By Tony Healy.
Since time immemorial the Aborigines of eastern Australia have believed that there exists, in remote, mountainous areas, a race of hairy, yeti-like giants. The creatures are known by many names including doolagarl, thoolagarl, moomega, yaroma and nooncoonah. Early last century, when British settlers began to report encounters with the creatures, they often used the terms “hairy man” or “yahoo”. Nowadays, for better or for worse, the super-elusive, semi-legendary ape-man is generally known as the Yowie.
The suggestion that shambling, three metre tall rock apes may be lurking out there somewhere, peering around gum trees as the SUV’s bounce by, strikes most people as being too silly for words. However with the assistance of Dean Harrison’s AYR, Paul Cropper and I have collected, in addition to the Aboriginal lore, hundreds of well-documented reports by non-Aborigines dating back to the 1840’s.
Of the many people who told us of yowie encounters in recent years our star witness is unquestionably ex-Senator Bill O’Chee. Once Australia’s youngest senator, an international-standard athlete, super-eligible bachelor and sultry star of the memorable 1994 ‘Men of the Senate’ calender, Bill O’Chee has certainly experienced many high points in his life. Nothing, however, has stayed in his mind with greater clarity than the events of October 22 and 23 1977, when he and a group of mates experienced a terrifying encounter with a massive, hairy creature from the Dreamtime.
Within a period of five months beginning in late 1977 five separate yowie incidents were reported in or near Lamington National park in southeast Queensland. In one case a National Parks and Wildlife ranger experienced a mind-boggling – and stomach-turning – encounter while clearing a trail near “Best of All” lookout. Hearing what he thought was a wild pig he stepped into the scrub to find himself suddenly face to face with “ this big, black, hairy man-thing… more like a gorilla than anything else”. He was within four metres of the looming hulk; close enough to see hair on the back of one of its huge, basically human-like hands, which was wrapped around a sapling.
The ranger, who stands over 1.8 metres, estimated the creature was about 2.5 metres tall. “It had a flat, black, shiny face, two big yellow eyes and a hole for a mouth. It just stared at me and I stared back. I was so numb I couldn’t even raise the axe”. As he stood there, paralysed with shock, he could feel sweat streaming down his back. “We seemed to stand there for about ten minutes before it gave off a foul smell which made me vomit – then it just made off sideways and disappeared”.
Less than three kilometres from the site of the ranger’s encounter is “Koonjewarre” campgrounds. It was there, on 22 October 1977, that 13 year old Bill 0’Chee and 30 other students of Southport school arrived for a two-day camp.
“Koonjewarre”, then newly established, was on open grazing land right on the edge of dense forest. The boys and two teachers were lodged in cabins and it was from the window of one of those, at mid-day, that the first sighting occurred. Bill was among the first to see it. The creature was uphill, in an open, treeless area and was at first lying on the ground. Eventually it stood up and moved slowly around. Close enough to be seen clearly with the naked eye, it remained out in the open long enough for each boy to observe it carefully through binoculars.
‘IT WAS LIKE NOTHING WE’D EVER SEEN – AND IT WAS HUGE!”
The day was bright and sunny and the creature stood out in clear detail. “There was no doubt about it”, Bill said. In the morning they found large indistinct footprints and several metre-high bushes which had been ripped right out of the rock-hard ground and hurled all over the place.
Because the school staff wanted to utilise the campsite regularly, the boys were ordered, on their return to Southport, to say nothing about the incident. An article about it in the school paper was censored. Annoyed by this and believing the story too important to conceal, Bill risked expulsion by contacting the Gold Coast Bulletin, which ran a small article about the incident a few days later.
When Paul and I stumbled over the article and telephoned the senator we were pleased to find he had the guts to stand by his story. Indeed, after initial hesitation, he seemed downright relieved to talk again of the incident that is so deeply engraved on his memory. It is clear that the hair-raising events of October 1977 are never far from his mind.
“None of us will ever forget it”, he said, “the subject comes up every time we have a class reunion – as if we have to reassure each other that it actually happened.”
“I can’t say exactly what the yowies are – whether they’re apes or some kind of hominid – but they’re definitely out there, because we saw one. And believe me – it was bloody huge.”