Werewolf Fact of the Day

ISBN: 9781578590704

What hairy man-beast has long been a feature of the Australian landscape?

  • The beast was first referenced in 1835.
  • Native Australians call a member of these beasts Yahoo -- an evil spirit.
  • It lives in the tops of the steepest and rockiest mountains, which are totally inaccessible to all human beings.


Yowie, the Australian version of Sasquatch/Bigfoot, has long been a feature of the cryptozoological landscape down under. Virtually no modern Australian zoologist acknowledges its existence, which indeed seems an incredible proposition. Australia has been separated from the Asian continent for some seventy million years -- far too long ago for anthropoid apes to have crossed over and evolved into the kind of creature Australians, both native and European immigrant, have been reporting for many years.

The first known printed reference to the yowie, then called yahoo, appears in 1835, in J. Holman's Travels, where it is said, "The natives are greatly terrified by the sight of a person in a mask calling him 'devil' or Yah-hoo, which signifies evil spirit." In an 1842 issue of Australian and New Zealand Monthly Magazine, an article titled "Superstitions of the Australian Aborigines: The Yahoo" notes:

The natives of Australia have, properly speaking, no idea of any supernatural being; at the same time, they believe in the imaginary existence of a class which, in the singular number, they call Yahoo, or, when they wish to be anglified, Devil-Devil. . . . On the other hand, a contested point has long existed among Australian naturalists whether or not such an animal as the Yahoo existed, one party contending that it does, and that from its scarceness, slyness, and solitary habits, man has not succeeded in obtaining a specimen, and that it is most likely to be one of the monkey tribe.

Two years later Mrs. Charles Meredith, in her "Notes and Sketches of New South Wales During a Residence in the Colony from 1839 to 1844," wrote of the terror the yahoo inspired in the aborigines. The yahoo, she reported, "lives in the tops of the steepest and rockiest mountains, which are totally inaccessible to all human beings."

(No one knows how the word Yahoo-- usually associated with Jonathan Swift, in whose famous satire Gulliver's Travels [1726] Yahoos are a race of degraded people -- was absorbed into the aboriginal vocabulary. The expression entered common usage as a word denoting uncouth or ignorant individuals. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries English speakers sometimes applied it to orangutans. Coincidentally or otherwise, native inhabitants of the Bahamas call their local apeman the "yahoo.")

Australian settlers began seeing the yahoo, too. The Sydney Morning Herald carried this story in its October 12, 1877, issue:

AN EXTRAORDINARY ANIMAL. -- M. Prosser, manager at Messrs. Amos and Co.'s sawmills at Amos's Siding, near Sutton Forest, has just informed us ... that a most peculiar animal has been seen by two men, Patrick Jones and Patrick Doyle, residents of Sutton Forest [New South Wales], in the bush between Cable's Siding and Jordan's Crossing. Mr. Prosser himself has seen the footprints; they are 3 feet apart, and the impression made by the feet is similar to that of an elephant. The animal is described as being 7 feet high, with a face like a man, and long shaggy hair, and makes a tremendous noise. Fourteen of the men from the mill, fully armed, intend starting on Saturday next to endeavor to capture this "wild man of the woods." Mr. Prosser assures us there is no exaggeration about this affair, and every one at the mill believes in the existence of this strange creature.

An 1881 newspaper article mentions the "first appearance [of the yahoo] for some considerable time past." Two or three local men allegedly had seen a creature that looked like a "huge monkey or baboon ... somewhat larger than a man." On October 3, 1894, while riding in the New South Wales bush in the middle of the afternoon, Johnnie McWilliams said he spotted a "wild man or gorilla" that stepped out from behind a tree, looked at him briefly, and dashed for a wooded hillside a mile away. The Queanbeyan Observer of November 30 of that year, calling the witness a "truthful and manly fellow," added, "For many years there have been tales of trappers coming across enormous tracks of some unknown animals in the mountain wilds around Snowball."

Around the turn of the century Joseph and William Webb, camped in the range in New South Wales, reportedly fired on a "formidable-looking" apelike creature that left "footprints, long, like a man's, but with longer, spreading toes; there were its strides, also much longer than those of a man." They found "no blood or other evidence of their shot['s] having taken effect," according to John Gale in An Alpine Excursion (1903). On August 7, 1903, the Queanbeyan Observer printed a letter from a man who claimed to have witnessed a killing of a yahoo by aborigines. "It was like a black man," he said, "but covered all over with gray hair."

From Unexplained! Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences, and Puzzling Physical Phenomena, 2nd Edition by Jerome Clark, (c) 1999 Visible Ink Press Award-winning exposition of the mysterious and unexplained.

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