Friday, January 4, 2008-The story as I heard it, back in the 1970s, was that Bigfoot maybe existed in the most remote places in the Northwestern North America, and only there. There might be something in the swamps down south, but that would be a completely different creature, and probably entirely mythical. But by the time I heard anything about Bigfoot, I was already living less than 30 miles from the celebrated Honey Island Swamp, whose mythical creature had been featured on an episode of In Search Of not six months before I moved there. So I asked the locals in Nicholson, Mississippi whether they had ever had any dealings with the swamp monster.
They hadn't. The swamp in question was not so far away in miles, but it was a lifestyle away from most of the folks I knew. Hunting the swamps was hard work, and if you could hunt anywhere else, you might forgo a chance to try your luck in the wet, mosquito infested, alligator haunts. For by then taking alligators was illegal. (Although, I once asked the question, ''why don't I ever see any alligators more than two feet long?'', and I was told, ''Because they taste good.'') So while a few had been down in the swamps of legend, nothing had happened while they were there. They knew of the stories, but nobody could get any closer than a third cousin twice removed from anyone who supposedly saw one. Then they told me of the ''ten foot negro.''
This was a humongous hairy figure with the strength of many men and a speed and agility that took second to no other animal. When I suggested that this might be Bigfoot, I was told, ''Bigfoot doesn't exist, and if it does, it isn't down here in the South.'' That was then. In North America now, it seems, Bigfoot is anywhere you look. Actually, that may be true in many more places, and if so, it has been this way for a lot longer than we knew.
The mass media has a very short memory, and apparently can't put two and two together very reliably. Because the stories have been there, all over the world, for centuries. From the woodwose of Europe to the Chinese yeren, there have been myths and stories about hair covered animalistic men that go back into history as far as our eyes can see.
But these creatures, seen as they are from a vast distance in time, are indistinct. Maybe they have something to do with the Bigfoot phenomena and maybe they don't. And while it's true there are modern accounts from Europe, China, and Russia which seem to conform to accounts of Bigfoot from North America, we get reports of these only sporadically, and whether it's wise or not, it's easy to dismiss them or simply not to think about them.
How very different the situation is in Australia. As my regular readers know, I have been reading The Yowie over the last month or so. I don't think it is so widely known in North America as it should be, but the yowie case in Australia is almost identical to our situation here. Informally, I gather that our attitude here is that it's an embarrassment that such stories should arise out of Australia. I'm not certain this is the right attitude. Because what other explanation is there that this same strange thing should happen on two widely separated continents, including as it does physical evidence in the form of footprints, scat and hair? Skeptics will perhaps say that Australians are only copying the Americans, but this can't be so.
As the authors of The Yowie, Tony Healy and Paul Cropper, point out, ''The suggestion that America Bigfoot stories have influenced the yowie phenomenon to a large degree is equally problematic. As far as we know, only one such story appeared in an Australian paper in the 19th century. That was a reprint of a letter that was sent to the Antioch [California] Ledger in October 1870.'' The story in question describes two encounters with five-foot-tall hairy folk. Healy and Cropper rightly point out that ''the general description and behavior of the Australian Hairy Man had been well known to Aborgines and settlers for many years before that story appeared.'' More importantly, after that story appeared, there's no record of any mention of Bigfoot in print until the 1970s.
So how do the Australians describe the yowie? Remarkably, the description is so nearly identical to the North American Bigfoot, it's hard to believe it isn't the same creature. (In fact, I don't believe it isn't, I think it is the same creature.) Here's a list of yowie behaviors that Healy and Cropper have compiled in their book:
The creature is seen most often between about 1 pm and 3 am; is probably most active at night; possesses very good night vision; is afraid of fire; shuns bright lights; is solitary; bipedal; occasionally quadrupedal; occasionally sways or waddles sideways in a crab-like manner; can move amazingly fast; occasionally stamps feet, creating a booming sound; stalks and covertly observes people; occasionally (in 9.5 percent of cases) emits a devastatingly foul odor; occasionally climbs trees; breaks and twists saplings; bites saplings; tears bark from trees; occasionally constructs teepee-like structures, presumably as territorial markers; occasionally builds nests on the ground; occasionally raids campsites; occasionally approaches and even enters buildings; swims; appears to be less active in summer than in other seasons; may visit certain locations at particular times of the year; may occasionally use sticks for hunting and foraging; throws stones, sometimes to disorient prey or pursuers; occasionally engages in terrifying displays of aggression, uprooting shrubs, thumping trees, houses, cars; sometimes chases, but very rarely hurts people; occasionally tears the heads off smaller animals; emits a wide variety of bestial noises and occasionally more sophisticated vocalizations.
There are some differences perhaps, most notably summer activity, but this list could easily be used to describe the North American Bigfoot. Add to this that the yowie is identical in appearance to the Bigfoot. The one detail that is different to a large degree is that many more yowies appear to have an odd number of toes, three or four, than do North American Bigfoot. (One might suppose that the much smaller population in Australia could have caused the variation in the number of digits, as I have heard it said small populations of humans are known to have this effect to some degree. Maybe one of my readers might know more about this?)
So the problem we have is not whether the yowie and the Bigfoot are related -- they just have to be, whether that relation is the same strange mental condition that causes people the world over to think they see large hairy folk who are not there (and who nonetheless leave footprints and drop hair and feces) OR whether the relation is a physical kinship of one undescribed species. The relationship is unquestionable.
The only question we have left is, how did the yowie get to Australia? As to that, I don't have an answer, but I do have further questions. Why do the Americas have the marsupial Opossum? My understanding is that this is a last vestige of when Australia and South America were connected. And more strangely, why do North Americans continue to find kangaroos and wallabies, in very small numbers to be sure, but that don't seem to be accounted for as exotic pets? Perhaps these three mysteries are related? I don't know, but I have questions.
What I don't question is that the Bigfoot phenomenon is wide spread. It literally covers the globe, scandalous as that may be.
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