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Yowies and Small Hairy Men

CREDIT: Picture from ABC

By Steve Trotter

Posted on 15th March 2024

Australia’s Giants and Pygmies

Sasquatch. Bigfoot. Yeti. Bunyip. Mumuga. Quinkin. Moehau Man. Most cultures from all over the world have stories about giants, but there are just as many stories about their Hobbit-sized counterpart too, the small people. Stories abound of them in folklore and oral history, from Britain to China. Anthropologists have even documented them in photographs.

CREDIT: Professor James Ricalton with the Giants of Kashmir, 1903.

Credit: @winela.world’s videos, Instagram 

So, it’s not surprising that the Aboriginal people of Australia have their own folklore and Dreamtime stories detailing their encounters with both creatures. The Aboriginal people say they have lived alongside these giants and small people for thousands of years.

Each clan has their own traditional names for them, but the ones that most Australians have probably know them as are Yowies and Small Hairy Men.

CREDIT: Solopassport

History

While the history of the Small Hairy Man is unclear, the term “Yowie” first gained usage in the English language in 1875. One source I looked at said the term came from the Kamilaroi language; but if it did, it seems to have been mispronounced. “In Kamilaroi the word for it is Yurri [the physical one],” said Mr Fermor, a Kamilaroi tracker.

The first ‘official’ Yowie report was made in Sydney in 1790, but the oral stories from the Aboriginal people suggest they’ve been around as long as the Aboriginal people have been around. This is attested by folklore stories like the ones told by the custodians of Daintree Forest, the Kuku Yalanji, and the Gadigal people have gone so far as incorporating the figures into their Dreamtime stories.

What is a Yowie?

Descriptions of the Yowie vary, but the most common one is that it is hairy, ape-like creature with huge feet that stands about 7 to 12 feet tall.

The Yowie is believed to be an omnivore. It has also been described as a spirit wandering the night. Some people believe they have been known to mimic human speech.

According to Dean Harrison, a Yowie hunter, “They’re apparently adept at blending into the bush and prefer the eastern seaboard along the Great Dividing Range.

They have been seen in recent times around the Blue Mountains, Lismore, and the south coast of New South Wales (NSW) but are most commonly reported around Woodenbong and around the border of NSW and QLD.

They can range large distances, but … [they do] have a ‘home’ territory” and move about in family units.

They are said to live in structures made from trees or bowed branches.

Yowies: Friend or Foe?

Some stories describe them as hostile creatures, others as shy. The Kuku Yalanji stories detail Yowie attacks on them; whereas the Kamilaroi’s stories tell of the Yowies’ aggression as a warning, throwing rocks and sticks at people to keep them at a distance.

The Bundjalung stories from the Ballina area are much the same. The accounts I have come across talk about people encountering the gigantic creatures without incident, as the following story attests.

A Bundjalung man used to play with his friends down by the Broadwater River, near Cabbage Tree Island. One day the storyteller turned up at the usual spot but couldn’t find his friends. He searched the bush nearby, looking for them and came across a clearing. When he entered it, he saw two large figures, a male and female, and their child.

The two adults were at least 7 feet tall. He was close enough to make eye contact with them. He said they had dark gingerish hair all over them. He had never seen anything like it. He turned and walked away, without harm. He later found out that others had seen them, too. He often used to see their footprints in the sand in the area. They were four times the size of his foot.

CREDIT: ABC. Tony Healy holds a cast of a Yowie footprint, Woodenbong.

What is a Small Hairy Man?

A Small Hairy Man is just that: a small, hairy human-like figure. The Small, Hairy Men are not as well-known as their gigantic counterparts in many areas, but tales abound about them in Bundjalung country on the Far North Coast of NSW. These diminutive figures stand about 3-4 feet tall and have thick hair all over them and seem to be little tricksters, more than not.

Back in 2001, I was involved in producing a short film of one such tale. The film was written and filmed by the Goorie work skills students from Ballina TAFE. ‘Small Man, Hairy Man’ described an encounter Bundjalung man, Bill Roberts, had with one of the creature on Cabbage Tree Island.

In another story, I heard of a Bundjalung person calling the children in from playing, at dusk. The person lined up the children, only to discover there was an extra one in the line-up. On closer inspection the adult realized that the extra child was actually a Small Hairy Man who had been playing with the children.

Could these stories be evidence of Ancient Hominin Species?

Could the oral history of the Australia’s Aboriginal people be proof that other hominin species journey out of Africa? Recent discoveries of Denisovan (who stood up to 18 feet tall) remains in outback Australia and of the remains of the diminutive Homo floresiensis (who were as small as 3 feet) in Indonesia, suggest that maybe they could.

Historically, Homo Sapiens lived alongside other species – Denisovans, Homo floresiensis, Homo erectus and Neanderthals – around 200,000 years ago. Western historians believe that competition for food and climate pressures caused many hominins to leave Africa and to interbreed with one another along the way.

Historians also believe that people migrated to Australia tens of thousands of years ago, when water levels were 150 metres below what they are now, along a land bridge that stretched from Asia to Australia. But, as new evidence is starting to suggest, did hominins actually journey here during the ice age before that, about 160,000 years ago?

New evidence contends just that: more than one hominin used this bridge. Michael Greshko and Maya Wei-Haas suggest that hominins, such as Homo erectus Homo floresiensis, Homo luzonensis [and Denisovans], would appear to have used the bridge and were ‘better-traveled than once thought’.

Why Hasn’t Anyone Found any Bodies?

One suggestion as to why we have only eyewitness accounts and no hard evidence comes from Yowie hunter, Dean Harrison. “Mr Harrison believes Yowie family groups operate as a community to take care of their dead,” hence no remains.

Does the fact that we must largely rely on eyewitness accounts and anecdotal evidence detract from the stories about Yowies and Small Hairy Men? In my opinion, it does not.

Oral History is Still History

Aboriginal people have an oral history that predates the first history books written by white people by more than 40,000 years, yet their oral history is still treated as fiction by a culture that privileges its written historical records over a verbal one. Aboriginal oral history needs more recognition. Not only does it reveal the existence of rare species hidden in the Australian bush, like Yowies and small hairy men, there are numerous Dreamtime stories that tell us about significant historical events that predates Western historical records. While modern society tries to piece together what we can expect this century and beyond, Aboriginal oral history, passed on by eyewitnesses, can tell us through firsthand experience what to expect when it comes to global warming and the last ice age. They can also tell us how to mitigate wildfires, floods, species extinction and poor resource management. They’re the sort of stories I think all of us want to know more about.

There’s a whole lot of stuff like this out there that we weren’t taught about in schools. It’s worth checking out.

Want to Know More About Aboriginal Culture?

If you or your children would like to know more about Aboriginal history and culture, check out Magpie Publishers’ bookstore. There you will find stories that celebrate our First Nations’ People and detail the impact of colonization on Aboriginal people, the environment, and their culture. 

 

Walk on Country

How about a tour? If you want to learn about a deeper time history of Ballina, why not arrange a tour of the Nyangbal people’s country? Eli Cook, and the other Nyangbal custodians, will guide you through their country, share their culture with you and tell you about their history, in person. 

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of Australia and honour the Elders past and present.

© Steve Trotter 2023

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