Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Yowie: In Search of Australia's Bigfoot

I just finished reading The Yowie: In Search of Australia's Bigfoot. It was written by Tony Healy and Paul Cropper. The book is interesting and is a good use of oral history.

A description of the book reads, "Australia's most baffling zoological mystery! During the early colonial era, Australia's Aborigines often warned British settlers to beware of huge, ape-like creatures that lurked in the rugged mountains and deep forests of the island continent. Their people, they said, had been encountering the hairy horrors since time immemorial. They knew them by many names, including doolagarl, thoolagarl, jurrawarra and tjangara. Soon the colonists, too, began to experience hair-raising encounters with the hulking, foul-smelling creatures, which they referred to as "Australian apes", "yahoos" or "youries". Today, they are generally referred to as yowies. The list of modern-day eyewitnesses includes zoologists, rangers, surveyors and members of the elite Special Air Service Regiment. This book chronicles the yowie saga from the pre-colonial era to the present day. It contains over 300 carefully documented eyewitness reports and a vast amount of other data, much of which suggests that the damnably elusive creatures really do exist. The authors also critically examine the many theories that have been put forward to explain - or explain away - Australia's most baffling zoological mystery."

There may or may not be a Yowie creature wandering around Australia. However, people keep seeing it so that makes it worthy of academic study. Why are white Australians seeing a monster that Aboriginals have been seeing for centuries and describing it in much the same way? Whether the Yowie is real or not, this is a good mystery and the authors have done a great job collecting past historical accounts and interviewing witnesses of modern sightings.

This book is well written. The authors created a nice narrative that is hard to put down. Using accounts of the Yowie, they attempt to put forth a history of the Yowie from indigenous folklore and accounts of whites from the colonial era to the present. They also do a good job of describing the environment of Australia. I realized that Australia is sparsely populated but I did not know that Sydney is basically surrounded by wilderness. There is lots of room for the Yowie to be unnoticed! They also cover another possible cryptozoological species called the Junjudee which are either juvenile Yowies or another species altogether.

My biggest complaint about this book is the desire of the two authors to cover all possible angles. From page 181 to 195, they discuss the Yowie as a possible paranormal entity. I am willing to consider that a real unknown primate species (or two) remains undiscovered Down Under. The burden of proof lies with those advocating the fantastic but I agree there is some evidence for the Yowie which warrants further study. However, I refuse to go down the road of ghosts, alternate dimensions, and UFOs to explain the Yowie. I am not sure how much Healy and Cropper realize how they may have hurt the credibility of this book by including these dubious pages. As an oral history project they could have acknowledged these points without treating them as a viable possibility. As graduate students are often told when writing a thesis or dissertation, just cite the good stuff. The best writings are not data dumps.

Healy and Cropper end their book by writing, "Obviously, we would love to see it proven that yowies (and their little cousins the junjudees) are living, breathing, flesh and blood creatures and that they really are out there somewhere, lurking in the bush. We live in hope. But meanwhile, until all the facts are in, our yowie file remains open" (p. 195).

I agree. Keep those files open. If a body is ever found (or a live Yowie!), biologists and anthropologists are going to go nuts. Such a discovery would reignite serious scholarly study of other crypto species such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster as well. If nothing is ever found, the oral histories of these strange encounters will still be of value to future historians.