In our 2007 book ‘The Yowie’, Tony Healy and I noted the distinct lack of physical evidence. Unlike its American counterpart, the Yowie appears to be incredibly light on its feet, with very few track reports. Tony and I often theorised why this might the case; perhaps the dryer climate, coarser soil or the smaller population available to find tracks. Of course, there was always the possibility that there never was an animal there to leave tracks in the first place.
In my four decades of research I’ve only seen what might have been yowie tracks on two occasions, both near the small town of Kempsey in northern NSW. The first – the subject of this post – was in January 1995 and the second, covered here, was in 2015. The 2015 case was probably human, while the 1995 report still puzzles me.
The location was a dirt road bordering the Ballengarra State Forest, approx. 11 km south-west of Kempsey, NSW. The date was Sunday, January 22, 1995. The Time: 5.30 pm (daylight saving). The two young witnesses were Romney, 11 years old and James, 10 (both surnames on file).
Both Romney and James had been playing with a neighbours son on her property. Around 5.30 they decided to walk the short distance back to Romney’s parents property (about 1-2km). The dirt track from the neighbours house runs up the side of a hill. After two property gates, the track joined a public dirt road that runs along the top of a ridge line. On one side of the road are a few scattered properties, and on the other steep, wooded gullies that fringe the Ballengarra State Forest. After the boys had passed through the last gate, they turned left and started walking downhill along the road towards the junction with Pipers Creek Rd.
About 100 metres from the neighbours property gate, the boys heard some noises; James thought it may have been sheep or goats and Romney felt it was a bird. Romney also said he heard two heavy footfalls at this point.
After the noises, both boys looked ahead, down the road and noticed a figure standing about 5-7 metres away, in amongst the fern and lantana bushes that fringe the embankment on the left-hand side of the road. The creature was slightly hunched over and facing away from the boys. As they watched, it straightened up, and began moving its head from side-to-side; Romney felt the creature was “sniffing”.
Their descriptions were as follows:
Romney: The creature was 8-9 ft tall and totally covered in dark brown or black hair. Its hair was several inches long, “wild and scraggly” looking. It was “way bigger” than an average person; it seemed to be “in between a human and a gorilla”, as it was “not quite the shape of a human and not quite the shape of a gorilla”. It was a “lot wider” than a human: it was “massive”. Neck of “average” length. No facial features were noted, nor arms or legs.
James: Dark, browny colour – dark. “Pretty high”. Long, wild hair all over it. Did not see arms or legs, just the “back of a big, hairy thing”. Resembled a “monkey or gorilla”.
After only a few seconds the boys turned around and began to walk – and then run – back to their neighbour’s property. Romney said he heard footsteps as they moved away from the animal. They both said they were very frightened. They told one of their older friends at the neighbours and later asked him to drive them home as they refused to walk back past the spot where the animal had stood.
The neighbours mother heard the story from the boys the next day and decided, at their insistence, to visit the spot. She was amazed to discover a series of long, broad tracks at the site. Although still skeptical, Irene later discussed the sighting with Dave Reneke of Kempsey, who (via Fortean colleague Bill Chalker) passed on the report to me.
I travelled to Kempsey on Saturday, 4 February 1995 and initially spoke with the neighbour’s mother. While skeptical, she had been impressed by the boys continued insistence that they had really seen the creature. She told me that the boys were still “spun-out” the next morning, and they wanted her to go up to the spot with her to look around.
We then both visited the site of the encounter where a number of broad, deep impressions were still visible on the overgrown track next to the dirt road. I took several photos, then we moved on to Romney’s property where I interviewed him at length about his sighting.
Romney’s story impressed me; he was an intelligent, articulate and apparently very level-headed 11 year old. His account of his experience was succinct and several efforts on my part to lead him into extra details proved fruitless. It is interesting to note that it was Romney’s account that made their neighbour feel that there may have been something to the boys claims – she felt that Romney just would not make up such a story.
Later that afternoon I again visited the site and took more photos and measurements as well as two casts of the clearer impressions. That evening I spoke to the other boy, James. James was not as articulate as Romney, but he confirmed all of the major details in Romney’s story. It was interesting to note that it seemed clear to me that James had not spoken much about his experience; his mother and father appeared quite surprised at the details that came out during our interview.
Although two weeks had elapsed since the sighting and the fact that there had been rain locally, I was able to locate 16 impressions around the site of the boy’s sighting and took two plaster casts. These imprints stretched from the top of the slope and continued in a definite trail along the track down to where the animal was seen standing. The impressions were roughly an oval shape, although with one end slightly wider than the other but no distinct toes.
The distance between prints varied from 50-100 cm. There were larger gaps between prints, however these may have due to the nature of the ground, as some areas would not have shown tracks.
The average length of the imprints was 30 cm long by 18 cm wide. Almost all of the prints were around 3-4 cm deep; by comparison, if I stood on my boot heel with my entire weight I made a 2 cm heel impression. The soil at the bottom of the prints was quite flat and hard-packed.
No arch or ball was visible, however one cast shows what could be the rounded ‘ball’ of a foot. It is interesting to note that, while the imprints did not immediately resemble human feet, both casts have the general shape-of a large foot.
Around 4 hours after I took the two casts, I left both prints with David Reneke as I went to interview James. Both of the plaster casts still had a substantial amount of soil attached to the plaster as I had only given them a partial clean. On my return, David told me that his dog (a poodle/maltese cross) had reacted in an unusual manner to the casts as they lay in the middle of their lounge room.
David and I decided to attempt to duplicate the animals reaction, but first we placed an large lump of wood in the middle of the room to see how the dog would normally react to the presence of something unusual. The animal seemed uninterested in the wood and happily ran all around the room.
The dog was then removed and one cast was placed in the room. The dog was again allowed in and its reaction was immediate – it stayed 1 -2 metres away and simply stared at the cast. It continued to stare for at least 1 -2 minutes; then it bared its teeth and commenced growling, then barking at the print. David, who was sitting on the opposite side of the cast, attempted to call the dog over to him but the animal refused to budge. The dog continued this behaviour for as long as the cast was in the room. David’s other dog showed no interest in the cast.
David told me he believed that the dog had always been particularly ‘sensitive’ to animal scents. He also indicated the dog had only acted this way once or twice before, always at items with definite animal origins.
A few days after my visit to the area I attempted to interest Port Macquarie National Parks & Wildlife staff in inspecting the tracks. I was unsuccesful, but was referred on to a Port Macquarie-based wildlife research consultant of 30 years experience.
This consultant visited the site on the weekend of 11/12 February with four others. He inspected the tracks, which were still clearly visible despite further heavy rain. He told me later that he was able to locate another 4 tracks further down the slope, yet a wider search revealed no additional impressions. He found no hair samples or indications that any large animal had made its way through the bush.
The consultant indicated that he believed that whatever had made the tracks had weighed around half a tonne. Each track was heavily compressed at each end, however there was a strip in the centre of each imprint where the soil was not heavily packed down. Strangely, he did not believe the tracks were related to what the two boys had seen.
So – 24 years later, do I believe a Yowie left those strange imprints? I remember being impressed by the boys stories, and something big, heavy and bipedal had certainly walked down that isolated bush trail. A few years ago I tracked down Romney and asked him again about his experience – he said he couldn’t even remember it! When it comes to the Yowie, what seems like solid evidence eventually just seems to slowly fade from view and disappear.
But I do still have those casts.