Big Feet in Barraganyatti

As mentioned in an earlier post, the distinct lack of Yowie tracks are hard to explain if you believe that yowies are an as-yet undiscovered animal. In my over 40 years of investigating Australian cases I’ve been involved in two possible yowie track finds, both in the same general area; Kempsey, in northern New South Wales. The first was in 1995 and the second – the subject of this post – 20 years later in 2015.

Kempsey is a major rural centre located roughly halfway between Sydney and the Queensland border. Situated on the beautiful Macleay River, it is surrounded by rich agricultural land used mainly for dairy cattle. It’s a nice, relaxed tourist town.

The area has a long tradition of yowie reports. In 1871, the Melbourne Age featured the following story from Belgrave, on the western outskirts of Kempsey:

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Another Kempsey-area witness, Mrs Melba Cullen, was interviewed by the Cropster in 2001 when she was 83 years old. Mrs Cullen’s sighting occurred in 1930, when she was 12 years old, near her home on the Maria River, about 10 kilometres south of Kempsey:

“I loved bush walking and collecting flowers and…I walked out of the bush into a clear patch…I heard heavy footsteps a few paces behind, but I thought it was my brother looking for me…I looked back…”

“There was a big stump just through the fence near me…suddenly I saw this huge Hairy Man looking around that big stump. He was about seven feet tall and very broad shouldered. . .He had long, tan-coloured hair all over him. The hair on his face was about as thick as the hair on a dog . . . I took one look at him and ran away screaming.” ‘I swear to this day the thing . . . was a real Hairy Man. It wasn’t a Kangaroo and wasn’t an ape or a monkey. It stood up straight like a man.”

With this strong tradition of yowie stories, when the 2015 case first surfaced, the idea that the prints may have been connected to yowies was pretty much front and centre in my mind. The case had begun with a comment posted on a Kempsey Buy, Trade & Sell Facebook page on 20 September 2015. In the post the author described human-like footprints he had discovered at the rear of his property earlier the same day.

The author used the pseudonym ‘Sebastian’, although his real name was Aaron (his surname remains confidential). Another reader referred Aaron to the yowie website run by the AYR. I was quickly in contact and he told me he had found the prints on his rented property at Barraganyatti, around 30km north of Kempsey.

Aaron’s property bordered an (at that time) unopened four-lane section of the Pacific Highway running between Frederickton and Eungai. He and his partner had lived on the property for around two years. While they hadn’t seen anything strange, they had occasionally felt like they were being watched from the surrounding bush. Sounded awful familiar!

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The Pacific Highway at Barraganyatti where the tracks were found.

On Sunday 20th, Aaron and his partner had been walking with their dog along the steel wildlife fence that separated his property from the highway works, when the dog became agitated and ran down the slope towards a small mound of dirt that ran perpendicular to the fence. Aaron then noticed a trail of large, bare footprints running across the mound, leading away from the fence. The tracks were roughly man-sized, but what impressed him the most was that his 130kg weight made little impression in the dry hard soil, while the strange prints were quite deep. Whatever had made them must have been fairly hefty.

Even stranger, right next to the prints was a section of steel fencing used to keep wildlife off the highway. Right above the mound of dirt, one section of the fence had been bent over at the top, not an easy task given the strength of the steel.

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The mound and the damaged steel fence.

The next day, he had returned with a friend who located further prints in an area of clay separating the north and south-bound lanes. They both then noticed another area of bent steel fencing on the opposite side of the roadway. The mound, the prints in the clay and the two areas of fence damage lay virtually in a direct line. Aaron took one plaster cast, with a second breaking during casting. That first cast is shown below.

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Aaron’s cast.

Aaron told me that even though it had been five days since his discovery and there had been some rain, the prints were still visible. Excited at the idea of seeing the prints first-hand, I decided to hit the road from Sydney and I arrived late on Friday 25 September. Although it was now close to midnight and raining hard, we drove from his house to the site and took several photographs. The heavy rain prevented much investigation, so I returned again the next morning with Aaron and together with a Highway Safety Patrol officer who turned up while we were there, we took more photos and measurements.

The prints were in two areas, the clay area between the highway lanes and on a mound of dirt used for managing water run-off outside the wildlife fence on the eastern side. I couldn’t find any other other tracks in the area. It certainly looked like whatever had made them had come over the western fence bending it down, crossed the road leaving prints in the clay, crossed the eastern side and then going over that fence before walking along the bare dirt mound.

The fence damage on the eastern side was odd. There was no real need to jump the fence at all as it ended only a few metres down from the dirt mound. Any self respecting yowie – or human – could have simply walked around the end of the fence.

The tracks appeared genuine, but they were definitely within the human range, around 27cm long with a 8cm wide heel. There was also nothing really striking about the prints that suggested anything other than human. The thought that they were made by something unusually heavy was impossible to confirm after the heavy rain just before I arrived. Here are some more photos of the tracks:

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DSC00635As my initial excitement started to fade, I reached out to someone I knew would have a view; Jeff Meldrum, Full Professor of Anatomy and Anthropology and a Professor of the Department of Anthropology at Idaho State University.

Jeff examined the photos and video and sent me the following summary:

  • 10.6 inches long; heel width 3.3 in.
  • Toes consistent with a habitually unshod human
  • Flat pronated foot — note convexity on medial side, places navicular in human position, i.e proportion of foot length.
  • Short narrow heel.
  • Distinctive heel strike — focused pressure under heel.
  • It would be hard to argue this is anything other than a human.

I agree with Meldrum’s assessment – the prints are human. There is nothing in the size and shape that suggests anything else.

As to the fence damage, some quick online research suggests that there are other reasons why the highway fencing can be damaged – see the furry culprit in the photo below.

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So, I’m back to waiting for that crystal clear trail of yowie prints. I guess there is a lesson here. Big feet aren’t always Bigfoot.

Or yowies, even.

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