Woodenbong is renowned for its picturesque mountain surroundings, a strong Aboriginal community, rural charm — and mysterious mythical creatures.
Unofficially known as the capital of Yowie Country, the tiny town in far northern New South Wales has been the scene of sightings of Big Foot-like beasts over the years.
Tony Healy, a cryptozoologist and author of books including The Yowie: In Search of Australia’s Big Foot, said the first sightings could be traced back to ancient Aboriginal stories about “hairy men”.
(In case you’re wondering, cryptozoology is the study of animals whose existence is disputed.)
Legends and folklore
Mr Healy has interviewed dozens of Aboriginal elders across Australia and said Indigenous people had warned early European settlers about the elusive creatures.
“There were many testimonies given to explorers, missionaries and settlers in the 1820s and 1830s by Aboriginal tribespeople who had seen ‘hairy men’ which they knew by many different names,” he said.
The Githabul people — the original inhabitants of the Woodenbong area — tell the story of “hairy men” living in the Mount Lindesay area that were feared yet respected man-like beings.
But these accounts had been consigned to Aboriginal folklore due to a lack of physical evidence, Mr Healy said.
‘Really big feet’
A well-known sighting in the vicinity of Woodenbong occurred in 1928 at Palen Creek, about 30 kilometres across the Queensland border in the Border Ranges region.
“Yowie reports have been constant since the colonial era all along the Border Ranges, and Woodenbong is right there at the foot of that range,” Mr Healy said.
“In 1928 at Palen Creek, a Bob Mitchell said he and a mate were riding through that area at about 10:00am when they saw a yowie.”
Mitchell’s account is featured in Mr Healy’s book:
“We saw a yowie standing in a clearing not far from us; in that light there was no mistaking it.
“It was about seven feet tall with a black human face and a gorilla-like body covered in thick brownish hair.
“It showed no aggression, just looked at us for a moment then turned and disappeared into the bush.
“It had really big feet and could move fast.”
However, once again, Mr Healy said there was no physical evidence to prove the report.
Famous sightings of ’70s
Two sightings in the 1970s, widely reported by the media, cemented Woodenbong’s reputation as Yowie Country.
Woodenbong resident Thelma Crewe said she saw two of the creatures in her Richmond Street yard in late 1976.
Her story was reported in the local Northern Star newspaper:
“I didn’t turn on the kitchen light straight away because it was such a moonlit night. I stood at the open window looking at the view.
“This creature walked onto our lawn from the next door vacant lot and stood there for two or three minutes looking towards me.
“He was sort of flexing his arms in a circular movement in front of his face. The creature then moved from the side towards the bedroom where my husband was sleeping.
“There was another creature of exactly the same height and appearance standing under our bedroom window.
“They were about five feet tall and covered in tan-coloured hair. Their heads seemed to be sunk low into their shoulders.
“I couldn’t see the facial features properly. They had a shuffling kind of walk. I was much too close to mistake it.”
Mr Healy said sceptics might dismiss Mrs Crewe’s story as a waking dream, however another alleged sighting occurred 10 months later just 300 metres away at the home of Jean Maloney.
Mrs Crewe had not told anyone about her encounter until after she read Mrs Maloney’s story in The Northern Star in 1977.
Alleged dog attack
Mrs Maloney told the newspaper that her Australian terrier had been attacked by a yowie.
She said she was woken by her dog barking and ran into her backyard.
“I suddenly saw the creature directly in front of me. I was within six feet of the jolly thing and I think I stopped breathing for a moment because of the fright.
“It was sitting on its haunches and had the dog completely crushed against its chest. It was as if it was trying to crush the life out of the little dog.
“The creature stood up, looked straight at me and dropped the dog, which I thought was dead.”
Mrs Maloney described the yowie as more than six feet (183cm) tall with an almost hairless face, ape-like, with a heavy brow, no chin or neck, and ginger-coloured hair hanging from its arms and legs.
She also said the yowie was male and that its genitals were quite apparent.
It allegedly ran away leaving the dog with wounds to its chest and neck. The dog died a short time later.
Mr Healy said a photo was taken of the injured dog but the perpetrator of the attack was never found.
“Something killed it … and it would be a very strange thing for Mrs Maloney to make up,” he said.
Lack of evidence
The only other possible physical evidence to support Mrs Maloney’s sighting was a 22-centimetre-long footprint with five toes that was photographed by a Northern Star reporter, and a hair sample that was sent to the University of Queensland for analysis.
Results of the tests were inconclusive.
“The footprints were no bigger than human tracks so that doesn’t count for much,” Mr Healy said.
He said the only other anecdotal evidence of yowies in Woodenbong pre-1980 came from a letter to the editor of The Northern Star in 1977.
Louise Mackney of Lismore wrote:
“I read the story about the two yowies sighted by Mrs Crewe of Woodenbong.
“I lived in Woodenbong for 12 years and have heard of previous sightings.
“The creatures were seen on Mount Clunie and were described as ‘hairy men’ and as having an ape’s body with the head of a man.”
Who asked the question?
“When was the first reported sighting of the Woodenbong yowie, and has there ever been any evidence to prove their sighting?”
Bonita Mully grew up not far from Woodenbong and knew it as Yowie Country, but she never understood the background to the label.
“I used to live in Kyogle and there was always word of a Woodenbong yowie, but no-one had ever seen one,” she said.
“From what I heard, it was horse hair found near where the sighting was.”
She said, believe them or not, the stories “made a good tale”.