Written by Luke Greensmith Originally published on August 26th, 2019
Today I'll be taking a look at << Australian folklore >> as a companion piece to episode <<28: The Haunting of Western Australia – That’s Not a Ghost, THIS is a Ghost>>.
As what should be a surprise to no one, Australia can be a little bit different to everywhere else when it comes to folklore. Australia is just kind of like that, everything is more terrifying down under!
It’s worth noting that Australia is such a vast, unusual, and frequently inhospitable country that over the years many Australian cryptids turned out to be scientific fact. The duck billed platypus was famously assumed to be a joke report from the colonies for some time back when the British were first establishing a foothold. If anything in Australian folklore turned out to be real, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise.
Except for the Yara-ma-yha-who. Even for nature being set to Hard Mode that’s a bit much, but I’m saving them for last.
The Australian version of Bigfoot is the Yowie, with mention of the Yahoos or the Yowies quite simply meaning “hairy men”. There have been loads of reported sightings and they go back a long way. And I mean a long way! This isn’t a fad for chasing Bigfoot that bled into the continent from pop culture, the aboriginal tribes have long oral traditions surrounding these creatures.
The earliest “official” sighting appears to be made in Sydney in 1789 and the stories seem to come from all over Australia. In some places the Yowie is a giant between 6 and 10 feet tall. Notably aggressive towards humans with clawed talons, and supposedly weighing up to 1000lbs. Other regions have stories of 4-5 foot tall hairy tribes of non-humans though, so there could be multiple Yowie tribes across the continent.
The first official sighting being in Sydney tracks quite well with aboriginal stories, as the tribe historically from the Sydney Harbour area claimed they co-existed with another non-human tribe there and nearby cave art shows the giant hairy other tribe of Yowies.
The 1789 report was only a single year after the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove. A mixed party of marines and convicts on a hunting trip had killed a bunch of wallabies, and the group claims to have seen an animal observing them from the trees. The hunting party claim that the creature watching them was twice the height of an ordinary man in the report letter back to London.
Episode 64: Camp Nowhere (And I Mean Nowhere) has a Yowie encounter story if you want to go check that out. If you want to go looking for Yowies yourself the Blue Mountain area just outside Sydney, the coastal regions of New South Wales, and the Gold Coast of Queensland are all supposed to be active for Yowie activity.
Regular Bigfoot would be no joke. This is Australian bigger and badder Bigfoot!
Nature in Australia has judged humankind to be unworthy, and it is more than happy to do something permanent about us if we’re getting uppity.
A very different phenomena in Australia is Min Min lights. Something like will-o-whisps, or maybe some sort of orb phenomena, except that this is Australia. The dial for weird in Australia starts at 11 and only goes weirder. These lights aren’t happy to just blink tantalisingly in the distance, or only show up on cameras after the fact. Min Min lights are giant floating balls of glowing colours that will follow people around. If the Min Min light doesn’t like you, it’ll let you know about it. People can be left feeling overwhelming confused and frightened as a Min Min light stalks along behind them.
Min Min light encounters are so common in parts of Australia that local councils put up warning signs so people driving along at night aren’t caught by surprise and total their cars! Some Aboriginal tribes believe that Min Min lights are the souls of elders still watching over the land, tying them in somewhat to current orb phenoma theories (only obviously going bigger and weirder given that this is Australia). There are also plenty of stories of them leading travellers astray by distracting them and setting them on the wrong path, which lends to the idea they may be a bigger cousin of the will-o-whisps.
Stories of Min Min lights are so common that some scientific studies accept them as a given reality, and are just trying to work out what the scientific cause is. Suggested causes include: mirages, atmospheric disturbances, and bioluminescent animals covering anything from giant glowing bugs to glow in the dark owls.
Personally, I would be very okay if this turned out to be glow in the dark owls, because that’s awesome and I would want one. But I keep getting a little caught up on how Min Min lights make people feel. Especially the stories of them making Aboriginal tribe members feeling unnaturally frightened. They’re Aboriginal Australians! They survived Australia with little more than sticks and a can-do attitude for a long time, and Australia has a shrub called the Gimpy-Gimpy tree which is basically a super nettle so painful people and animals kill themselves to escape the pain. THAT’S JUST THE PLANTLIFE OVER THERE. I don’t think a regular weird glow in the dark is going to phase them much.
Although if anyone can hook me up with a glow in the dark owl? That would be ace.
I’ve saved a great one for last. Definitely a personal favourite.
If anyone follows me around as I turn up on other Podcasts, which is pretty rare but can happen, on the Write Track podcast episode 4 Count Drag-ula I shared the story of an aboriginal Australian vampire called the Yara-ma-yha-who. This is from the forests of the Pacific Coast and seems in line with cautionary folktales aimed at keeping children safe.
But this is Australia.
As such, the Australian vampire somewhat different compared to the rest of the world.
The Yara-ma-yha-who looks like a four foot tall frog covered in reddish brown hair, with a huge mouth which can unhinge it's jaw like a snake.
It drinks blood from suckers in its fingers and toes, so will drop from a tree and latch on to someone, feeding until they faint. They're stronger than the strongest Man, great climbers, and prefer feeding on children, but they can only waddle as they walk along the ground like a cockatoo.
Once a victim asses out from bloodloss it will then swallow them whole, going through a process of swallowing and spitting up the victim in between taking naps.
The second time it spits a victim up, they get shorter and lose all their own body hair.
The third time the victim gets even shorter and becomes covered in thick reddish brown hair.
Eventually the victim will become a new Yara-ma-yha-who.
If you play dead when you're spat up though, the Yara-ma-yha-who has to follow a ritual it isn't allowed to cheat on or the spirits of the fig trees will punish them by turning the monster into tree mushrooms.
First it walks 5 paces away before returning to poke the victim's side with a stick.
Then 10 paces, before tickling them with the stick.
Then 50 yards followed by more tickling.
If the person stays playing dead up to that point it then goes to have a nap, giving them a chance to run away as they monster is so slow on the ground.
The Yara-ma-yha-who will call "Where have you gone, my victim?" and try to chase, but are easy to escape. A spiteful Yara-ma-yha-who may then drink up all the nearby water, so thirsty people will have no choice but to come for tree sap where it can then try to get a new victim.
While we’ve ended on a nice strange high note, tis far from everything in Australia. I didn’t have time to look at some of their big cat sightings, there’s been a recent press fad over there for trying to find a living t-rex-like creature, I didn’t get into the aboriginal dream world folklore, and there’s always so much more than a bite sized show like this can cover all in one sitting. If the main show heads back over to Australia than so shall I, so bug Ian and Brennan if that sounds like something you want to hear.
That’s all for Luke Lore this time.
Next Lukelore should be a return to fairies as I shine a spotlight on Selkies and Kelpies, digging into the elemental fae of the water.
If you’re interested in seeing what else I had to say about vampires The Write Track, write as in writing, is pretty easy to find and it was episode 4 Count Drag-ula that I was on. I may do a special Vampires Lukelore some day, it’s not really something I would prioritise as the main show hasn’t done vampires but let me know what you think.
I always enjoy getting feedback, and will always happily take on any suggested folklore topics.
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I hope you enjoy my companion show and please feel free to reach out to either the show or myself directly via email or social media if you have any questions, feedback, or requests for Luke Lore.
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Goodbye for now.