While we often think of cryptids as being a predominantly American phenomenon—there’s a reason why the “American Monsters” expansion of the board game Horrified is cryptid-focused, after all—the fact is that just about every country and continent has cryptids of their own. Just what is a cryptid? For those who are unfamiliar, Wikipedia defines cryptids as “animals that cryptozoologists believe may exist somewhere in the wild, but whose present existence is disputed or unsubstantiated by science.” Probably the most famous cryptid in the world is America’s very own Bigfoot.
Indeed, Bigfoot-like creatures have been reported across America and all over the globe, from the yeti of the Himalayas to China’s yeren to the European wodewose and beyond. Along with lake monsters of various stripes, these hairy hominids are among the most common types of cryptids around the world. The creature that is sometimes called “Australia’s Bigfoot” has many names but is most often called the yowie.
The Yowie's Origins and Description
Interestingly, no one seems to know where the name "yowie" comes from, but the creatures themselves have roots reaching back into Aboriginal oral history, where they are known by a dizzying array of often regional monikers including quinkin, joogabinna, jurrawarra, doolaga, yaroma, wawee, jimbra, and many more. According to an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald, modern yowie sightings date back at least as far as 1795.
By the mid-1800s, accounts of “indigenous apes” were appearing in newspapers across the continent. “Who has not heard, from the earliest settlement of the colony,” writes one account in an 1876 issue of the Australian Town and Country Journal, “of some unearthly animal or inhuman creature … namely the Yahoo-Devil Devil, or hairy man of the wood.” Meanwhile, an 1882 account in that same newspaper recorded a reported sighting by amateur naturalist Henry James McCooey, which kicked off a long-running feud between McCooey and the Sydney Museum.
“I should think that if it were standing perfectly upright it would be nearly 5ft high,” McCooey wrote of the creature he sighted. “It was tailless and covered with very long black hair, which was of a dirty red or snuff-colour about the throat and breast.” While this is one of the earliest descriptions of a yowie recorded in an Australian newspaper, it is by no means the first sighting of such a creature, a fact that McCooey himself acknowledged. “I do not claim to be the first who has seen this animal,” he wrote, “for I can put my finger on half a dozen men at Bateman’s Bay who have seen the same, or at any rate an animal of similar description.”
Indeed, “description” seems to be one of the places where yowie sightings vary the most. While the yowie is always described as a hairy hominid, the details of the creature’s appearance have been all over the place across the years. Yowies have been described ranging from four feet in height to more than ten, with hair color from black to reddish to white. An 1842 article in the Australian and New Zealand Monthly Magazine even describes the creatures as having “feet turned backwards, so that, on flying from man, the imprint of the foot appears as if the being had travelled in the opposite direction.”
While yowie sightings are nothing new – some Aboriginal cave art purportedly depicts such large, hairy creatures living in harmony alongside humans—they are also not something confined to the past. In fact, as recently as 2021, three men reported seeing one of the creatures illuminated by a streetlight on their drive home from work in Queensland.
“It definitely was a scary moment for me,” said Stirling Slocock-Bennett, one of the men who reported the encounter, “and as we got closer and closer it didn’t make sense like you’d hope.” The witnesses described the creature as “slouched,” with an “apelike” face and long arms. “We initially thought it was a boar or a really big animal until we got closer and saw it run off in a very apelike way,” said Seamus Fitzgerald, another of the witnesses.
“I’ve never really had a paranormal or strange experience like that before,” Fitzgerald said, claiming that the encounter left him shaken. “I hardly slept that night and the feeling was overwhelming that I had seen something that I never believed in previously.”
The Queensland sighting is not the only time the creature has been sighted in that particular region of Australia. A former Queensland Senator even claims to have seen one of the elusive creatures, which he compared to Chewbacca from Star Wars. In fact, sightings of the legendary beast are common enough in Queensland that there is actually a statue of the yowie in the rural town of Kilcoy, in Yowie Park.
Are Yowies Real?
If the yowie truly exists, what form does it take? Is it some kind of indigenous ape, a pre-human hominid, or something else entirely? As with most cryptids, we may never know the answers to these questions for certain, and even among believers, opinions vary considerably. Henry James McCooey, who registered one of the first sightings to be recorded in newspapers, firmly believed that what he had spotted was a species of ape indigenous to the Land Down Under. Australian historian Graham Joyner, on the other hand, argues that the yowie as such does not exist and never did, and is instead a creature described by Aboriginal peoples as the “yahoo.”
Whether the yowie is real or not, it has entered inexorably into the lore and culture of Australia, and spread from there into the rest of the world. Yowies appear in various forms in the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, in Final Fantasy X, and in an animated Scooby-Doo film from 2003 to name just a few. In keeping with the elusive (and sometimes contradictory) nature of yowie stories, many of these media adaptations bear very little resemblance to the hairy hominids described by cryptozoologists and yowie sighters.
Featured photo: Jacques Bopp / Unsplash