I Want to Believe
'[We] found no people but a large number of rats, nearly as big as cats, which had a pouch below their throat into which one could put one's hand, without being able to understand to what end nature had created an animal like this.'
This Jeff Vandermeer-esque passage, a report from a 17th-century Dutch voyage to the west coast of Australia, describes the quokkas of Rottnest Island ('rottnest' being Dutch for rat's nest). Australian marsupials were a big anomaly for European explorers and their sightings were often written off as a hoax or a joke.
This series will discuss some of Australia's weirdest and wildest mythical creatures. Crypto-zoology, rightly or wrongly, is characterised by outlandish tales and pseudo-science, but for every Bigfoot and Loch Ness there's a quokka or platypus that turned out to be real
Remember that if you feel the urge to scoff at any of the entries on this list.
This is the fourth article in a four part series. Read Australian Cryptids A-F here
, Australian Cryptids G-L here
, and Australian Cryptids M-R here
Thylacine (Tasmanian tiger)
Unlike many of the other animals in this series, we know that thylacine, or the Tasmanian tiger, actually existed. It's the animal's current status that remains a mystery...
Thylacine was (is?) a carnivorous marsupial that was native to Australia and New Guinea. By the twentieth century, the thylacine population was limited to Tasmania, most likely due to dingoes. Because of this, and because of its striped fur, the thylacine was commonly referred to as the Tasmanian tiger. A nocturnal hunter, the Tasmanian tiger was an apex predator that used stamina to stalk its prey.
Colonisation led to the ultimate extinction of the creature. When Tasmanian tigers were accused of attacking sheep, a bounty scheme was introduced. The scheme was a success; by the 1930s, the Tasmanian tiger was no more.
Or was it?
There have been reports of Tasmanian tigers ever since the endling, Benjamin, died in 1936. The witnesses are fairly credible and include scientists and Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service officers.
And sightings aren't limited to Tasmania, either. Tasmanian tigers have been reported in Western Australia, and in 2017, James Cook University deployed camera traps in North Queensland following an alleged sighting by experienced outdoorspeople.
Keep an eye out for Tasmanian tigers in your backyard.
We're going to cross the ditch for this next entry. Taniwha are supernatural beings in Maori mythology who live in bodies of water, especially those that are dangerous and deceptive. In some myths, taniwha are protective spirits, while in others they are predatory creatures who kidnap women.
The word taniwha refers to a large, dangerous shark in many south Pacific languages; appropriately, taniwha often appears as a sharklike creature. In other stories, they take the appearance of a whale, tuatara, or a floating log.
Many Maori tribal groups have a protective taniwha. However, stories also tell of the dangerous aspects of taniwha - man eaters, women abductors, and warriors. In an episode of Wellington Paranorma
l, New Zealand's First Husband, Clarke Gayford, is kidnapped by the taniwha who, he believes, 'was storing [us] for food... classic taniwha'.
So why does this clearly mythical creature appear in a list of cryptids? To quote my 8 year old son, okay. So. Well. It's like this.
In late 2002/early 2003, Transit New Zealand (TNZ) stopped work on a section of the State Highway One in Waikato, due to local Maori concerns that the construction would disturb the home of a taniwha's lair. Work only resumed when TNZ and the locals collaborated on a new design that wouldn't disturb the taniwha.
Why would a New Zealand government agency use more time and money to protect something that doesn't exist? What do they know that we don't know, huh?
Back in the first cryptid article
, I discussed the sighting of 'big cats' in the Australian bush. The theory - that a puma or a tiger brought to Australia as a pet escaped captivity and started a colony in the Australian bush - is not that far-fetched. In fact, in 2003, a New South Wales State Inquiry found that it was 'more likely than not' that a colony of big cats lived on the outskirts of Sydney.
The warrigal doesn't quite fall under this category.
Said to resemble a lion, the warrigal is approximately six feet long, with large protruding teeth and catlike tracks. The warrigal is charged with taking livestock in the Blue Mountains region, which makes it a logical candidate for a big cat colony. However...
The first reports of a large, shaggy-haired, dingo-like creature were recorded in 1889, at least fifty years before a Chinese miner or American soldier is said to have introduced a big cat to the Australian wild. For this reason, crypto-zoologists believe that the warrigal is an entirely different species.
So what is it then? Well, here's where it all goes a little loopy. Crypto-zoologist Rex Gilroy believes that the warrigal could be thylacoleo carnifex, an ambush predator from the Pleistocene era, approximately 2.5 million - 11 000 years ago. This theory, of course, raises far more questions than it answers, but it's fun, so let's just enjoy it.
Australia's most famous cryptid is the lucky last entry on this list.
Despite its more recent incarnation as the Australian Kinder Surprise, the yowie has a long and fearsome place in Australian history and mythology.
Reports fairly consistently describe the yowie as an apelike hominid or a humanoid ape, depending on how you prefer to look at it, with wide, flat feet. They are said to stand between 3 and 6 foot. Like the taniwha, yowie's also suffer something of a split personality across stories. In some, the yowie is a shy and timid creature, while in others they are said to be aggressive and dangerous.
The legend of the yowie almost certainly came from First Nation stories of the Yahoos, an old race of black people that resembled men, only with long hair and talons on their feet. Yahoos were believed to be the original inhabitants of the country.
And I'm very proud to learn that the yowie capital of Australia is just a short drive from my hometown. The Springbrook of south-east Queensland has more yowie reports than any other area of Australia.
Dinky Di or Porky Pie?
Have you seen a backyard beast or a tiger in the territories? Share your Australian cryptid stories with us in the comments below.