Jean and the Woodenbong Wild Man

Before I became obsessed with poltergeists, I was obsessed with cryptozoology.

Over the years Australia has produced many stories and eyewitness reports of strange, apparently unclassified creatures, but the ones that really captured my imagination involved encounters with hair-covered, man-like monsters: yowies. The term was popularised by researcher Rex Gilroy in the early 70s and over time the yowie was absorbed into popular culture, eventually replacing the bunyip as Australia’s favourite monster. With fellow fortean Tony Healy I co-authored a book on the subject in 2007.

My own interest began after reading one of Rex’s magazine articles in 1976. To a 14-year-old kid who had grown up on Scooby Doo, Rex’s stories were electrifying. Australia had its very own bigfoot! Giant hairy monsters in my own backyard! At the time I believed everything Rex preached, but I was definitely in the minority. Most white Australians thought Rex was a crank and the yowie a crock.

The strange truth is that Rex was partly right. The yowie tradition in Australia is detailed, consistent, well-documented and spans both European and Aboriginal cultures. Anyone who thinks the yowie phenomenon is the result of misidentification of common animals or of a long series of hoaxes is just plain wrong. That’s not to say there really is an undiscovered ape living in the forests and mountains of Australia’s eastern seaboard – that’s incredibly unlikely – but something interesting is definitely going on and has been for a very long time.

Central to the yowie phenomenon are the eyewitness reports. Over the past 40 years I’ve interviewed around 250 witnesses, a large number of them via Dean Harrison’s AYR web site. Dean generously passed his site contacts direct to me, so I was often the first person they spoke to about their experiences. Interested readers should take a trip over to Dean’s Youtube channel to hear my sophisticated interviewing technique: a cross between David Frost and The Crocodile Hunter.

One of the most interesting reports came from the northern New South Wales town of Woodenbong in early August 1977. This was only two years after Rex had commenced publicising his search, so at the time few people were aware of the yowie phenomenon. Woodenbong is a tiny village at the foot of the rugged mountains that constitute the NSW/ Queensland border. The area is devoted to dairying and mixed farming.

A regional newspaper, the Lismore Northern Star, covered the incident on 15 August, just five days after it occurred. The Star has a rural readership, so initially the story reached only a few thousand people in northern New South Wales. Although her name was not disclosed at the time, the eyewitness was Mrs. Jean Maloney. Now over 90 years old, she still lives in the area. I recorded an interview with her in 2004 and was really impressed. I’ve included an excerpt of that interview with this post.

The remarkable incident began when, at about 2.30 am on 10 August, Jean was woken by the sound of her Australian terrier yelping. Intermingled with the yelping was a high-pitched, screaming sound. Jumping out of bed, she ran to the back porch and switched on the 200-watt yard light.

“I went down the stairs and ran into the backyard when I suddenly saw the creature directly in front of me. I was within six feet of the jolly thing and I think I stopped breathing for a moment because of the fright … It was sitting on its haunches and had my dog completely crushed up against its chest. The dog was almost completely covered by the creature’s arms, which were wrapped around the dog, one above the other … as though [it] was trying to crush the life out of her.”

It stood up, “looked straight up at me for a few moments then dropped the dog, which I thought was dead at this stage, because she fell to the ground and did not move.”

The wounded terrier.

As it stood, gaping at her, with its arms by its sides, Jean felt no fear: “It didn’t seem vicious. The dog was very territorial – she might have tried to bite him.” The animal was well over six feet tall. Its almost hairless face jutted forward and was ape-like, or “Neanderthal-like”, with “very big, dark eyes”, a heavy brow and no chin.

Its head, which sat directly on its wide shoulders, seemed small in comparison to the rest of the body. Long ginger-coloured hair hung from its head, arms and legs. The very broad chest and abdomen were more sparsely covered, so that quite a lot of brown skin was visible. It had powerful-looking legs and slender arms that reached to its knees. It was male, and, unusually for a yowie, its genitals were quite apparent. The penis resembled that of an uncircumcised man, and was “quite large, maybe nine inches long”.

(That’s a detail that rarely arises in eyewitness accounts. Thank goodness for that!)

Jean noticed a strong, offensive odour: “The only thing I could compare it with would be a ferret.” The creature then raised both arms and held them wide, with the palms of its “very square” but human-like, hands facing her, and “backed away … towards the grape trellis, but it never took its eyes off me. It … wrapped its right arm around the trellis post [and] stayed there for a few moments making these strange, deep, very loud, grunting noises.”

A local reporter standing in the position where Jean had observed the yowie standing beside the wooden grape trellis. Note the 1970’s flared trousers.

When a couple of other dogs – strays – entered the yard, the yowie bent forward and “ran off to the right, down the side of the house between the garage and disappeared towards the front street”.

The creature ran off down the side of the house towards the street.

The terrier was bleeding from wounds to the chest and the back of the neck: “She could hardly walk, and if you moved her too much she would yelp. I also noticed that she was badly bruised on the chest.” The dogs hair felt “very greasy, sort of waxy” and stank so badly that it had to be washed in antiseptic. It never recovered from its ordeal and died a short time later.

Before being disturbed by the dog, the creature had apparently been helping itself to a bucketful of fruit that had been left near the Maloney’s garage. There were three distinct footprints alongside the house but two were soon destroyed by rain. Northern Star reporter Gary Buchanan examined and photographed the remaining print. It was 22 centimetres long by 11 wide [9×4 inches], with five toes of roughly equal size.

A partial print showing toes. The original was damaged by rain.

I interviewed Jean 27 years after the event but her memory was excellent. It’s worth listening to her describe the encounter in her own words. Enjoy her story.

2 Replies to “Jean and the Woodenbong Wild Man”

  1. Back in the fifties my dad went raccoon hunting one night as a teenager, with a friend and some adults. They were in some woods along a river. The dogs were out ahead of them making a racket when they suddenly go quiet. They were concerned something might have happened to the dogs, though no idea what it could have been, and spread out to look for them. My dad and his friend were the first to find them- the dogs had encircled a tree and laid down in front of it with their paws in front of them, completely silent. My dad yelled out they found the dogs but something wasn’t right. One of the adults came over and looked at the dogs, perplexed, and then shone a flashlight up into the tree. My dad couldn’t make out what was up in the tree, but could clearly see a pair of red eyes looking down at them and had the sense whatever those eyes belonged to was big. The man with the flashlight was suitably freaked out and yelled something like, “Let’s get the hell out of here!” They quickly roused the dogs and took off. It wasn’t long after that he overheard an old man in the local general store telling his friends he had seen a large hairy man running through their backyard on two legs. This was before bigfoot was as widely known in pop culture and no one referred to it as a bigfoot. I have come across a few other alleged bigfoot sightings in recent years in this area. Anyway, my dad says the thing that stuck with him the most was the odd behavior of the dogs. They should have been trying to climb that tree to get at whatever was up there but it’s like they were in some kind of a trance. That was what freaked him out the most. My dad is not one for tall tales and insists this is a true story. There is no way a typical flesh and blood creature that large could survive without there being solid evidence by now, even in a rural area.

  2. Let me say that it was this report, along with one confirmed by a Senator, Bill O’Chee, which finally convinced me of the existence of yowies. Think about it: a case investigated by the press just a few days after the event, a witness who requested anonymity, a sighting at a distance of just six feet under a bright light, footprints, and an injured dog (would an anonymous hoaxer do that?). As I said in my own book: “In criminal contexts, evidence like that has been known to send people to the gallows. How much more do we need to convict an unknown ape of the act of existing?”

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