During 1949, the locals of Mountain River, a small fruit growing settlement nestling at the foot of the southern slopes of Tasmania’s Mt Wellington, witnessed “a strange animal making queer noises” prowling the local area over many months. Men were “scared stiff” and the women refused to walk along the road unless accompanied by a man with a gun.
While a field officer from the Fauna Board suggested the strange animal was in fact a Tasmanian Tiger, reports of the “phantom animal” leave many questions unanswered.
Strange animal making queer noises eludes searchers
On 23 March 1949, Hobart’s Mercury broke the story that: “A strange animal making queer noises is causing alarm, particularly among women, at Mountain River. It has been seen three times on moonlit nights and up to 20 men have scoured the bush with guns in an attempt to track it down.”
A Mr Oates was one of the first to see the mysterious animal. It was about five feet away from him and left him “scared stiff”.
Mr Oates and his friend Mr Lovell, who also saw the creature, had been camped outdoors, but after their encounter, left for the relative safety of four solid walls and a roof over their heads.
“Mr Oates claims that the animal ‘which had a big head and a broad white chest’ swung round and made off at a ‘slow gallop’ across a hay paddock.
“Hairs on a barbed wire fence where the animal jumped a creek have caused some residents to claim it was a large wild dog, but the theory is discounted by Mr Lovell.
“Mr Lovell placed cooked and raw rabbit baits the next day. The raw meat was taken but the baked rabbit, usually preferred by dogs, was left.
“Further support for the theory that the ‘phantom’ was not a dog is that hounds and other dogs in the neighbourhood have fled when they have sighted it,” the report continued.
“When Mr Lovell saw the animal on the road near his home one night his dog refused to attack it.”
Lovell, and around 20 other men searched the bush for several nights until 2 am, and heard the animal in the scrub making “a terrific growling noise”. The phantom animal eluded the men, and their guns, however.
“The animal has the whole district scared,” Lovell was quoted as saying.
Lovell’s wife had also heard the animal on a number of occasions and described its call as “resembling the low-throated neighing of a horse”.
Another local, Mrs E Bennett also heard the strange creature after a dog gave two short barks outside her house and ran scared towards her back door.
Mrs Bennett, upon opening the window, heard “a roaring, growling sound.” Her husband went outside with a gun and light but found no trace of the phantom animal.
Further evidence of the phantom … it was no dog
On 4 April 1949, The Mercury published another article on the “phantom animal” claiming that: “further evidence of Mountain River’s ‘phantom’ animal was provided at the weekend by a discovery in the scrub by Mr F. M. Knop, an orchardist.
“Mr Knop said he had found a spot in the scrub where an animal obviously had bedded itself down, apparently for several nights.
“Recently, residents of the district became alarmed at the presence of what they described as ‘a strange animal making queer noises’.
“Appearing on moonlit nights, the prowling animal was seen three times. It was described as much bigger than a dog and made sounds like the neighing of a horse’.
“Mr Knop said he was felling wattles near his orchard, about 300 yards from where the animal was first sighted by Mr J. Oates, when, he discovered a place where a large animal had slept, apparently for long periods. ‘A horse could not get into the spot and the area padded down was too big to have been done by a dog’, said Mr Knop.
“Although the nocturnal prowler has not appeared for more than a week women still refuse to venture outside after sundown, and while the animal was being seen they would not walk along the road unless accompanied by a man with a gun.”
Yet another report was made to The Mercury on 26 May. This time, the unknown animal was seen by four Huon stockmen about a mile from where its earlier appearances had caused so much alarm.
“Further evidence of the ‘phantom’ was provided recently when Mr R. Vince, of Longley, accompanied by Mr F. Woods, was mustering cattle about 7.30 a.m. They saw a large animal with a long tail which tapered off.
“It resembled a greyhound, except that it had what Mr Vince described as ‘a large bull-necked head’.
“The animal, which appeared to have been lying near a large log, got up suddenly and made off into a patch of thick scrub. ‘It was no dog,’ said Mr Vince. ‘It would weigh half as much again as the largest dog.’
Mr Woods described the animal as being “large and dark brown in colour”.
“Although the stockmen saw the animal at Longley, the distance across the hills to Mountain River, where it was first seen, is only about a mile,” the report concluded.
A Tasmanian Tiger?
Phantom Animal May Be Tasmanian Tiger proclaimed the headline in The Mercury on 1 June 1949. The article reported that: “Descriptions given him yesterday suggested that the ‘phantom’ animal seen at Mountain River several times recently was a Tasmanian tiger, the field officer of the Fauna Board (Mr. A. L. Fleming) said at Huonville yesterday.
“Mr Fleming made a special trip to the Huon yesterday and interviewed persons who claimed to have seen the animal.
“Although some of the reports were confusing, the general description of the shape of the body, head, neck, and in particular the tail, indicated that the animal was a Tasmanian tiger.
“Pointing out that reports over the past two years suggested that the rare marsupial was frequenting Huon areas, Mr Fleming said it was possible that a tiger would venture close to human habitation; but it was a recognised fact that it would quickly travel back to the more remote areas.
“During April 1947, while clearing a power line over the range between the Russell and Dennison valleys, a Tasmanian tiger was claimed to have been seen by Messrs. A. A. Woolley and B. Thorpe, of Huonville. The men were in lightly scrubbed timber about 7 a.m. when they saw it. It was tracking a wallaby, which passed within 20 yards of them.”
So, was the phantom animal prowling the Huon Valley a Tasmanian Tiger, or Thylacine, already believed to have become extinct by that time?
Would a Tasmanian Tiger leave grown men, accustomed to the bush and its many animals, “scared stiff”? (The Tasmanian Tiger in the photo below doesn’t appear overly fearsome to the man or his dog.)
And, would a Tasmanian Tiger be described as having “a large bull-necked head” and “weighing half as much again as the largest dog”?
Or, was the phantom animal prowling the Huon Valley something else altogether?