I remember the entire cast being in a meeting a the New York headquarters of Animal Planet last year and being asked if we’d ever want to go international, and if so, where? We immediately said, “Australia,” as if it were the obvious answer. It was the obvious first-choice for our intercontinental excursions looking for bigfoot.
In Australia, they call their giant hairy bigfoot-like creature a “yowie.” As it turns out, there is a long history of sightings of not only yowies, but a smaller variety that they refer to as a “brown jack.” I was a bit surprised at this, but the consistency of reports clearly indicates the presence of both species. Yowies seem to match the description of the typical North American bigfoot, but brown jacks are smaller, rarely exceeding four feet in height.
We based our trip out of Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast of Queensland. Even though we were there at the onset of winter, it was a balmy 80 degrees nearly every day on the coast. The ocean water was 70 degrees and made for a refreshing swim before or after shooting each day. I tried to pay much attention to the shark nets that were bobbing just outside of the surf break…
Several things stand out to me from the trip. Gary Opit is a naturalist and cryptozoologist specializing in the fauna of Australia. I have rarely met someone with such an encyclopedic knowledge of plants and animals. He invited us to his rural homestead on the edge of a huge nature preserve where he encountered a yowie several years ago.
Gary shared with us not only his encounter with a yowie that appeared in the show, but also told us about seeing something similar a number of years ago in Papua New Guinea. He described to us a hair-covered figure approximately seven feet tall quickly moving across a road a short distance away from where Gary was standing at the time. Gary also shared with us that he had found what he thinks are brown jack footprints in the nature preserve near his home, and has seen a couple other cryptozoological species that are not supposed to exist. While hanging out with Gary, I was continually stunned by his keen observational skills and knowledge of everything around, so I am sure that what Gary saw is exactly what he claims.
Our expedition wouldn’t have been half as successful without the help of the local Aboriginal people. Through a chance encounter on the North Shore of Oahu last year, Bobo befriended a member of the tribe who lives on Fingal Head in New South Wales. The members of this tribe shared their knowledge of the yowies, brown jacks, and other wildlife in the area so we would know what to expect from this ecosystem.
All of our night investigations were strange and wonderful for me. Being so utterly out of my usual context made for a true feeling of adventure. I am not familiar with the sounds and sights of the Australian jungles, so around every turn was something amazing that I had never heard nor seen. Shrill squeaks and cackles of giant bats commonly were heard, along with whistles and tweets of strange night birds. Spiders the size of my hand crawled along the rocks near rivers, and phosphorescent mushrooms grew out of the cut-away sides of the trail guiding our way in the dark.
The night Ranae, Bobo, and I did our night investigation was one of the best bigfooting nights of my life. At one point we split up and went on solo excursions. I heard some loud knocks coming from the woods up the road, so I headed that direction with the thermal imager. As I approached a bend in the dirt road, I heard another loud knock, which was distinctly wood-on-wood, from a little ways ahead of me. I cautiously crept ahead while scanning the woods with the FLIR. Something moved from the right to left about 40 yards in the brush. I couldn’t see what it was using the FLIR because of the thickness of the brush, but I could definitely hear it. I decided to try to interact with it by clapping, and much to my surprise, it made a noise that I interpreted as a clap back at me. I did it again, and again it responded and changed its position slightly to the left again. I clapped twice to see what would happen, and it clapped back, and then another clapping noise came from further away and to my right. There seemed to have been two of them. The whole interaction lasted maybe a minute or two, but it was an amazing event that I will never forget.
I called Ranae and Bobo and told them what was going on, and they headed my direction. Their arrival shut down the knocks and claps, but soon afterwards came the roar from the other side of the river we were next to. Luckily, the sound technician had his microphone pointed directly at the source of the sound and it recorded very well.
After a long period of no activity at all, Bobo went off on his own up river to see if he could get anything going up there. He made an aggressive growl call, and the creatures responded for the last time of the night with pushing down a tree. The sounds in the episode were nothing close to what we heard live. When we were standing there, the sound was loud and dramatic, and message was clear.
I find it interesting that when I was alone, I was able to possibly interact with two of the creatures, but when the rest of the team showed up, things changed. It was like the creatures shifted gears and instead of clapping back and forth, they showed us two aggressive displays, a roar and a tree push-down. I know that each bigfoot or yowie is an individual, but it seems that the smaller group one is in, the higher likelihood of having a passive encounter that has a basis of curiosity instead of fear.
The last night investigation was also successful. Bobo and I were walking down a trail into a thickly forested canyon. The action happened when I was about 30 or 40 yards ahead of Bobo. I heard Bobo say, “Hello?” a couple times in a loud voice. I walked back to Bobo to find him talking to the canyon on our right hand side. He told me that he heard voices and thought it was a couple campers, so he tried to show them that he was friendly and not trying to intrude. There were clearly no campers in the canyon, as it was pitch black and too thickly wooded with prickly jungle plants for anyone to go into. Bobo was deeply disturbed by what he heard, and this encounter bothered him for several days afterwards. I did not hear anything, but it was very clear that Bobo did.
We went to Australia not really knowing if yowies were like their North American cousins, or if they a totally different sort of thing. From our experiences, I have come to the conclusion that they seem to be pretty much the same in not only their descriptions, but their habits. There are differences, of course, but they reacted in ways that mirror sasquatches very closely. Brown jacks seem to be something different, but there is even less information on these things than even for the yowie. We have a lot of learning to do about our hairy cousins both here in North America, as well as abroad.