Our Own Nessie

by Rex Gilroy

Director, Museum of

Natural History Museum

Wilberforce, NSW

Australasian Post, May 2, 1985

Our Own Nessie

Do reptillian monsters from the dinosaur age still lurk in Australia and New Zealand?

For thousands of years, Aboriginals have preserved traditions of enormous reptillian "water monsters" said to inhabit the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney. Their cave art along the river includes depictions of these mystery creatures, called Mirreeulla, or "giant water serpent", described as having a snake-like head, long neck, a large body with two-sets of flippers, and a long eel-like tail.

The Aboriginal description of these animals also matches that of European sightings of the creatures since the 1800's, from Wiseman's Ferry at the western end of the river, eastwards to the Central Coast near Gosford. It is possible to see in these features a description of Scotland's Loch Ness Monster, thought by some scientists to be a race of marine dinosaurs called Plesiosaurs which became extinct about 65 million years ago. Or did they?

Plesiosaur-type sea creatures have been reported throughout the world for centuries. They have been seen off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand, and elsewhere throughout the Pacific region. New Zealand in particular is rich in Plesiosaur-type sea monster traditions, dating back to the arrival of the Maoris. The Maoris called them Taniwahs, or "giant water monsters", and their oral traditions and ancient cave art of the creatures match the description of the Aboriginal Mirreeulla.

The Maoris claim the Taniwahs once came ashore in the Bay of Plenty {North Island} to lay their eggs in the sand, similar to traditions held by the Hawkesbury River Aboriginals. Maoris, as well as Europeans, still claim a colony of Taniwahs inhabits Lake Taupo in New Zealands North Island, trapped there since geological uplifts cut the huge lake off from the sea.

This lake is about 40 km long, and at least 600 metres deep in places, and is full of fish and other aquatic life to sustain such a colony. During an investigation of the lake, on July 28, 1980 at 4.30 p.m. I was, I believe, fortunate to obtain photographs of a long dark shape of some large living creature in the lake. I had been filming various parts of the lake all day.

Then, as I stood on a hillside overlooking the lake, I observed a long, brownish shape moving just below the surface, 300 metres offshore. Before the creature moved off across the lake and out of sight, I was able to take four colour pictures of it. Disturbances in the water suggested a creature with flippers, about 16 metres long. Scientists who ridicule the Plesiosaur survival theory should recall the Coelacanthe, the fish once thought extinct since dinosaur times, until a living specimen was caught off the African coast in 1938.

This fact leads zoologists to speculate that many more species of sea life are still awaiting discovery in the ocean depths. As a researcher of unknown animals for 25 years, I have long been fascinated by the many reports of sightings of the Hawkesbury River Monster {As I have Christened him} and have gathered more than 500 reports of European sightings of thee creatures.

Here are some of them.

A few kilometres west of the Hawkesbury River Bridge one afternoon in May 1979, Rosemary Turner, While bushwalking along the Sydney side of the river bank at 4p.m., spotted a gigantic blackish animal in mid-river. Through her binoculars she noticed it had two humps on the back, which was up to a metre above the water, and two sets of long paddle-like flippers below the surface, extending outward about a metre from the body. A tail was also partly visible. Then the creature's head, which at first had remained submerged, appeared, revealing snake-like features about 60 cm long.

Its neck, about 30 cm thick, rose 3 metres above the water. The head remained visible for only a few seconds before it submerged. Then the animal sank swiftly into the depths leaving a considerable wake. Counting the tail length, which was about 6 metres, and the body, about 12 metres of which was visible, together with about 3 metres of head and neck, the monster must have been 20 or more metres long,"she said."It looked like one of those Loch Ness Monsters in the newspapers.

During 1977 two fishermen in a small boat in Broken Bay, near the Hawkesbury River mouth, became startled when a large snake-like 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 snake-like creature, its head about 60 cm long, and about 50-60 cm wide, rising a metre or more into thee air. There was also a darkened hump in the water but the fishermen started the engine in a panic and quickly left the area.

Further upriver, a St Albans farmer got the shock of his life one day at about 2 p.m. in 1979 when from the river bank he observed a dark hump emerge from the centre of the river. The hump of the monster was about 6.6 metres long from what he could see on the surface.

"I could make out a tail, and two sets of paddle-like flippers moving in the water. "Then the head broke the surface. It was snake like, and about twice the size of a football, with large eyes. Then the head submerged, followed by the whole animal, creating a big wake," he said.

That such creatures could exist in the Hawkesbury River must understandably seem absurd to many people. Yet, when one considers the often enormous widths, the great depths, and length of the river {up to 120 km} its many branches snaking off in all directions, there is more than enough room for such animals to survive and breed undisturbed.

There is certainly no shortage of sea-life offshore, and up the river, for them to survive on. Certainly, there would have to be a reasonable population of the creatures for the species to have survived this long in the river. At a guarded estimate, based upon the number of sightings over a given period, I hazard there could be at least 60 Nessies inhabiting the river at present.

To some scientists, the Hawkesbury River Monsters, are either basking sharks or whales. They argue that the basking shark, when dead, rots from the gills down, giving the appearance of a long-necked Plesiosaur-like animal. But the long-necked creatures seen in the river were living animals. Whales are not generally known penetrate up the Hawkesbury River, although this is not impossible; but then, has anyone ever seen a serpent-headed, long-necked whale?

Three young people, "Rock", "Steve", and "Julie" {names witheld on request} do not believe what they saw was a shark or a whale while boating upriver east of Wiseman's Ferry {scene of many "monster" sightings over the years}. While travelling at moderate speed in a small boat with an outboard motor one morning in June, 1981 their boat was overturned by a large greyish hump in the water. As the youths and girl struggled in the river to their upturned boat they sighted some 300 metres away a large object like a head breaking the surface heading towards Wiseman's Ferry.

"It had along neck like a snake but would have been far too large for a snake, and it was certainly no eel or any large fish," said Rick later.

In 1974 on a September morning around 6 a.m, and several kilometres off the Central Coast a 20 metre fishing trawler crew spotted an enormous Plesiosaur- type monster surfacing near their vessel. One of the men, George Lynch later told me what happened.

"The water was calm, when from about 50 metres away, this big-headed creature surfaced to the east of our ship and began following us as we moved up the coast. "It had about 10 metres of its hump showing, and a long eel-like tail, and flippers about 3 metres or so long, partly visible in the water.""We could only see 3 metres of neck protruding from the water, and the head of the monster was very large, about 1.5 metres long and perhaps over 60 cm in width and looked just like a giant snake. "The body, though dripping wet was greyish-black and scaley, and the underside was yellowish. We estimated the animal to be at least 20 metres long, the body about 3 metres wide."

"It stayed afloat for about 15 minutes, following us northward up the coast, making no attempt to harm us, and we were certainly too terrified to attempt to do anything to the creature. Then the monster submerged out of sight."

These are only some of the many sightings reported to me in recent years from the Hawkesbury-Central Coast district. To my knowledge no photographs have been taken so far of one of these animals. But photographs are not enough to prove a species' existence to skeptical scientists. What is needed is physical evidence.

In an effort to gather whatever evidence possible, several years ago I established the Hawkesbury River Monster Survey, now based at the Butterfly farm, Putty Road, Wilberforce {NSW}. Here, all manner of sightings and reports are to be gathered for scientific assessment. Eventually, I would like to see Australian scientists establish an investigation along the line of the now famous Loch Ness Survey, employing the latest sonar devices. Only this will ultimately prove these mysterious creatures existance.

Until then, the Hawkesbury River Monster will remain yet one more of many unexplained mysteries of Australia.