THE possibility of Tasmanian Tigers being present on the Australian mainland was not something I was aware of growing up in South Gippsland. It certainly never made it into the two local newspapers circulating in the Yarram district. However, as a young journalist I visited Culloden north of Briagolong in 1972 to do a story for The Gippsland Times on what a woman believed was an area frequented by Black Panthers. This woman was an amateur naturalist who regularly camped in her vehicle in the bush. She casually mentioned that she had once seen as Tasmania Tiger at Cape Conron in far East Gippsland.
Some years later I became aware of frequent reports of Thylacines (Tasmanian Tigers) in the Foster and Fish Creek areas and a Gippsland TV report of two Forest Commission workers seeing one on a track near Orbost really got me thinking. Finally, things started hotting up in the late 1980’s and early 1990s with various experts including Thylacine advocate Eric Guiler getting a fair bit of media coverage for his assertions that it was more likely to find a living Thylacine in Gippsland than in Tasmania where they had been declared extinct.
In February 1991, the issue became a local one when a RAAF officer from the East Sale base claimed to have seen a Thylacine near Blue Pools north of Briagolong. (Interestingly the location was where I had been almost 20 years earlier looking for signs of a Big Black Cat.)By this time I was editor of the paper and the Thylacine story was covered by one of my senior journalists. The officer and his wife both claimed to have had a good look at the animal and were certain. The paper published the story on Page 1 on February 22 and included a photograph of the officer’s 21 year old daughter who took the reporter and photographer back to the spot. Much to my regret, we published the officer’s name and I believe this stopped others coming forward. The officer is said to have missed a promotion because there were doubts within the RAAF hierarchy of the mental condition of a person who was claiming to see Tasmanian Tigers on mainland Australia.
A month later I took a call from a forest worker who claimed to have seen a Thylacine drinking from a puddle at Stockdale and then in early 1992 I received several reports of sighting near the Avon River at Bushy Park. Stockdale and Bushy Park are both within a 15km radius of Briagolong. Publication of these stories without the names of those reporting the sightings opened the floodgates and by the late 1990s we were getting dozens of sightings from areas including Loch Sport and Hollands Landing on the Gippsland Lakes. Contact with the late Peter Chappell of the Rare Fauna Research Society made me aware that there had been more than 400 reported sightings of Thylacines in Victoria in the previous 20 years.
Most of the Gippsland sightings were in the South Gippsland coastal strip but there had also been regular reports from our local hot-spots of Briagolong and Loch Sport. I also started to get historic reports, some dating back 30-40 years, from people who had never let on what they had seen for risk of being seen as nutters. I will detail some more of these reports as this site develops. In late 1997 I left the newspaper after a career there spanning 26 years, but have continued to collect details of other sightings and do some field work.
Back to Cryptozoology