Wanders with Wit

Say Yikes to the Yowie

Eerie encounters on Jinibara Country, Queensland, Australia
Rainforest path
A wary walk in the woods
Something big happened in 1980.
And it wasn’t just the introduction of the Rubik’s cube, Post-It Notes or Pac-Man.
The lives of two teenage boys camping out in the remote wilderness of Sandy Creek in Queensland’s Kilcoy were never going to be the same again. All was going swimmingly well on their little expedition until, without warning, they heard a SNAP as branches suddenly started being broken off from trees nearby their campsite. Not long after, the boys heard something rather hefty moving through the bush at an impressive rate of knots. That something turned out to be a 2-to-3 metre chocolate fur-covered giant who ended up staring right back at them. When they retrieved what was left of their wits, the boys returned with their biology teacher a few days later to make plaster casts of some suspiciously large footprints left at the campsite.
That one little sighting was all it took for yowie fever to take hold and, before anyone could spell Sasquatch, the formerly quiet Queensland town of Kilcoy soon became immortalised as the Yowie Capital of Australia, attracting TV crews and yowie hunters from around the country.
Budding entrepreneurs created a merchandise range with yowie-themed T-shirts, caps and spoons. The local pub even got in on the act by selling so-called "yowie steaks" (Australians just love to eat their national fauna) and the council planned to launch boat rides on the newly christened Lake Yowie, offer yowie safaris and even build a Yowie Hall of Fame. (Whether the latter was for the people that actually came across yowies, or for the yowies themselves to be acknowledged for their ongoing contribution to the local tourism industry was not clear but seeing as how the idea never eventuated, it doesn’t really matter.)

Road sign to Sandy Creek
Sign o' the climes
Of course, none of this began in the eighties. Like Bigfoot, yowies have been part of indigenous folklore for thousands of years, on top of which there’s been 3,000 alleged sightings in Australia since European settlement alone (all that land clearing just isn’t good for bulky bipedals to hide in).
Yowies must have a soft spot for the area around Kilcoy though, as there have been fresh sightings in recent years, which is why I found myself on a road trip there to try and get amongst it. A quick jaunt out to the now much more developed area of Sandy Creek revealed nothing but dehydrated waterways that no self-respecting hairy hominid would be caught frolicking about in. Fortunately though, there was one place in town everyone was guaranteed to have an encounter and, before I knew it, I was staring up in awe at my very first yowie.
Yowie statue in Kilcoy, Queensland
The looming legend
Okay, so it was more like a fibreglass rendition of one, located in the main street of Kilcoy, but it was definitely a start. Inspired by the teenage boys’ escapades in 1980, the local council commissioned a 2-metre-high Beechwood statue to take pride of place in the newly-named Yowie Park. Once councillors discovered how anatomically correct the carver had made the rather macho yowie though, the well-endowed wookie had to be trucked into town in the dead of night to avoid poking anyone’s eye out.
Of course when dawn broke, there was no hiding his prowess. The council contemplated covering up the yowie’s nether regions so as not to offend any church groups or little old ladies but no one seemed to object. Whether it became one of the best ways to explain the birds and the bees to younger generations or one of the local biddies ended up with one of said bees in her bonnet, but the yowie’s appendage was suddenly, and mysteriously, snapped off one day. All that remains of the original carving is now on display in the Kilcoy Information Centre (the upper torso, not his butt cheeks.) A second wooden statue was then erected in the park but that eunuch was so environmentally friendly, his face began decomposing not long after installation. The third statue that stands in Yowie Park today is an indestructibly inoffensive replica of the second.
Head of original yowie statue behind glass

Not the Gympie Ape

The warm and cosy Kilcoy Historical Society had plenty of yowie newspaper articles and eyewitness accounts to devour and, after checking out what remained of the original statue in the stunning Kilcoy Information Centre, there was no choice in the matter: if I wanted to personally experience getting yelled at by a yowie, I had to go bush.
I deliberately chose the first location where, only one year prior, a hiker had alarmingly encountered a couple of yowies smashing rocks together by a creek bed. Naturally, the yowies weren’t too happy about being discovered and, within seconds, the hiker fled the scene, terrified of being pursued. I was in fight-or-flight mode myself by the time I arrived at the national park and started sweating buckets when I realised mine was the only car in the deserted lot. So much for safety in numbers. By the entrance to the hiking trail was a casually-strewn Santa hat. Were the yowies already getting their Yuletide on? Or had yet another startled hiker recently fled from the ungainly unknown? The cicadas weren’t letting me in on any secrets; neither were the nonstop flies.
Zoom. A cyclist sped past me on an adjacent track, never to be seen again (at least not by me). I took a deep breath and as I began hiking along the narrow, leaf-littered path, the surrounding bush land seemed to close in on me. The more the track meandered inland, the more I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was trespassing. Although it was a public spot, the pathway had been barely used by the looks of it and the constant cobwebs breaking across my legs.
“What’s that?” I jumped. It was the caw of a crow. Sighing, I stepped across a single muddy shoeprint; relieved there were no giant ape-looking footprints as I hadn’t thought to lug along any Plaster of Paris with me - not that anyone would have believed me had I returned with an authentic cast of one. Up ahead, I spotted the very creek the hiker had heard the hitting of rocks in and went to investigate. Just so there would be no surprises in store, I shuffled along at an agonisingly slow pace; intermittently stopping to listen for any rock smacking sounds but all I heard was a tranquil, babbling brook.
Rainforest stream
King parrot on branch

Waterway of wonder & playful parrot king

“If you are lucky, you may see honeyeaters, robins and scrub wrens” the optimistic sign at the entrance to the park had declared. A bemused king parrot acknowledged me from high in a tree instead, whilst a flock of birds chattered merrily nearby. I took it as a good sign. When hikers happened across yowies, it was usually eerily quiet.
“Aah!” I jumped at the sight of a brush turkey foraging in the creek bed. As I continued further on, the foliage became denser and my fears immenser as I constantly scanned the environment for escape routes.
Ch ch ch ch ch. A chopper suddenly flew overhead. Was the pilot searching for a missing bushwalker? The shoe print I’d seen on the way in only went one way, towards the creek. Then I remembered – another tell-tale sign of yowies was their pungent stench. I inhaled as deeply as I could, confident that my party trick of being able to smell heavily perfumed laundry detergent from 50 paces should have also alerted me to the matted-hair stink of an 8-to-10 foot being with resting cranky face.
Any romantic notions I had of doing a Dian Fossey with any Yowies in my Midst were rendered redundant as the further I trekked, the jumpier I became. What felt like an eternity later, I arrived at a raging creek crossing that was completely flooded over and I instantly went on high alert – and not just from the thought of being swept downstream. It was time to get the bleep out of there, so I spun on my heels and raced back along the path, taking care not to hit any trees with sticks on the way out in order to play Knock Knock with any mischievous mammals nearby.
When I arrived back at the car park, the sun had burst to life and, just up the hill, I spotted a cheerier-looking track leading through open eucalypt forest high above the creek bed, which suited my short-circuited senses just fine. Several minutes in, I came across a couple of trees on which love hearts had been carved. Were they calling cards for rippling Romeos to attract their jungle Juliets?
Love heart & initials carved in tree

Prehistoric Tinder

Vroom. An unmuffled motorbike roared past the national park, after which a low rumble filled the forest.
I froze in terror, desperately trying to ascertain where the sound had come from until I spotted a low-flying passenger jet above. My nerves couldn’t take another second and I high-tailed it back to the car, keen to save any crumbs of cortisol for the second location up my sleeve – the mountains.
Over the years, many yowie sightings have occurred around either dawn or dusk, as yowies are purportedly nocturnal. Save for donning myself in head-to-toe camo gear, wearing a pair of night vision goggles and tiptoeing through the tulips at 2 a.m., my next stakeout was timed for just before sunset when, I reasoned, there could well be a few more Encounters of the Furred Kind.
(NB: Of course I didn’t actually really want to come face to face with a yowie kind of ever. Just to hear a little grumble or see a glimpse of one from the safety of an impenetrable pope-type mobile capable of instant flight would be enough for me. I had no wish to spend the rest of my life in therapy, curled up in the foetal position humming show tunes thanks to a life-changing meet and greet with one.)
It took me two attempts to even make it to the mountains. On my first try, my car broke down and fierce storms erupted. By the second, I couldn’t shake the ominous feeling pervading every one of my pores. It was late afternoon by the time I started on the impressive trek to the waterfall where a yowie had both been seen and heard on separate occasions and, only months prior, encountered on a track in the middle of the night.
Uprooted tree hollow
Tree trunk with shredded-looking bark
Red-necked pademelon on forest path

Bubbles, tickly tree & Mr. Paddy

“Ah!” I jumped at what I thought was a macaque but was actually a late afternoon sun-dappled log that I immediately named Bubbles. Further along the leafy path, I came across a tree that had its bark shredded off. Yowie scratching post, anyone?
“What’s that?!” I squawked at a shadow up ahead but it was just a foraging red-necked pademelon.
The more I descended, the darker the subtropical rainforest became until I could have sworn I’d reached Middle Earth.
“Huh?” I spun around to see a forest mouse shimmying up a tree and was grateful it wasn’t one of the assassin spiders endemic to the area.
“Oh my goodness!” I shrieked as a tiny bird hopped across the path in front of me. A gigantic tree, uprooted from recent storms, lay with its roots exposed nearby. I’d heard yowies were capable of snapping off tree branches but surely that was pushing it.
Fallen tree over rainforst path
Enormous fallen tree on forest floor

Timber! (Literally)

“Excuse me?!” I stopped in alarm, convinced that the falling forest debris was actually footsteps. Footsteps that mysteriously stopped the moment I stood still. As the old adage goes, if you feel like you’re being watched, you probably are. Since I was technically in potentially yowie territory, I naively hoped by sticking to the designated path that I would be left alone. (Also, from all of the yowie sightings I had read about, it was usually men that had had confrontations. Being a hopeless romantic with a penchant for chick flicks was surely another point in my favour.)
If you’re still with me, let me fling open the gates of possibility a little. There’s a whole school of thought that passionately advocates for yowies being harmless, non-violent protectors of the bush who actually don’t want to be found by humans. If you’re not too busy rolling your eyes, let me really test your tenacity with another tidbit. Some people believe that creatures like Bigfoot and the yeti are actually high level inter-dimensional beings who choose who they appear to and when. They apparently know you’re coming well before you’ve even arrived. What if Australian yowies were cut from the same cloth? If you could act like a UFO and disappear at a moment’s notice to avoid being shot at or trophy hunted and then reappear when the coast was clear, why on earth wouldn’t you?! It would go some way as to explaining why their remains have never been "officially" found. (Or at least verified.)
Rainforest stream

Live stream

Back in the reality of the rainforest, the muddy path snaked its way towards a creek where I strained to listen for the sound of rocks being thrown, but all I heard were intermittent bird sounds punctuated by the shrill “waaahh” of a wailing catbird that almost scared the pantaloons off me.
After passing a few more fallen trees, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the waterfall finally appeared. I spent only a couple of moments admiring the dusky view when my inner alarm suddenly sounded, cautioning me to get out of there – stat.
A massive palm frond fell to the floor with an almighty thud. I didn’t need to be told twice. I power-walked as fast as I could, taking longer and faster strides; frantically puffing with each ascending step. Then a very strange thing occurred. The quicker I walked, the more ear-piercing the bird chorus became until every boobook owl, wompa pigeon, catbird, whipbird, currawong, fruit dove, tweety bird and bellbird got in on the action. Were they warning me or each other, I wondered with alarm.
Woomp, woomp, woomp, woomp.
What felt like a giant dragon flapping its wings began flying right behind me but when I plucked up the courage to turn around, there was nothing there. It wasn’t until a couple of terrified minutes later, I realised it was all the adrenaline-fuelled blood rushing past my ears. With shaking hands, I gripped onto my camera, gasping for breath before I had an epiphany: I didn’t need to see or experience any cryptozoological creatures. I trusted and believed that they were real and was more than happy to let them be, especially if they felt like extending me the same courtesy.
Just then, a lone female hiker appeared on the track in front of me. “Hi,” I managed to puff as we passed each other. She was calm and carefree whilst I was on the wild-eyed verge of cardiac arrest. Clearly, neither of us had paid any attention to the warning sign at the entrance to the path to never hike on your own.
Tree trunk covered in macrame-looking vines

Funky trunk

Thankfully, the two-hour return walk – which I’d managed in just 45 minutes – was almost at an end. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. When I stopped briefly to photograph a trendy tree laced with macramé-looking vines, another huge fern crashed to the ground nearby.
“Argh!” I became startled by the shadowy figure of another brush turkey. My frazzled nerves and I sprinted back towards the car where I heard a barking dog in the distance, incessantly alerting its owner to what sounded like impending danger.
Then my worst fears came true.
A loud, guttural howl filled the forest, packing a powerful punch that would have been heard for miles. I racked my frightened brain to work out what kind of Australian animal it could belong to but nothing sounded like the growl of an angry bear-type lion, not even a mating koala or cranky possum. I threw myself at the car and flung open the door, pausing briefly in case I had imagined the whole thing.
Nope, the sound was crystal clear and sounded even closer. Was the hunter about to become the hunted? Petrified, I threw myself into the driver’s seat, locked the doors and sped as fast as I could up the steep hill, convinced that whatever animal had made that cavernous cacophony could easily have come crashing out of the forest and flipped my car on its side if it wanted to.
As I drove like the clappers, I recalled the sign at the start of the walk confirming there were many more species yet to be recorded and named in the forest. After hearing that earth-shattering, low rumbling growl, I was 100% convinced a yowie was one of them.
I swear to you this is a true and valid account of what I experienced. And now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to lie down and put on some show tunes for a while...