Dec 05, 2022 I Nick Redfern

Australia's Mysterious Monsters: From Hairy Ape-Men to Giant Lizards and Weird Water-Based Things

Creatures of a Bigfoot-like appearance are not exclusive to the United States, the Himalayas, and the wilds of South America, Russia, and China. Australia is the domain of the huge ape known as the Yowie. In the same way that Native Americans have a long history of reports of Sasquatch – and particularly so in the Pacific Northwest – Australia’s aboriginal people have long told of the existence of the towering Yowie. There is another parallel between the North American Bigfoot and the Yowie of Australia: a careful perusal of old newspapers shows that the Yowie, just like Bigfoot, was known of long before the term “Bigfoot” was created, back in the 1950s. Many of the sightings of Yowies occur in and around the vast Blue Mountains that dominate the city of Sydney and what is termed the Sydney Basin. A firsthand report, from February 1842, offers a graphic description of the beasts. It was published, as a letter, in the pages of the Australian and New Zealand Monthly Magazine: “This being they describe as resembling a man of nearly the same height, with long white hair hanging down from the head over the features, 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.”

(Nick Redfern) The Yowie: Australia's Bigfoot

Then, on December 9, 1882, a firsthand account surfaced from a Mr. H.J. McCooey, who told the Australian Town and Country Journal newspaper the following: “A few days ago I saw one of these strange creatures. I should think that if it were standing upright it would be nearly five feet high. It was tailless and covered with very long black hair, which was of a dirty red or snuff-color about the throat and breast. Its eyes, which were small and restless, were partly hidden by matted hair that covered its head. I threw a stone at the animal, whereupon it immediately rushed off.” And, make no mistake, sightings of the Australian Yowie are not limited to the past. In early 1993, a man named Neil Frost, who lived in the Blue Mountains area, encountered in the shadows of his backyard an animal that Frost estimated weighed close to 300 pounds, walked on two legs, and had a thick coat of hair and bright red eyes. When the beast realized it had been spotted, it shot away at high speed and into the shadows. Despite attempts on the part of Frost and a friend, Ian Price, to track down the beast on several occasions, the Yowie skillfully eluded them – just like its American cousin, Bigfoot, so very often does, too.

Bringing matters even further up to date, midway through June 2013, Australia’s Northern Star newspaper reported on a recent encounter. Journalist Jamie Brown wrote: “The latest sighting took place recently just north of Bexhill when a Lismore resident and music videographer spied the classic creature crossing a moonlit Bangalow Road. The witness, who has asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, said he was driving back home from a night of filming at Eltham and had just turned onto the Bangalow Road heading for Lismore when he spied a creature jumping a barbed wire paddock fence before briefly pausing at the edge of the road. Suddenly the beast moved across the two lanes of bitumen, raising his arm to apparently shield its eyes from the bright high beam glare of the approaching car.” As for the witness, who insisted on anonymity, they commented: “I would have seen it for between 20 and 30 seconds. It was really moving at the time. It leapt the fence no problem. All I can remember was seeing this large black object with a solid build, lanky legs and long lanky arms. It wasn’t clothed ... it wasn’t wearing clothes like a human.”  The Yowie lives on.

It was in the pages of the December 9, 1882 issue of the Australian Town and Country Journal that the story of the Yowie was first told. It was a story that came from an amateur naturalist, Henry James McCooey. He said: “A few days ago I saw one of these strange animals in an unfrequented locality on the coast between Bateman’s Bay and Ulladulla. My attention was attracted to it by the cries of a number of small birds which were pursuing and darting at it. When I first beheld the animal it was standing on its hind legs, partly upright, looking up at the birds above it in the bushes, blinking its eyes and distorting its visage and making a low chattering kind of noise. Being above the animal on a slight elevation and distant from it less than a chain, I had ample opportunity of noting its size and general appearance. I should think that if it were standing perfectly upright it would be nearly 5ft high. It was tailless and covered with very long black hair, which was of a dirty red or snuff-color about the throat and breast. Its eyes, which were small and restless, were partly hidden by matted hair that covered its head. The length of the fore legs or arms seemed to be strikingly out of proportion with the rest of its body, but in all other respects its build seemed to be fairly proportional. It would probably weigh about 8 stone [112 pounds]. 

(Nick Redfern) Mysterious Apes in Australia

“On the whole it was a most uncouth and repulsive looking creature, evidently possessed of prodigious strength, and one which I should not care to come to close quarters with. Having sufficiently satisfied my curiosity, I throw a stone at the animal, whereupon it immediately rushed off, followed by the birds, and disappeared in a ravine which was close at hand.” As the debate concerning McCooey’s report grew, he submitted more and more communications to the Australian Town and Country Journal, all of which are well worth quoting: “The mere fact of no apes [are] found in the Sydney Museum does not justify us in rushing to the conclusion that there are none in the colony, for it is extremely improbable that any ape will be foolhardy enough to present itself at the museum to undergo the somewhat delicate operation of stuffing; and beyond the fact that there are, none to be found in the Sydney Museum there is not one scintilla of evidence to prove that they are not to be found in the colony, while there is abundance of evidence to show that they are.

“I do not claim to be the first who has seen this animal, for I can put my finger on half a dozen men at Bateman’s Bay who have seen the same, or at any rate an animal of a similar description; but I think I am the first to come forward in the columns of a newspaper and give publicity to the fact of having seen it. “I may mention that a search party was organized at Bateman’s Bay some months ago to surround the locality [and] the supposed ape… and shoot or capture it, but the idea was abandoned in consequence of the likelihood of gun accidents; and I may further state that the skeleton of an ape, 4ft in length, may be seen at any time in a cave 14 miles from Bateman’s Bay, in the direction of Ulladulla. there are indigenous apes in this colony…they have been frequently seen in Budawong mountains, in Jingera mountains, and in the Abercrombie mountains, at Bateman’s Bay, at Mount Macdonald, and on the Guy Fawkes-road between Armidale and Grafton…apes were known to the aborigines of this colony, and were dreaded by them, long before a museum was founded in Australia, or a white man crossed the Murray; and that one was actually captured and killed near Braidwood within the memory of persons still living.” 

Now, it's onto the matter of mysterious, giant lizards. Is it feasible that the subtropical rainforests of Australia (no, contrary to popular belief, the continent is not one largely of a desert nature and nothing else) are home to gigantic, man-eating lizards of twenty to thirty feet in length? Could such Jurassic Park-like beasts really remain hidden, undetected, and free to rampage around in unstoppable fashion? The Australian Government’s wildlife department scoffs at such scenarios. Witnesses, however, strongly suggest otherwise. As for the creature itself, it’s not something created out of the minds of the fantasy-driven and the deluded. Thousands of years ago, Australia really was home to such immense beasts. The big question is: do they still live, despite the fact that have been declared completely and utterly extinct – in the long-gone past? The creature in question went by the name of Megalania prisca, a huge, vicious, monitor lizard that roamed Australia at least as late as 40,000 years ago. It got its name thanks to one Richard Owen, a paleontologist of the 1800s – a man who has gone down in history as coining the term Dinosauria, or, in English, “terrible reptile.” As for Megalania prisca, it very appropriately translates to “ancient giant butcher.”

Many might consider it utterly absurd to believe that packs of thirty-foot monster-lizards could exist in stealth, in the wilds of modern-day Australia, and not be found. But, let’s take a look at what we know of this undeniably controversial saga. For decades, reports have surfaced out of Australia of such creatures – to the extent that Australian monster-hunter, Rex Gilroy, has been able to put together an extensive dossier of such accounts. One, in particular, is well worth noting. Gilroy, during the course of his investigations into claims that Megalania prisca still lives, had the good fortune to meet with a solider named Steve, who told Gilroy a fascinating and terrifying story. It was in October 1968 that Steve, serving in the Australian military at the time, was taking part in an exercise in Queensland – specifically on what was termed the Normandy Range.

(Nick Redfern) Beware of the swampy areas of Australia

One part of the exercise required Steve’s unit to negotiate a particularly treacherous and dense, swampy area. As the team did so, they came upon something highly disturbing: the viciously ripped to pieces body of a cow. Not only that, from the surrounding ground, Steve and his comrades could see that something had dragged the cow for a considerable time, before savagely eating huge chunks out of the poor animal. More significant, large, lizard-like prints were found in the muddy ground – all of which were close to two feet in length – as was an area of flattened ground, which suggested to the group that the unknown beast had a long, heavy tail that dragged behind it. No-one needed to be told twice: the soldiers got the hell out of the swamp as quickly as possible. As amazing as Steve’s story was, and still is, it may very well have been nothing less than a close and highly hazardous encounter with a marauding monster that science and zoology assure us became extinct tens of thousands of years ago – but which, against all the odds, might still be with us. Remember that, if you ever choose to take a trek through the subtropical terrain of Australia.

And, finally...Occasionally I get asked: what’s the strangest unknown animal lurking in the woods, jungles, or mountain-ranges of our world? Well, first and foremost, there are plenty of them! And, second, each and every one of them is undeniably odd. After all, how else would you describe Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Chupacabra than downright weird? But, here’s the important thing: some are far, far weirder than others. Beyond any shadow of doubt, Sydney, Australia can claim fame to having played host to one of the most mystifying and bizarre of all creatures ever encountered. And I do not use those two words – mystifying and bizarre – lightly. After all, how else would you describe a diminutive beast that looks like an elephant, but walks on its hind-legs, and surfaces from the depths of nothing less than a dark lagoon? That was exactly what a woman named Mabel Walsh encountered in Narrabeen – a beachside suburb of Sydney – back in the late 1960s. While driving home late one April 1968 evening with her nephew, John, Walsh was shocked to fleetingly see the approximately four-foot-tall animal emerge from the watery depths and shuffle its way into the heart of nearby scrubland. It was a creature that Walsh would never forget, even though it was in view for only mere seconds. Gray in color, with what looked like a tough, leathery skin, it had a snout resembling that of an anteater, a slim trunk, long back legs, and a pair of short forelimbs that dangled as it waddled along – sideways, no less - by the edge of the road, before vanishing into the scrub.

 The local newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, recognizing the publicity the story would surely create, splashed the details across its pages. In an article titled: "And now it’s the Monster of Narrabeen!" – and with the subtitle of: "Loch Ness was never like this" – the details of Mabel Walsh’s story tumbled out, which provoked yet more reports of the fantastic creature. Some of them sounded decidedly sensationalized, since they suggested the monster of the deep had taken to dragging sheep, cows and even horses to their horrific deaths in the heart of the lagoon; a most unlikely action for a creature barely four-feet in height! Others spoke in near-hysterical tones of seeing a bright red-colored, clawed hand come out of a hole in the ground at the lake and try and grab a terrified youngster. The final word on the matter went to Mabel Walsh, who started the controversy, and who told newspaper staff that people might call her crazy, but she was absolutely sure there was a bizarre creature in Narrabeen Lake. As it transpired, not many did call her crazy. The Daily Telegraph’s audience excitedly lapped it all up, and, sales-wise, its staff was very happy indeed.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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