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The Age

The rainforests can have that effect on you

Author: Robert Drewe
Date: 16/08/2008
Words: 730
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: A2
Page: 3
The northern coast can play host to several species of cryptozoological beasties, not the least of which are naked horsewomen, writes Robert Drewe.

WAS IT JUST THE leftover delirium of a bad case of mid-winter flu, during which I woke this week with the feverish impression that my teenage son and I (strangely transformed by the dream into twin brothers aged 10) had been forbidden to take our pet miniature camel to school? Or are the denizens of my region lately excelling themselves in their many eccentricities?

Unconventionality of a whimsical sort is commonplace, even encouraged in the northern coastal rainforest. To read the letters page or the classifieds of the Echo, or the columnists in the Star, is to enter a dream world of surname-less correspondents, ferocious potential libels, savage feuds, weird occupations, right-left extremes and elfin make-believe. But it's the behaviours recorded in succinct news paragraphs that can make you sit up and take notice.

Like the naked middle-aged woman cavorting with the bay stallion at 8.30am in the Lismore park in front of work and school-bound traffic. By the time wranglers with head-collars and police with blankets had subdued the pair, the crowd could be described as agog. But, as the newspaper heading said:

Nude Woman,

Horse

Show No

Remorse

For an area with a stringent breathalyser squad and the highest number of annual drink-driving convictions in NSW, the man with the two-year suspended licence caught last week riding an unregistered and uninsured motorcycle at 140km/h in a 50km/h zone, while four times over the alcohol limit, and carrying a suitcase of cannabis, was probably tempting even the rainforest's fickle fates.

In its denser reaches, the rainforest casts a strange, other-worldly aura over its inhabitants, and not only on the flora and fauna. Even the scientists are not immune. The most intriguing ABC radio program on the far north coast is the wildlife segment that the local environmentalist Gary Opit has presented for the past decade.

What's fascinating about his sessions is not just his passionate scientific knowledge of the birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, spiders and plants of this most biodiverse territory. Opit, who has worked as an environmental scientist and government conservation adviser in Australia, Papua New Guinea and the US, is also a cryptozoologist, who believes in the presence here of thylacines, big wildcats and yowies - otherwise known as bunyips.

Opit's website has precise details of 50 differently witnessed and dated thylacine sightings, including six near Mullumbimby in the one 24-hour period in February 2006. And a recent Opit radio program carried an interview with a chap who has a yowie for a neighbour and regularly leaves roast beef out for it (him?/her?), placed high in the fork of a tree beyond the reach of wild dogs. Yowies are tall, dark and hairy and have long arms. They prefer their meat cooked.

Cryptozoology (literally, the study of hidden animals) is not regarded seriously by the mainstream scientific community. As Opit says: "Most people don't believe yowies exist but I'm fortunate that I've actually seen one and heard their calls. They have incredibly powerful roaring calls, barks and gurgles. They call around 3am on full-moon nights. We still don't know exactly what they are, but they seem to be carnivorous nocturnal primates."

So, what to believe? The invention of the term "cryptozoology" is often attributed to zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans. He argued that cryptozoology should be undertaken with scientific rigour, but with an open-minded, interdisciplinary approach. Attention should be paid to local, urban and folkloric stories of such creatures - the Yeti, the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot and company - because, while they were often layered in fantastic elements, folktales usually contained grains of truth.

As evidence of a sort, you can google Gary Opit and listen to an audio interview of alleged yowie calls, and compare them with what purport to be the roars of its cousin, the North American sasquatch, or Bigfoot. To my ears, the yowie sounds like a cross between a wolf and a factory siren, whereas the sasquatch sounds more like a blood-curdling Tarzan: the Johnny Weissmuller version.

Both calls are deep and resonant and spine-tingling. Of course, I don't believe in them for a second. But now I've heard them, you wouldn't catch me camping alone

in the northern rainforest, not on a full-moon night.

NEXT WEEK

KATE HOLDEN

 
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