That a form of marine reptile from the age of dinosaurs could still survive in the Hawkesbury River must, understandably, seem absurd to many people. Yet, when one considers the often enormous widths, the great depths, the length of the river (up to 120 kilometres) and its many branches snaking off in all directions, there is more than enough room for such creatures to have survived and bred undisturbed for centuries, as the following case histories suggest.
Old Aboriginal tales from along the river speak of canoes and rafts having been caught in whirlpools created by Mirreeulla's turning about beneath the surface. While many people might dismiss such myths, others are not so sure.
According to Mr Jason Douglas, back in 1953 his father, Mr Cyril Douglas, and his brother Lloyd were fishing late one night on the shore of the Hawkesbury River near
Windsor when they saw what could have been the Hawkesbury River Monster.
The creature surfaced out on the river in the moonlight, and the men apparently observed it with torches. They saw a large body in the water, greyish in colour and about 20 feet in length. The creature's head did not appear; nor were any flippers or tail visible. The animal remained surfaced only for about two minutes before sliding under the water.
Hawkesbury River Bridge - August 1979
“I was not seeing things. It was right there in the water, out there in the middle of the river with its snakelike head moving from side to side, four feet above the water.” That was how Miss Rosemary Turner, a young bushwalker, described the horrible reptilian creature that surfaced nearby as she stood on the bank of the Hawkesbury River, a few kilometres west of the Hawkesbury River Bridge, one August day in 1979. Rosemary had been resting during a hike in the surrounding bushland on the Sydney side of the river.
The water was calm on a sunny afternoon around 3 pm, she later recalled-when, suddenly, a dark shape began to appear in the water ahead of her. "All of a sudden this large, shiny, scaly, black pair of humps rose two feet out of the water to a length of about 20 feet. I could clearly see two long flippers, at least a few feet in length, moving below the surface. At this moment a head appeared 15 feet ahead of the humps. The animal appeared to be facing an east-west position. Four feet of head and neck rose above the water and I could partly make out the tail just below the surface some feet east of the body.
The head of this monster reminded me of a snake-ugly, and about two feet in length (by now she was observing the creature with her binoculars hastily snatched from their case)-but it quickly sank beneath the waves, the tail rising out of the water in a quick flip as the monster plunged into the depths, leaving a great wake in the water." All this time, Rosemary stood petrified watching the creature, still not sure what it was. All she could tell me some months later was that the animal was at least 45 to 50 feet in length.
University Zoologist Attempts to explain away the Sighting Above
So far we have examined numerous sightings claims and descriptions of these mysterious creatures, but what has the scientific community to say about all these reports? Opinion appears divided, but along 'conventional' explanations. Some marine
zoologists would have us believe that the "Hawkesbury River monster" is nothing more than sightings of large eels, basking sharks, or whales.
One university zoologist years ago attempted to explain away the sighting of Miss Rosemary Turner (our first eyewitness report studied in this chapter - Sighting Report Above) as a large two-metre-long eel-but the creature that Rosemary saw was between 13 and 15 metres in length at least! Basking sharks, when dead, have a tendency to rot from the gills down, giving the
appearance of a plesiosaur-like beast, as another zoologist has pointed out. However, the 'long necks' described in this chapter were all very much alive!
The above report is similar to that of another woman, Judy Morgan, of Sydney, who saw a huge animal in the same region at about 4 pm one Sunday in May 1979. Here is her story.
“I had been watching water-skiers from the top of a 50-foot bank (Sydney side of the river) with my binoculars. Soon after the skiers had passed up the river in the direction of the Hawkesbury River Bridge about four miles to the east, I observed from about 300 feet out in the centre of the river a large pair of humps rise out of the water up to three feet.
"From where I stood I could clearly see two sets of long paddle-like flippers just below the surface, and these may have extended out at least several feet from the body. I also spotted a tail partly visible below the surface, and this rose to the surface after about a minute before submerging again. So far the creature's head had not appeared; but this suddenly also rose out of the water, snakelike, and on the end of a long, thick neck several feet above the surface. I estimate the animal could have been a good 40 feet in length, at least!"
During 1977, two fishermen in a small boat in Broken Bay became startled when a
large snakelike head of terrifying appearance, and about 1.5 metres wide, momentarily
surfaced a few metres from them.
A similar shock befell a group of fishermen in a half-cabin cruiser in mid-river one
night in December 1979 near the Hawkesbury River Bridge. In the darkness, their attention
was drawn to a large object that splashed to the surface some metres away. Flashing their
torches on the object, they were shaken to see a snakelike creature, its head about 60cm long
and about 50 to 60cm wide, rising a metre or more into the air. There was also a darkened
hump in the water but the fishermen started the engine in a panic and quickly left the area.
Not all the Hawkesbury "Nessies" seen have been enormous creatures. Take the case of John Galbraith who, while fishing with his father near Ettalong in March 1971, caught a strange little beast on the end of his line which he could not explain."It was 46 centimetres in length and browny-black in colour, with a paddle-like tail and fins, a thin neck and a head reminiscent of a snake's.
When I attempted to free the creature, it opened its mouth like a snake and hissed, showing teeth about 2.5 cm in length, and needle-sharp, which made me jump. We kept the strange beast for some days, hoping other fishermen could identify it. My father later discarded it. Since then I have seen pictures of plesiosaurs and have often wondered if this is what the small creature had been."
If only John's father had known beforehand what he was throwing away, perhaps there would be a preserved baby plesiosaur to support this story and also to prove to scientists that living fossils lurk in the Hawkesbury River depths. But the above is not the only claim of its kind.
In 1979, a three-foot-long baby 'long
neck' was seen in shallow water near Colo, at the western end of the Hawkesbury in the adjoining Colo River; and also about this time, a 4.6-metre-long creature was sighted in Jerusalem Bay south of Brooklyn.
In 1975, two teenage fishermen saw a two-metre-long plesiosaur-type creature in Coal and Candle Creek.
1975 - 1976
During the period 1975 to 1976 there were several sightings of a strange aquatic beast in the vicinity of Brisbane Waters and also the headwaters of the Hawkesbury near Palm Beach.
A husband and wife were fishing in their rowing-boat in Brisbane Waters near Woy Woy when they were ‘buzzed’ by what they described as a 30foot-long creature which swam past their boat within a metre of the surface. They described the creature as having a long serpentine neck and snakelike head, a bulky body with two sets of fins and a long eel-like tail. Just after it passed their boat the reptilian creature raised its head about three feet out of the water. At this moment the couple had forgotten their fishing and began rowing for the nearby shore.
In another incident, which took place one June day in 1979, a ferryboat operating in
nearby Pittwater disturbed a large, long-necked reptilian creature lurking just beneath the surface. Passengers were alarmed when a serpent-like head reared above the water, its neck protruding over one metre above the waves before it plunged out of sight. Everyone later agreed the creature's head was "football-sized".
Ferries and their occupants on the Hawkesbury River appear to have been paid some attention by these mystery reptiles over the years.
One former ferry operator, whom I met in 1979, told me that he had heard of "monsters" having been seen on the river by ferry operators over the years. "They just don't like talking about the subject. They don't want to be laughed at by people who would only say they are mad," he said.
Back in October 1961, a "40-foot dark shape", swimming at great speed, cut right across the bow of a ferry travelling toward Brooklyn. Everyone on board observed a large, dark-coloured serpentine head break the surface, its long neck protruding momentarily to a height of one metre before submerging. As the monster continued on its way for some distance toward the Sydney side of the river, its dark form was visible just below surface until it vanished into the depths.
One night in 1962, a Mr Aubrey Hodge was fishing with another man on the shore near Brooklyn when they spotted in the moonlight what they later described as a “genuine sea serpent”. The creature surfaced about 50 yards offshore. They described it later as having a big head on the end of a long neck. They detected two humps protruding from the water behind the creature's neck. But before they could observe it any further, the mystery creature submerged.
In another incident, off Umina in Brisbane Waters during the summer of 1970, Mr Russell Willis and a mate were fishing in an aluminium boat when they spotted a "monster". Russell now takes up the story which he related to me some years later in 1983.
"We were fishing off Umina Beach at the first rocks before Lion Island when a giant object surfaced south of us about 15 to 20 metres away and began moving in our direction, only to go underwater almost immediately.
It left us sitting in our boat wondering what it was, and wondering if we should clear out of the area, when once again it surfaced-this time moving to our west in a southerly direction. We could see the creature was a dark greyish-black in colour.
We could not see any fins or a tail but its head did appear above surface, blowing water out of its nostrils. We observed the head to be reptile-like, about two feet in length, with large eyes and nostrils. As it opened its mouth momentarily, we spotted large teeth. At this stage it was only 20 yards from the rocks. The creature lifted its head about one metre above the water, revealing a long
neck before submerging once again. It did not re-appear."
Hawkesbury River 'monster' reports often take on a sinister bent. Vessels have been damaged, even sunk, and lives lost. People have even been snatched from boats, it is said. In one incident about 1960, a policeman, one of a number of guests in a yachting party, vanished without trace while standing at the stern rail of the vessel.
"One moment he was there. We all turned away while someone was talking, and when one of us looked back he was gone. There was a disturbance in the river, as if something had come up out of the water and snatched him," said one woman member of the party later.
The scene of this incident was near Broken Bay. It was near this same spot 20 years later that two men, seated on a cruiser, suddenly felt something heavy strike their boat, knocking them over. "Whatever it was, it was huge, and there was a swirling in the water about us as our craft twisted in the current. Then, about 100 feet away, heading up the Hawkesbury, we
spotted a large dark shape in the water."
During the mid-1970s, a woman and a boy disappeared in a rowing boat out on the river near Broken Bay. The boat was found later, smashed to pieces.
George and Jan Cayley were living in a houseboat moored in Broken Bay near Pittwater in mid-1979. One early morning in bad weather with rain pouring down outside, they were laying in bed when suddenly they felt their home being lifted up out of the water. Their bed, furniture and other items tumbled over, ending in a heap to one side of the room as the vessel was tipped to one side. Then the vessel splashed over, righting itself in the water once more.
Fighting their way out of their bed and the maze of overturned furniture, and finding the rest of the living area a total wreck, they emerged onto their deck hoping to see what had caused the accident-a boat, they thought at first. However, through the downpour they were horrified to see an enormous body moving out across the bay-a long-necked, serpent headed
beast, paddling toward the opposite shore and then gradually submerging out of sight.
"Friends who later helped us clean up all the broken crockery and other household
goods had no difficulty believing our story. They said other people had similar stories to tell,"
George said to me several years later.
Boats have been found drifting over the years, their occupants having vanished without trace. Similar disappearances have been reported right along the river as far as the Windsor-Richmond district.
One time back in 1970, Mr A. Gavin and two other friends were returning at dusk from a fishing trip on the Hawkesbury River in an aluminium outboard motor boat, travelling at a moderate speed. They were off Cottage Point when, suddenly, their boat came into contact with a large body swimming across their path, tipping the boat over and throwing the men into the water.
A monster of at least 50 feet in length figured in yet another houseboat incident on Broken Bay near West Head.
One day in January 1979, a large number of fishermen and others on the shoreline spotted the greyish-coloured monster, first as a dark shape moving below surface across the water. The by-now-familiar two body-humps and serpent-like head protruded momentarily above surface as the creature moved rapidly toward a houseboat moored near the shore. A family was sitting on the deck having lunch.
Shouts were to no avail: the people on the houseboat were too far off to hear of the monster approaching their
craft. The onlookers, some with binoculars, watched horrified as the monster swam beneath the houseboat. Then, attempting to surface again, the monster lifted the craft out of the water to one side, its screaming occupants and their belongings being tossed asunder.
Then, apparently realising its movements were obstructed, the creature submerged again. Everyone agreed: the aquatic giant was at least 50 feet in length.
Not long before this incident, one Sunday afternoon in November 1978 three young people (two boys and a girl) had a similar meeting with the Hawkesbury "Nessie" while racing their motorboat up the river in a westerly direction from the Hawkesbury River Bridge.
They were a few kilometres upriver when suddenly their craft struck something submerged, throwing them all into the water. By the time the young people had struggled to their overturned craft, the water was boiling with activity.
A whirlpool effect was created, turning the vessel and its displaced occupants about in the water. "It was obvious that we had struck some large animal which began turning around in the water. As we righted the craft and clambered back in, we thought we could see some
large object, possibly a head, breaking the surface some 300 yards away to the east of us; but whatever it was, it soon vanished," said one of the boys during an interview I had with him much later.
Returning to the Brooklyn area, in 1977 people were talking about yet another disappearance, reminiscent of the 1960 policeman disappearance case. This time, a fishing party were enjoying a break on a fishing cruiser just east of Brooklyn one afternoon. As the group of men and women wandered about the boat talking and looking at the view, one of the party noticed that a mate had disappeared.
He had been standing at the stern of the vessel and now he was gone, a great disturbance visible in the water below. The story was rife for weeks thereafter that one of the long-necked monsters of the Hawkesbury had snatched him from the vessel.
Humans are not the only ones to go missing along the Hawkesbury River. Since early settlement 'times last century there have been tales from the farming community of cattle and sheep, even horses having vanished from the river's edge.
Near the town of Spencer, west of the Hawkesbury River Bridge and on the north side of the river, a farmer was herding cattle down onto a quiet bank one afternoon in May 1967 when, as he stood atop a high embankment overlooking his stock, the otherwise quiet waters came alive. He spotted a large dark mass appear below surface and move rapidly toward the shore.
Suddenly an enormous reptile-headed, long-necked creature broke the surface, grabbing a cow by the neck in its powerful jaws and dragging it into the water. It then disappeared, leaving a great wake. The rest of the cattle took fright, crashing their way through bushes and up the river-bank. The farmer stood dumbfounded.
Further upriver at St Albans, another farmer got the shock of his life one day in July 1979 at about 2pm when he observed from the river-bank a dark hump, then another, emerge from the river. They were six feet apart and about four feet in length. As he watched, the rest of the body appeared two feet above the surface.
"I could see the faint outline of a tail in the river, moving about just below surface, and also two sets of long paddle-like flippers. Then a large head broke the surface-snakelike, and about three feet in length by almost two feet in width. A big greyish-black beast, its large eyes were looking toward me. Its neck was a good 15 feet out of the water.
Its movements in the water were creating a great disturbance; the large waves it caused were splashing on the shoreline. I was horrified. The monster looked around; then, turning around, it sank below the surface. The last I saw of it was the head just above surface, moving east down the river 'til it was out of sight."
At St Albans is the entrance to the MacDonald River, so it is evident that these 'long necks' penetrate quite some distance inland from the coast. In times of flood it is apparent that one or more of these creatures has been able to enter the Nepean River where it joins the Hawkesbury at Yarramundi. From there they have ventured south of Penrith and become trapped in particularly deep parts of this otherwise shallow river.
Wisemans Ferry has many 'monster' sightings of its own. During May 1978, a fisherman in a rowing boat out on the Hawkesbury was shocked by the sudden emergence of a large-headed, long-necked creature which rose from the surface only yards from his boat. The terrified man was speechless, but before he could think what to do next the monster plunged below the surface, leaving a great wake which spun his boat about in the water.
This daytime incident took place only a few months after a long-necked reptilian giant was seen by a family on the shore as it rose quickly from the river's edge and snatched a fully grown sheep from a sandbank.
The year 1979 was certainly a 'vintage year' for Hawkesbury River Monster sightings and related weird incidents, and the "Yarramundi Monster" created plenty of discussion. However, it appears it had been preceded by another 'long neck' which apparently had become trapped in another very long, deep part of the Nepean River the previous year.
1978 was the year that one or more long-necked reptilian monsters were claimed seen on that river, south of the Nepean River Bridge at Penrith in a very wide, deep part of the river which extended for a few kilometres southward through a high gorge beyond Lapstone at the foot of the eastern escarpment of the Blue Mountains.
In September of that year, a young woman water-skier claimed she passed over and almost struck a 20-foot dark shape moving across her path just below surface.
incident in this part of the river that November, campers on the shore claimed to have seen a " football- sized, reptilian-headed creature with a long neck" about two metres above water. It was during the course of investigating these sightings that year that I learnt from one eyewitness that long-necked "water monsters" had been claimed seen in the Nepean River on and off for generations, and often after bad floods.
During March 1978, Michael Rousek and a friend, Jim Comack, were working on a riverfront farming property north of Penrith when they too saw one of these creatures. T
he time was about 2pm on a clear day when Michael, who was working on river-bank water pumps, spotted out in the middle of the river a large humped body, dark-brown in colour, moving southward upriver. "The body appeared about 10 feet in length by about six feet in width-at least what I could see above water.
The humps were at least two feet six inches above the water, and the whole thing reminded me of an elephant in body size," he told me in an interview the following year. Michael then ran to get his mate Jim, working some distance away, and they dashed back to the river-bank in time to see the mystery beast still swimming downriver. There were two other men on the property, cutting turf with a machine.
They too were alerted and arrived in time to see the creature. Upon seeing this massive animal moving down the river, one of the men remarked, “I’ll never go swimming in the river again!” Michael agreed with me that there was certainly enough room in some parts of the Nepean River, where plesiosaur-type creatures could conceivably remain hidden between floods, until they were able once again to move back into the Hawkesbury.
"The river hereabouts where I saw the monster is up to 120 feet deep and 200 yards wide. During the big floods of 1961 and 1964, the water came right over the tallest banks. As recently as late 1978, we had a flood which saw a height of up to 40 feet," he said.