The Truth About the Gayndah Bear
In 2000, Gayndah shot to notoriety with sightings of the 'Gayndah Bear', a strange bear-like creature that was later photographed by Julian Nott and Peter Raffels. In late 2006, researcher Steve Carter caught up with some of the witnesses to find out what really happened in Gayndah. Here's his interview:
Julian Nott stalks the Gayndah Bear in February 2000.
Interviewer: We’re here to talk about the rumour of bears in the Gayndah area. Can you tell us anything about that?
Julian Nott: Yeah alright, well, for several weeks leading up to when I sort of had a sighting, umm, there were rumours of a bear like creature around here, mostly down the end of ah, Boyd Street, there was a couple that lived there, and it kept….they’re down on the river….and it kept coming up under their house. It used to eat, umm, it ate rock melons. It actually chewed little holes, of the rock melon, and got its’ tongue in and scooped everything out.
Julian Nott: Umm it ate the biscuit tin under the house. It chewed that til it came open, ate all the biscuits. It used to, they would sometimes see it, once or twice, not very often, down the orchard, and it would actually stand up on it’s hind legs and eat the lower fruit off their tree, off the mandarin trees. Umm, and that was a rumour that was going around…..and then some. I think it was channel seven came up here and did an interview with them, and they went downtown and interviewed hundreds of people and they picked about three people that looked like country yokels. They’re not really, but they come over as that and they put, they presented them in such a way that it was really disgusting I thought. Umm…. made us out to be a bunch of in-bred yokels.
Interviewer: To downplay the story….
Julian Nott: Yes, just to make it look like we were just a mob of idiots up here, umm, but that’s really got nothing to do with, umm, my sighting. I’m….I’ve got a background in national parks. Worked in national parks for fifteen, sixteen years, something like that, before coming here. I’m in the Gayndah landcare group. I’m the president of the sub committee of the riverbank committee, and what we’re, we’ve got a national heritage grant to re-plant the river bank with all….take down all the umm, what they call, Chinese elm, umm, and re-plant them with native trees. But before that, we were down there doing a survey and taking photographs. We had to take photographs before we started to show you the difference from when we started to when we finished – and this is several years ago. And, a mate of mine was with us, he comes along on a lot of my bushwalks and that. He had his camera and he was down there and we were just walking down the riverbank, taking photographs all the way down. And we went right down to the end of the riverbank, down to Oakie Creek. And, this thing was just there on the riverbank. And I sort of said, “Look, what’s that?” Kept him behind me and he immediately took a photograph of it, and it immediately went “boomp”, and it was gone. And he said, “I got two photographs.” And one of them you can sort of see it looks like a bear and the other one is just a little brown bum disappearing into the bush. And that’s it. That was all there was about it. It happened so quick, umm, that was it. We just took the photograph immediately to…..it had been in the local paper so we took the undeveloped film to the lady in the paper, and gave it to her and said, “Look, whatever’s on it is yours”, sort of thing. And it sort of went from there. And those were the photographs. Ahh, and that’s it. I don’t think…I don’t know if it was a bear or not because I was basically looking behind me, not at it, to see if the other people were being quiet and not walking around and scaring it and y’know, boomp, and it was gone! And that was that, so……you get all sorts of impressions when you see it, but it’s only an impression. And then you sort of think back on it and you fill in all the spaces with what you think it should have been, but I didn’t really see it all that well. I couldn’t say it was a bear. Prior to that, umm, there was one person in town here who is very, very skeptical. Totally, completely, skeptical. He lives on the riverbank, down near the council pump shed. And his dogs were always barking at something that was coming up into his compost heap.
Julian Nott: And one day he was taking the dogs for a walk along….we’ve got a track along our riverbank. It goes about two kilometres. You can actually walk right along our riverbank out to the weir and back. And the dogs ran up into the bush and scared this thing, and this thing broke cover right behind him, went across the track behind him and dogs, scared, ran out into the middle of the river which at this stage was totally covered with umm, just gunky bush. And he said he didn’t see what it was but it had short, coarse, curly hair, and that’s all he could tell. But he was, it was kind of like, umm, y’know, bloody Lennon had seen God, sort of thing. Y’know, one of the famous communists had seen something that didn’t exist. He didn’t ring me, he rang my wife, and Janet said his voice was actually shaking. He had seen this thing , it actually existed and it was there and he didn’t know what it was. Since then a few people have told me they have seen it and heard it, umm, just off and on. And one fella coming into town it crossed the road right in front of him. Umm, just as you come down that street into town. Umm, other people have heard it. One fella said it came out from basically under his feet, but he had a little track cut through all these really high reeds, right over your head. And he said he didn’t see it but he said it scared the hell out of him. But it’s never attacked anyone. It’s never worried anyone. Umm, I think it’s quite harmless. I myself think it’s a wombat. Wombats are native to this area. They’ve been native since up to about World War two. Umm, people around here, the older families, umm, people still talk about when they were kids, throwing rocks and sticks at them, til the wombats chased them and they’d run up a tree. And the wombat’d race round and round the foot of the tree trying to get at them. And couldn’t get them. Ahh, there is a national park, I think it’s off Gladstone, which is North of here, which is actually for the umm, wombats. So they are native to this area. I think someone has hit a mother wombat, found there was a baby in it’s pouch, taken it home, and reared it up, and it’s been an old male and got really grumpy, and they’ve let it go, because it’s been too hard to handle and far as I know it’s just gone down on the river bank and they dig a hole……those wombats dig holes in the ground and even if a dog attacked it in a hole, the dog would come out far worse. There have been dogs ripped up here. Ah, the vet has actually sewn up a couple of dogs that were badly savaged, form out, just out, again out along the riverbank here. But since the drought’s been on, since those sightings, umm, it’s become very, very sparse vegetation here, and hasn’t been seen since. It was seen, oh probably getting on to about twelve months ago now, some kids out here at Mt. Debatable. Were, they, they go out and visit some other people on the farm and the people there have a four wheel drive motor bike. And there were two of them one was about eight years old and one was I think, about six. And they were riding along on the four wheel motor bike and they went down on the river and they were coming back and had to cross the railway line. So they got out, opened the gate and drove the bike into the middle of the railway line and as the older kid went back to close the gate the younger kid said, “What’s that up on the railway line?” The older kid said, “It’s a bear”, and he opened the gate and away they went. That was the last sighting and they definitely, they were just kids, they wouldn’t make up that sort of thing. They definitely saw it and went back to it and that was the last one that I know of. But there is a precedent for it because back in the fifties or sixties, it was a long time ago now, a lot of circuses came through town. Umm, we’ve actually got an elephant skull up here from an elephant that died here that was in the circus. And the scouts went……it did die about forty years ago and the scouts went and dug up the skull…it’s up at the scouts den
Interviewer: Oh, I see,
Julian Nott: So, the circuses do come here, funny thing that. And, coming down the Binjour Range, a semi trailer overturned and one of the council foremen, he went out there to see it and he wrote a report about it that a trailer had overturned and two Himalayan female black bears and a male black bear had escaped and were never recovered. So whether this is progeny of that or whether it’s a wombat, or whatever it is, I have no idea, I’ve, I really don’t know what it is. But, that’s it. That’s as far as I’ve gone.
Interviewer: So with your encounter, that was in the year two thousand, was it?
Julian Nott: I have, I don’t remember, probably, would’ve been back that far.
Heather Nott: Yeah it was.
Julian Nott: Since then, we’ve had unremitting drought and even the trees are dying around here, so there’s not a lot of cover left.
Interviewer: Do you remember what month, around about that was?
Julian Nott: I have no idea.
Heather Nott: It was early in the year I think.
Julian Nott: You could go back through the papers, cause it made the front page of the paper.
Janet Nott: I’ve got the paper…
Heather Nott: I think it was January or March ….
Janet Nott: I’ve got it.
Julian Nott: Have you? How ‘bout that.
Heather Nott: I don’t remember exactly when..
Interviewer: So with that encounter you were with, umm, Peter Raffles.
Julian Nott: Yeah.
Interviewer: And he had a camera on him…
Julian Nott: Well he was actually taking photos for me for the riverbank.
Interviewer: For the riverbank….
Julian Nott: Yeah
Interviewer: For your job….
Julian Nott: Well it’s just a voluntary thing
Julian Nott: Umm, yeah I’m just with land care and there was a lot of things about umm, re vegetation. Re vegetation of dunes, and that. We were very lucky. We are the only inland area that has got a grant to re vegetate a river bank. Umm, plenty of it’s gone down the coast but no one’s ever gone inland so we were very lucky and we’re still doing it today. We’re still…but the drought’s sort of …………But we’ve planted thousands of trees and thousands have died. There’s still a lot of them there, but…….. That’s me. (Pointing to newspaper clipping photo) You can’t really see much can ya? Someone said it was a heifer. Might be too.
Heather Nott: No, a lot of people said it was a dog.
Julian Nott: Or a dog. Yeah I thought I saw it one day. I was down there looking for platypus and saw this back…big back go along a track. Just up and up and up, and I thought, that’s it, that’s gotta be it, and it was a great big red setter dog.
Interviewer: Oh, right
Julian Nott: Had this big long tail on it. So, I could have taken you a great big photograph of that and showed you. You would have said, “Yeah that’s it”.
Julian Nott: Would have been a movie picture too, but umm, yeah..
Interviewer: So that was the bank of the Burnett River, was it?
Julian Nott: Yeah, just where Oakie Creek comes down….
Julian Nott: I could take you down and show you if you want…There’s not much there…the film crew that….the ABC then come up and they treated us pretty well. We did drop them very broad history like a ride in a helicopter, they let us do it, but..
Julian Nott: They spent a night down there. We actually took then down and showed them and when we were down there some huge animal, I don’t know what it was, I think it might have been a dog, but it really had teeth as big as my hand. It come out of the river, walked up around a sandy bank, and walked back down again.
Julian Nott: Gone back into the river. And I don’t know why, I don’t know why a dog would come out, walk around, and go back in again. Don’t know why any animal would. But I just said to them, “Look, you can’t say we made these up.” And they camped down there that night but they never saw anything.
Interviewer: So what was your first impression when you umm, saw what, what Peter had photographed?
Julian Nott: Well, well actually, I didn’t see it first. We gave the photograph to umm, oh, what’s her name?
Heather Nott: Joanne Went.
Julian Nott: Joanne Went. She rang me up and said, “It’s a bear.” But of course she was looking for a bear. And I said, “Oh yeah, is that right?” And anyway I went down and said, “Yeah well it looks like one, but..”
Heather Nott: I remember you saying, “What’s that?”
Julian Nott: You can’t..
Heather Nott: I was round, behind some bushes, somewhere, I was looking for rocks for my aquarium..
Interviewer: Oh were you there as well were you?
Julian Nott: But she wasn’t really there…
Heather Nott: I was looking for rocks for my aquarium so I actually didn’t see much..And I heard him say, “What’s that? What’s that?” and I thought, oh God, what’s he on about? And I came round and I saw …well I saw the bum. I saw the big brown bum vanishing into the under growth. And I thought, “Jees, that ain’t, what was that?” And I sort of, I looked at Dad and I looked at Peter Raffles and sort of
Julian Nott: And Peter said, “I caught it on the photograph.”
Heather Nott: Thought, what’s happening, and gotta photo…
Julian Nott: And it’s an automatic camera and it winds so he just went “click” and he went…you know how quickly they rewind. Well that was two photos. Bang. Bang.
Interviewer: So he only took the two photos…
Julian Nott: Yeah that’s what we got.
Heather Nott: Then it was gone then..
Julian Nott: And I, I sort of looked around.
Interviewer: You seen it…You saw it as he was taking the photo?
Julian Nott: Well, Peter took that and I looked around to see what he was doing and then when I looked back all I saw was the bum. I didn’t see it move..
Julian Nott: I didn’t…And he said, “Oh, I got it.” And well he probably didn’t see it move but he was looking through the camera.
Julian Nott: So it was sort of one of those things where we weren’t really looking at what it was. Just trying…He was just trying to take a photo and I was trying to make sure he wasn’t going to spook it but it was too late then, and it was gone. Yeah..
Interviewer: So how big do you estimate it was from the bum that you saw?
Heather Nott: About, yah high…
Heather Nott: It was pretty big.
Heather Nott: That, that’s how it looked, I mean, like distance can be deceptive. But that’s about how it looked…
Interviewer: So about half a metre tall, or..
Julian Nott: Yeah probably..
Heather Nott: Yeah it was..
Julian Nott: Yeah a bit over knee high
Interviewer: And that was on all fours then, was it?
Julian Nott: Yeah, well, yeah.
Heather Nott: Yeah I’m pretty sure it was moving on all fours.
Julian Nott: And that was about it.
Interviewer: Well, that’s very interesting.
Julian Nott: Much like all those things, you just see all these things on T.V. and you say, “Oh, gee, that’s out of focus.” And that’s funny, and yeah well, that’s what it is. It’s like that.
Heather Nott: It’s like that.
Julian Nott: When you’re not thinking about anything.
Heather Nott: Well you don’t have time to actually focus on it when you’re taking a photo. And yeah the photos did come out.
Julian Nott: But I’ve been down there a few times since then and haven’t seen anything. <chuckle>
Interviewer: Ok. Nobody went after it?
Julian Nott: Well, then we were on the other side of the creek
Interviewer: Oh, ok
Heather Nott: Yeah there was a creek running..
Julian Nott: The creek had just been in flood and I don’t know how deep it was, it could have, I don’t know how deep it is there. It could have been pretty deep.
Heather Nott: We were just looking at each other and it just happened.
Julian Nott: It just raced off, crashed through the bush and it was gone then.
Heather Nott: Didn’t really crash. It just sort of, went.
Interviewer: And this is the newspaper article?
Julian Nott: That’s the photo that Peter took, yeah.
Interviewer: Dated, ah, March the first, Wednesday, Two Thousand.
Heather Nott: Yeah, that would make it February. I was right.
Julian Nott: Like, alright, if there’s a bear, then there’s a bear. So what, if it’s progeny of something that escaped, it’s like wild dogs. It’s..
Heather Nott: It’s not like it’s ever attacked people.
Julian Nott: Yeah, I don’t know. Yeah well I don’t think anyone’s ever been hurt by a Himalayan brown bear. They’re pretty docile sorts of things.
Heather Nott: Occasionally the vet gets dogs come in with scratch marks on them.
Julian Nott: Yeah.
Interviewer: Getting back to what you saw that day, how far away was it from you?
Julian Nott: From here to the other side of the road.
Interviewer: Ok, so…
Julian Nott: Maybe not quite that far.
Heather Nott: I don’t think it was quite that far.
Interviewer: Could you estimate how many metres?
Julian Nott: Oh, thirty, thirty to forty I suppose.
Interviewer: Ok. And did it make any noises that you could here?
Julian Nott: No, just…
Heather Nott: Apart from walking through bush, no.
Julian Nott: No, it didn’t scream, didn’t cry out, didn’t say anything. Just gone.
Julian Nott: Sorry to be so negative for you but there’s…..
Interviewer: That’s alright..
Heather Nott: It was just there…
Julian Nott: I could tell you anything. I could tell you all sorts of things. It was screaming out, it jumped up and down… It yelled at us..
Heather Nott: Oh, yeah. It stood up and looked at us…
Julian Nott: Yeah, but that wouldn’t be right.
Interviewer: Nah, I’m not interested in ah, exaggerations..
Heather Nott: No..
Julian Nott: Well, like, it was a brief encounter it lasted probably one second. It was gone and what can you make of it. Y’know, I can only tell you so many different ways it came and it was there, it went click, and it was gone. And..
Heather Nott: It was a bit of a non event really. It was kind of just there and then it was gone.
Interviewer: Have you ever seen wombats around Gayndah?
Julian Nott: No, I’ve never seen them.
Julian Nott: No, I have talked to people that say they have seen them, still. But, mostly the cultivations…they used to lie on the river flats and they’re all cultivated, different things and are, they I don’t, I think they would be an extremely rare species up here in Gayndah now.
Interviewer: How large do wombats get, do you know?
Julian Nott: Oh, about the same, same size..
Interviewer: As…compared….about half a metre tall on all fours?
Julian Nott: Yeah, a big old, a big old wombat, Yeah, a big old male wombat.
Interviewer: They grow that large do they?
Julian Nott: Yeah.
Heather Nott: Yeah they had big wombats at Dream World and they were pretty big.
Julian Nott: Yeah, but a really old male can get, get bigger.
Interviewer: Yeah? Alright.
Julian Nott: I suppose they’d weigh probably thirty kilos.
Heather Nott: Oh yeah, they’d weigh a lot.
Interviewer: Did anything else strange happen that day? Do you remember?
Julian Nott: Nup! No, we sort of got a bit excited about it and went straight up and have it to Joanne Went. But no, there were no strange things happen. Strange things happened after it. Tim the Yowie man came up here and rolled around on the ground.
Heather Nott: There were no strange flashing lights or anything in the sky.
Julian Nott: ….They took photographs.