no mistaking its meaning. Again we waited, took a few more steps towards it and halted. Twice more it drummed its signature challenge - each time just as forcefully.
Not to be outdone we ventured farther down the track and into thick bushes laced with spiders' webs still hoping to get a picture. Within minutes we had a second yowie within our sights, so to speak. It, too, stomped a couple of times but retreated as we advanced. At that a third creature made its presence felt.
Now the terrain was becoming rougher and steeper so we turned back to the track and made for the spot where our first antagonist had appeared only to hear - or so we assumed - that there was a colony of them and that they were communicating with one another.
It seemed wise to withdraw while we were still in one piece. Our only worry was that at least one of the yowies might decide to double back and cut off our retreat. If so, we could have been in real trouble.
"They work as a team," Dean explained later. "They seem to know what the others are thinking." So we made our way back, keeping a wary eye on both sides of the trail, and reached our starting point unmolestered.
Dean was estatic that after a slow start the night had gone so well. Me? I was just pleased to have survived my first - and perhaps not my last - close encounter.
A few nights later (Note to Dean: trying to telescope things for a dramatic effect!) Dean and fellow researcher Paul Cropper encountered two yowies in the same area. Both heard what they described as thunderous footsteps and stomping. One of the creatures close in on them and remained behind a tree at their backs about 10 metres away. As they returned to their car the animal pursued them, grunting and roaring defiance.
When he is not tracking down yowies Dean Harrison is sales manager of a Sydney plumbing and hardware company. For the past two years he has been working as a researcher in conjunction with the Texas-based Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organisation, which was set up to further investigations into Sasquatch.
Information, including photographs and hair samples left by the yowie have been passed on via the Internet to American researchers for comparison with Bigfoot, the Yeti and the Abominable Snowman.
Now Dean has set up his own web site under the title of Australian Yowie Research (www.yowiehunters.com) to develop local studies, gather information on sightings and give other Australian researchers an opportunity to exchange experiences. In the first week he logged around 4000 (?) visits to the sight.
One of his major obstacles is the lack of professional equipment such as floodlights, infra-red cameras, microphones and infra-red night vision aides, all of which are standard in the United States.
He is hoping that a sponsor may find yowie hunting interesting enough to back his team with the ultimate goal of making a documentary.
Dean's interest in yowies was sparked two years ago while he was living near Beenleigh, on the Gold Coast. He recalled: "I was standing in a field late at night talking on my phone when I heard what I thought was a person crashing through the bush behind me. I had no reason to fear until the crashing turned into a slow stalking process.
"The thing crept slowly up behind me, parting the leaves and returning them, making as little noise as possible. It planted its feet carefully and would stop for 10 seconds every time it broke a twig. Having done a bit of boxing I felt no reason to fear. The plan was to allow the 'person' to get closer and find out what the story was.
"The thing came to the treeline about 25 metres from me. Suddenly I felt a terrible chill run down from head to toe and a deep fear. I turned slowly to see a large shadowy creature squatting behind a bush. I looked towards the road, where there was a street light, and planned my escape. I counted to three and began to run.
"At this point the thing flew into action and was racing me to the road. It was screaming and grunting during the chase. It tore along the edge of the treeline at incredible speed, tearing down everything in its path, jumping logs and gullies and grunting every pounding step.
"I was running in a direct line to the road and it was keeping to the trees, which made its distance twice as long. It was catching up, screaming and roaring. All the dogs in the neighbourhood were barking. I thought I was finished when it raced ahead to cut me off.
"As I changed direction away from the bush I thought I was about to be torn apart. Then it stopped just before the light, retreated towards the bush a squatted down behind a tree.
Describing one of his earlier stakeouts he said: "I had a yowie close to me that seemed fascinated by my whistling. Initially I heard him breaking off branches and his shrill whistling. As I got closer I began to whistle. He would come up the valley within 80 metres of me but always turned tail when I put my torch on him.
"I could walk towards it with my torch off and it would stand its ground. But as soon as the torch turned his way he'd retreat, then return about 10 minutes later. At one stage he was so angry at the torch that he threw a huge rock at me. It missed and hurtled down the valley.
"I often hear them howling and their shrill whistles while doing stakeouts. But I love being out there in the middle of the bush in total darkness seeing and hearing those things that have the capability to tear me apart in seconds".
"In the dead of the night when you hear that first branch break or thunderous footsteps coming towards you your hair stands on end and you question your sanity for being out there in the first place."
Yowie encounters have become so common in the Blue Mountains that many of the residents living on the edge of the valleys have become blaze about them. In one area a family with acreage verging on a swamp, and three near neighbours, have documented yowie activity almost daily for the past six years.
They showed me tracks through the bush beaten down by two yowies which regularly appear close to their home in the late afternoons or during the night taunting them with their calls and challenging them to play the yowie version of hide and seek.
One of the householders said he had come face to face with one of the creatures. Close to the house and in the surrounding bushland, and pursued the yowies scores of times.
At least once during the pursuits, when he tried to obtain close-up photographs, the yowie appeared silently a metre behind him, stood up to its full height and bellowed a challenge.
"I was terrified." he said. "I was looking for it but didn't hear it approach. I turned round and it was behind me. I raced back to the house with this thing at my heels tearing through the bushes and made it just in time."
One of the animal's peculiarities, he said, was its human-like ability to hurdle high fences, bushes or other barriers in its way. "The yowie just takes it all in its stride," he said. "It's faster than an Olympic sprinter."
In an effort to track the yowie's progress and establish its call pattern he set up cotton tripwires across bushes or trees along the yowie's favourite tracks and installed voice-activated equipment high in the trees to monitor its calls and the thumping noise as it runs - a sound some describe as like an elephant on two legs.
An analysis o the tape showed that the sounds "clearly emanate from a massive chest". "Several times," he said, "the yowie has spied the sound equipment and ripped it down."
He also found the remains of small animals on the edge of the swamp - a favourite refuge of the yowie - which have been dismembered and the intestines torn out.
"The barking of dogs is usually a clear warning that a yowie is in the vicinity," he said. "But even dogs accustomed to tracking turn tail and bolt in terror at the appearance of the creature."
Aborigines have known of, and about, the yowie for thousands of years. In his book, Aboriginal Legends of the Blue Mountains, investigator Jim Smith says the Gundungurra people of the southern Blue Mountains also spoke with dread of a Yaroma, a fearsome, hairy creature more human than ape.
According to another noted Blue Mountains researcher, Rex Gilroy, an Aboriginal community which occupied the Catalina Park region until the 1950s inherited tales of the Gubri Man, a huge, man-like creature with burning red eyes, and his female companion, the Hoorie Woman, who ere said to live in what was then known as Frog Hollow.
In his book, Mysterious Australia, Gilroy believes the yowie is descended from Gigantopithecus, an extinct giant ape-man which once inhabited parts of Asia. The archaeologist and speleologist claims to have amassed around 5000 reports of sightings in the 37 years he has been investigating.
He describes the average adult yowie as being up to 2.6m in height with a strong, muscular body, powerful arms, large hands and walking with a stooped gait. It has a pointed sagittal crest (skull dome) and receding forehead with thick, protruding eyebrows and large, deeply-set eyes. The feet possess an opposable big toe.
In response to the mystery surrounding the apparent absence of any carcases, Gilroy says the answer is simple: "No sooner does an animal die than its tissue is quickly eaten by other animals and by decomposition."
Paul Cropper and Tony Healy, co-authors of Out of the Shadows, cite Gilroy's claim, in a magazine article, that the purported skeleton of a yowie was found in southern NSW in 1978, confirming that some yowies could be as tall as 12ft (3.7m).
While the authors don't endorse his claim, in 43 reports of sightings in which height was mentioned four estimated the yowie's height at 10-11ft (3.0-3.3m).
Environmental scientists and university lecturer Gary Opit, an expert in the identification of Australian fauna, has documented the occasions on which he personally heard three distinct sets of calls he attributes to a large and powerful primate. He now acknowledges that they were the territorial calls of yowies.
He heard the deep bass calls on five occasions while he was studying fauna in Papua New Guinea during 1973-74, once in Lamington National Park in 1971 and once on the slopes of the Koonyum Range at Main Arm, in northern NSW, in 1996.
Describing one incident in PNG, when he heard the call, he said: "On November 25, 1973 at Vickery Creek, Mount Misaim, at 1,200m elevation, I observed crossing an old logging track a dark bipedal figure 200 metres in front of me. I took it to be a native Melanesian but was surprised to see no sign of clothing at this high altitude, no weapons and the unusual fact that the figure did not follow the track but moved down the slope through the dense vegetation.
"It was not until I returned to Australia that I first read about yowies and was particularly interested in a close encounter at Springbrook, in southeast Queensland, by a National park ranger - a work colleague of a naturalist friend - who gave me a detailed description.
The ranger described what he saw: a bipedal, gorilla-like primate standing 2.5 metres high, its body covered in long black hair, a flat, shiny-black face, large yellow eyes, a sagittal crest, huge hands and a grunting voice. It had a distinctive odour. The figure was clearly observed around 2pm in a good light from a distance of four metres.
In June 1978, at 3am on a quiet night under a full moon he was awakened by a continuous bellowing coming from Joalah National Park, on Tambourine Mountain, about 300 metres from his home.
"The call was similar to those I had heard in Papua New Guinea and even more powerful. It was a deep-throated booming yee-yee-yee that continued unbroken for about five minutes. One could clearly hear the calls being pumped out of a massive chest. After a few minutes three dingoes broke into their characteristic howling. The sound of the four animals in full cry was the most remarkable I have ever heard."
Gary Opit's conclusions: "Scientists and cryptozoologists researching reports of similar large bipedal primates agree that the animal appears to be Gigantopithecus, known only from 500,000-year-old fossils from China. Descriptions of the physical appearance and behavior of the Yeti, the Yeren of China, Sasquatch, or Bigfoot of the Americas and the doolagarl (Hairy man), or Yowie, of Australia are so similar that it would appear they are all members of the same species, or at least closely related."
*Other recent sightings include:
In December last year two young boys playing with matches lit fires in one of their backyards. They began hosing them down before their parents returned but one of the smaller fires got out of control.
As the blaze spread an ape-like figure ran out of the copy bushes looking distressed and raced off at high speed. The boys said it had long, shaggy brown hair and estimated its height at 8ft (2.4m). They recognised it as a yowie because they and their friends had seen several in the area before.
In the same month a group of Blue Mountains residents whose homes are in close proximity reported that they appeared to have a friendly but inquisitive yowie, well adjusted to people, who has been stalking the neighbourhood for about 13 years.
Their homes are in thick bush intersected by valleys and swamps. They say the creature frequently walks from house to house, peering in windows and doors and occasionally banging on walls during the night.
They claim they hear him emerging from the valley, crashing through bushes and stomping. Frequently he remains unseen until he growls and they spot his bright red eyes as he searches for food. Some of the householders pursued him one night and later turned it into a regular game. If they lost him they would call out and the chase would begin again.
Eventually the residents became tired of the chasing game, only to find that the yowie would arrive in their backyards about the same time each night and call out to them.
On one occasion a man said he heard a noise and flicked on his torch only to see a huge creature rise from a squatting position. It let out a terrifying roar but didn't attack.
Although they regard the creature as harmless the neighbours say that when he is in a bad mood he throws rocks at them, steals doggie bowls and hurls items around their backyards. *
Authorities are disinclined to treat the subject of yowies seriously despite the fact that there seems a distinct probability that public safety could be involved. A lone bushwalker, for instance, on a night trek, or simply someone taking a late stroll in the area where we ran into trouble, could be frightened out of their skin.
Despite evidence to the contrary Blue Mountains police claim they have had no reports of sightings in the past 10 years. Neither do they believe there is any risk to the public nor any need for warning signs at known habitats.
Detective Inspector Mick Howe said police had no opinion on yowies. None of his officers had encountered one and no human deaths had been reported that might involve a yowie.
At the same time he admitted that his detectives were willing to examine any reports in an effort to correlate them with incidents they regarded as mysterious or impossible to resolve.
It is apparent, however, that in some cases junior officers have been called to investigate a yowie-related incident and either failed to report it for fear of embarrassment or simply constructed an alibi for being somewhere else at the time.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service, which manages Blue Mountains National Park, is adamant not only that there are no yowies within the park boundaries but that there is no such thing as a yowie in the first place.
District manager Geoff Luscombe said the service had a program for eradicating feral animals but yowies were not on the list. He said: "There is no reputable evidence that they (yowies) exist. They are a myth. They are not recognised as native fauna and the park service has no view on them."
© Copyright AYR
Australian Yowie Research - Data Base