Is there something out there? It's a question Katoomba's multi-award winning writer and illustrator Tohby Riddle keeps getting asked since launching his latest picture book, an unusual tale about the strange and persistent phenomenon of the yahoo or yowie.
With extracts from old newspapers matched with Riddle's haunting ink illustrations, his new book Yahoo Creek: An Australian Mystery covers the story of the hairy ape-like animal and man's encounters with it along the Great Dividing Range back to the early 1800s.
Stories about the mysterious and large hair-covered hominid unknown to science were popular in colonial days and they still persist.
On ABC Radio this week with James Valentine, Riddle listened in as callers recounted their own stories of the smells and sounds of "the hairy man" from Bega to Palm Island.
It was a story he felt compelled to explore living in the bush of the Mountains.
"It first caught my attention because the Blue Mountains is apparently a yowie hotspot," he told the Gazette.
"It’s one of many hotspots up and down the forests of the Great Dividing Range. As a phenomenon, the combination of the long history, the locations, and the Aboriginal perspectives make it compelling."
Riddle originally planned a wordless book but his discovery of so many intriguing articles about the the "Yahoo-Devil Devil, or the Hairy Man of the Wood" led him to add in "extracts so that they formed a kind of narrative". Later he added "knowledge generously shared by Aboriginal Elder Peter Williams [and] the intrigue deepened".
Riddle isn't sure whether the reports he found are correct - including one involving Henry Parkes's house in Faulconbridge and another about a hunting party of Mark Foy’s in the Megalong Valley which unfortunately didn't quite fit his story's structure.
"It’s an outlandish proposition that the Australian bush might harbour a large hair-covered hominid unknown to science. Nonetheless, reports from credible witnesses of encounters with yowies continue unabated. And these seem to correlate with Aboriginal lore about the hairy man. It’s a mystery. What on earth is going on?"
But he said regardless, the book is one that could "really fire a child's imagination".
"I know I would have loved it when I was a kid. It would have got me exploring various topics and hunting down information, and thinking and wondering and imagining.
"It’s another lens through which we can see Australia’s history, landscape and culture."
For those keen to discover more the book is now available in bookstores and alleged sightings of the hairy man are on the Australian Yowie Research website.