Last month, my crypto-colleague Tony Healy and I launched our fourth book, The Yowie File: Encounters with Australian Ape-men. It’s a companion volume to The Yowie (Anomalist Books, 2006) with many more historical cases and a stack of additional modern era reports. It is available in hardback, softcover and ebook versions on Amazon US and Amazon Australia.
The Yowie File took around nine years to complete – Tony and I are not known for our writing speed. (This blog is certainly evidence for that!) We’re very happy with how it turned out, though.
In The Yowie we devoted an entire chapter to Indigenous yowie lore, showing that many, if not most, Aboriginal people, from Cape York Peninsula right down the east coast to Victoria, across to South Australia, Western Australia and up to the Northern Territory, strongly believe in the existence of hair-covered, man-like or ape-like creatures. Their many cultures have different terms for them – doolagarl, thoolagarl, nooncoonah, jimbra, tjangara, puttikan and jurrawarra, to name but a few.
Nowadays, when discussing them with people outside their own language group, Indigenous people often employ the term “Hairy Man”. Our files now contain considerably more indigenous lore than they did back in 2006, and we have included much of that additional material in the new book.
Equally pleasing for us are the many additional colonial era (1788-1900) cases we managed to unearth. One of the big changes over the last few years has been the availability of digital records. Trove, the online repository of Australian newspapers and journals, is an amazing research tool – and it’s free. Plug in the right search terms and you will find a plethora of cases. It’s a vast improvement on how things were back in the 1970s and ’80s, when I spent hundreds of hours wading through bound copies of smelly old newspapers in the NSW State Library.
Why is this older material important? Well, by detailing the long history of Hairy Man sightings by non-Aboriginal Australians from the early colonial era onwards, we finally put paid to the notion that the phenomenon is simply the result of fantasy-prone Australians ape-ing (so to speak) their bigfoot-hunting American cousins.
Indigenous Hairy Man traditions certainly predate the European experience, and Tony and I have always assumed that Indigenous lore and European traditions are describing the same phenomenon. That does seem likely – after all, many Indigenous informants explicitly state that such is the case. But I do think we’ve been looking at the Aboriginal lore from a European viewpoint and it deserves deeper research.
So, after four books and over 40 years of research, what is my verdict on the yowie?
In the early 1970s, I was convinced that flesh and blood, ape-like creatures were tramping around, undiscovered, in the Australian bush. I felt like a zoologist! But after a few years, like many others, including Tony, I began to suspect there was something decidedly uncanny about the critters.
Quite apart from their ability to avoid being shot dead, run over by trucks or clearly photographed, there was the “inconvenient truth” that very similar creatures have been reported for centuries in many other parts of the world – all of them apparently invulnerable to gunfire and camera traps – and maddeningly elusive. So, for a time, I was a parapsychologist!
After that, I favoured, for a while, the notion that the yowie phenomenon was simply a sociological or psychological construct – an amalgam of myth, mass hysteria, hoaxes and misidentification of common wildlife. I was a folklorist!
That sceptical stance, however, was always difficult to sustain in view of the huge body of compelling eyewitness testimony. Far from being seen only by lone motorists in the dead hours of night, at least 50% of yowie encounters occur in broad daylight, and approximately one-third involve more than a single witness.
In fact, some of the hundreds of informants I’ve interviewed over the past four decades have described events involving not just one or two, but multiple witnesses. I invite doubters to consider the Bill O’Chee case (Springbrook Qld 1977, The Yowie, pp. 70-73) or even the Nunderi (Qld 2006) case as good examples. Multiple people, broad daylight.
I no longer think there is a simple explanation.
There is no doubt that people across Australia really do encounter creatures they consistently describe as large – sometimes very large – bipedal, hair-covered, ape-like men, or man-like apes.
I don’t, however, believe that yowies are real in the same way that, say, kangaroos or emus are real. Unlike our normal fauna, they can’t be trapped, poisoned, killed by four-wheel drives or shot dead. They cannot be clearly photographed (although in the new book we do show some intriguing thermal images) and they don’t leave consistent tracks. That said, they are regularly encountered across the entire continent, even on the edges of our major cities.
So, am I saying it’s all – paranormal? What the hell does that mean anyway?
I believe that yowie sightings are one part of our world’s spectrum of weird experiences. The creatures certainly have a real, physical presence, at least some of the time. They kill animals, rip branches from trees, create stick formations, hurl rocks, exude nauseating odours – but when people armed with guns or cameras set out in pursuit, they simply fade, fade away.
For decades the yowie field has been trapped between two main schools of thought – on one side the ‘flesh-and-blood’, crowd, who say the creatures must be real, albeit extremely elusive, animals, and on the other, the sceptics who insist that the entire phenomenon is nothing but mass hysteria, hoaxes and wishful thinking – folklore gone feral.
The ‘flesh-and-blood’ crowd focus on parts of the phenomenon that align with their view and exclude anything that’s too weird (psychic elements, seemingly related sightings of other mystery animals such as ‘black panthers’, strange electrical effects, mysterious aerial lights, etc). The sceptics simply ignore the mountains of compelling eyewitness testimony, point to the scarcity of physical evidence and state that it’s all nonsense. Neither has proven their case and the sightings continue. It must be time for some new thinking.
I’m a big fan of fortean author Jerome Clark’s position on similar reports and other ‘high strangeness’ anomalies. In Unexplained, he puts it like this:
“The question really is this: ‘Is it possible to have the experience of encountering bizarre beasts and entities?’ And the answer is yes. To respond affirmatively is only to acknowledge modestly the obvious, which is, as folklorist Bill Ellis puts it, ‘Weird stuff happens.’
“We are in no way conceding anything about what all this weird stuff means. We can grant that people ‘see’ fairies or merfolk without for a moment believing that fairies or merfolk are ‘real.’ We simply acknowledge that such sightings are an experience it is possible to have, even though the actual dynamics of the experience remain unknown so far.
“Science as currently constructed, therefore, has little to offer in the way of elucidation, and occultism has only obfuscation. The nature of these experiences need not remain forever inexplicable. With the ever-accelerating accumulation of knowledge in all areas, we may presume it will be possible sooner or later to place these experiences in a rational perspective, either as heretofore-unsuspected perceptual anomalies or as glimpses of an otherwise-undetected larger reality. Whether the solution comes from the micro (subjective) or macro (objective) side of the existential ledger, it is sure to teach us something new.
“Until then, these events should be regarded simply as curiosities that represent some of human experience’s more peculiar and unclassifiable aspects and about which it is difficult to say more. In other words, they should not be seen as the foundation of a new science or a new religion, and they ought not to threaten anyone who does not need to believe late-twentieth-century science has accounted for all the interesting phenomena of mind and nature.”
I remember trying to explain this position to good friend Bill Chalker – to which he responded “Crop, that’s a cop out!” I know it’s an explanation that effectively avoids explanation, but right now that’s where the phenomenon leaves us. Yowie sightings are genuine experiences, currently unexplainable yet totally fascinating. They are currently beyond our understanding, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep investigating the phenomenon. Perhaps in 50 years, or maybe 100, it will all make perfect sense. In the meantime, I feel privileged to have been able to document this curious and puzzling part of the human experience.
Anyway, Tony and I hope you all enjoy this bumper update to the yowie saga.