During the 1930s in Victoria’s Gippsland district, mystery beasts of the feline kind were said to be slinking and stalking through the thick undergrowth. Experienced bushmen were left shaking in their boots, kids were kept home from school by worried mothers, brave dogs bolted with their tails between their legs, and farmers were unwilling to venture outdoors without their rifles at their sides.
On 30 October 1933, the Gippsland Times reported that a “big fawn-coloured, cat-like beast” had been spotted roaming the Gippsland ranges for the past 12 months.
“The mystery of an unknown animal, said to have been seen in different parts of the Gippsland ranges during the past 12 months, has been deepened by a report made on Monday by a Trafalgar farmer. He says he has seen a big fawn-coloured, cat-like beast roaming in the rugged outback country of Gunyah. The farmer, Mr. George Siggins, and his two sons, all experienced bushmen, believe the animal is a lioness, or something like it.
“They will not now go unarmed into the virgin scrub near their farm, and Mr. Siggins is having a special steel trap built by a blacksmith,” the paper stated.
Mr. Siggins recounted his encounter with the mystery big cat to the Gippsland Times.
“I was walking in a paddock some distance from the homestead with my son. It was nearly ‘knock-off’ time, when we were startled by a strange snarling call something like a cat – but deeper. About 400 or 500 yards away we saw a huge beast moving slowly in the bracken. It had a big cat-like head, and its body appeared to be about six feet long. We had a good view of it as it crossed a clear space. It repeated its cry and disappeared in the scrub.
“Three nights later, we heard the call several times. It was too dark to investigate, but our dog was terribly excited and nervous, and wouldn’t venture more than a yard or two away. Normally, he will tackle anything in the bush, including dingoes and wombats.
“The following day, a horse grazing near where we first saw the beast galloped home terrified and snorting loudly. The horse has not done anything like that before. Later we discovered huge cat-like tracks over about a quarter of a mile of roadway. They had a spread equal to a horse’s hoof, with the middle toe leaving a distinct claw impression. The distance between each impression was about six feet. The tracks disappeared up an embankment into scrub land. Apparently the animal took the bank in one leap – about 10 feet.
“We think it is too great a risk to venture into the animal’s haunts without the protection of a rifle. The trap I have designed will hold an elephant – the jaws are made from motor springs,” said Siggins.
“I know every animal that haunts the bush, but this chap is new and strange, and too big for my liking. We are not going to rest until we clear up the mystery.”
The Gippsland Times article concluded: “All the reports received in the last year seemed to describe the same sort of animal. In Mr. Siggins’ area, the Rev. Mr. Crocker saw an unusually large animal. At Tanjil, nearly a year ago, the Rev. W. G. Fitzgerald was among a group of miners who saw and heard a strange animal. Later he received a letter from a South Gippsland farmer whose experience tallied closely with that of the miners.”
Similar cat-like creature spotted in Toora
A similar cat-like creature to that witnessed by Mr Siggins and his sons was spotted at Toora in South Gippsland on 14 November according to the Townsville Daily Bulletin.
“From Toora, in south Gippsland, is reported the appearance of a strange animal at Mount Best, similar to the beast seen in a Gunyah forest a month ago.
“On Saturday, two men clearing bracken, noticed a huge strange animal cross a track into the forest area. The animal was about 300 yards away, and appeared to be three feet high with a head like a cat. It had a distinct wobble.
“Yesterday afternoon, ten townsmen, armed with rifles, spent about four hours beating through the forest looking for the mystery beast, without finding any sign. Early yesterday morning, a resident heard the roar of a strange animal coming from the forest area and spent the day searching for the animal without success. A distinct impression of the animal’s paws, about five inches by three inches, was visible in the dust where it had crossed the track.”
An escaped lioness?
Then, on 18 November, Adelaide’s The Mail reported that: “The mystery beast that lurks in the dense undergrowth seven miles from Toora, in Gippsland, has been seen again. By slinking into the open near a farm house and escaping, it has intensified the uneasiness of the townspeople.
“Farmers believe that it is an escaped lioness. A party of armed farmers will probably hunt for it tomorrow. It was seen yesterday by Eric Fink, a farmer in the Mount Best district, but after he ran into the house to get a rifle it disappeared. Fink has reported in Toora that he was working near his house with two other men, when, on looking up, he saw a strange animal much larger than any dog moving in the dense bracken near a gully. Others saw it, and agreed that it must be the ‘lioness,’ for it was much too big to be a dog and was a light fawn colour.
“Yesterday six men went out with rifles to track down the strange animal, but they could not pick up its trail. At least nine parents in the area will not allow their children to go to the State school. They fear that the animal will attack them. They believe that the mystery beast escaped from a travelling circus within the past few months, but little was seen of it until recently. A week ago two farm hands saw it. It was 3 feet high and 6 feet long, they said.
“Three days later the skin and bones of a wallaby which had been gnawed by an animal were found. The following day two cows were snatched from their paddock. Now nobody will venture near the fringe of the scrub in which the ‘lioness’ lurks, without a gun or a dog to give warning.”
Or, is it a puma?
“Is it a Puma?” asked the Cairns Post on 28 November 1933, when it was reported that another “mystery beast” had left its mark in Gippsland, this time near Briagolong, around 140 kilometres away from Toora.
“In an endeavour to clear up the mystery of the strange animal lurking in the rugged bush country near Briagolong, Gippsland, a party of local residents, armed with rifles, will make a thorough search tomorrow.
“Unlike the mystery of the ‘lioness’ seen at Mount Best, near Toora, this mystery beast has not been caught sight of, but numerous sets of its tracks have been seen. The footprints, which are three and a half feet apart from front to hind paws, were each six inches long and four inches wide. After comparing the footprints with those illustrated in an animal book a local resident is of the opinion that the beast is a puma.”
“Recently a large number of sheep was found dead in peculiar circumstances on various properties in the district. The only marks of violence were two holes punctured m the sheep’s’ throats from which blood appeared to have been sucked.”
“The whole district is alarmed.”
Man stalked by mystery animal
Several months later, on 20 January 1934, The Argus reported that a man was stalked by a mystery animal, again, in the bush around Gunyah where Mr Siggins and his sons had their sightings of the mystery big cat.
“Mr. R. Le Plastrier of Gunyah met the mystery animal of the Gunyah bush late on Wednesday night. He was passing through Mr. G. Smith’s property, about two miles on the Boolarra side of Gunyah Junction, when a large tawny-coloured animal leaped on to a log.
“Mr. Le Plastrier said that he could see two large green eyes glaring at him. He hurried to the road, and the beast, after following him for a time, bounded into the bush, from which it stalked him for 300 yards. Mr. Le Plastrier carried a gun, but did not use it for fear he might only wound the beast and possibly be attacked.”
Like a tiger or a leopard
Several months later, another ferocious feline was spotted by a teetotalling sales manager according to the Morwell Advertiser on 24 May 1934.
“Further confirmation of reports that a strange wild beast lurks in the bush near Gunyah, was related to us yesterday by Mr W. R. Wrout, sales manager of Australian Rubber Mills of Melbourne,” the Advertiser reported.
“Mr Wrout, who is a teetotaller and not given to seeing visions of things that do not exist stated that on Tuesday night, whilst driving his car along the Morwell River road, about six miles from Boolarra and 11 miles beyond camp of Country Roads Board employees, he was startled by seeing the head of an animal with large pinky-looking eyes staring at him from the road side.
“As the car approached the animal it moved slowly but gracefully across the road and disappeared into the bush, but not before he had gained a close up view of the beast. In appearance it was like a tiger or leopard with a long tail, but in the light given by the car lamps, it appeared to be the colour of a lioness. Mr Wrout said he got a great fright, from which he had not recovered.
“He warns people travelling in the vicinity to be on the look out as he is satisfied that the beast is a tiger, leopard or lioness.”
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