Giant reptilian monsters in the Australian bush were known even to our early European settlers and have been discussed around countless outback campfires for generations. Accurate descriptions of them can be found in Aboriginal myths and legends dating back untold thousands of years. These reptiles have been claimed seen in every mainland Australian state, and are also referred in ancient Tasmanian Aboriginal folklore. Early European settlers claimed to have had numerous encounters with these monsters, and the sighting of one near any bush town was likely to create a wave of terror among the populace.
1890's - 30 Feet in Length
A good example of this can be seen in one famous case which took place during 1890, when a huge reptile, 30 feet in length, instituted a brief reign of terror among the inhabitants of the village of Euroa, Victoria. It tramped its way across properties, leaving behind its gigantic footprints to confirm its awesome size. It was described as a monstrous goanna by those who had happened to see it roaming the bush. A search party of forty men was formed. Armed with nets and guns, and with cattle dogs to the fore, they ventured off into the surrounding bushland in an attempt to trap the fearsome reptile; but it just disappeared or moved on to another area, never to be seen again in the Euroa district.
Aboriginal Tradition - Horny-Skinned Goanna Bunyip
According to Aboriginal tradition, a 'horny-skinned goanna bunyip" is said to have existed in New South Wales and elsewhere across Australia under a variety of different names in the long-ago Dreamtime. It was described as being of enormous size and smelling "terrible". Their rock engravings and cave paintings across the continent clearly depict these and other reptilian monsters, but more on that matter later.
The Aboriginal tribes of Western Australia believed in the existence of giant-sized goannas which they called "Bungarra". They informed early settlers that these monsters reached lengths of up to 20 and 30 feet, and that they should always be on the lookout for them.
Last century, [1800's] the tribes of the North West Cape region lived in constant fear of these reptiles, claiming that a good number of the creatures inhabited the bush thereabouts. Perhaps they still do.
In June 1986, campers on the Ashburton River in the vicinity of Mt Alexander, to the east of North West Cape, came across fresh, large lizard tracks and tail-marks on river-bank mud. It was estimated that the reptile which made them reached a length of between 10 and 15 feet.
Similarly, one day in April 1983, fossickers discovered fresh giant-sized tracks, identified as those of some large monitor lizard, deep in the Mungaroona Range to the east of Roebourne.
At nearby Karratha during the 1970s and 1980s, people moving about in remote areas on fossicking and camping trips claimed to have seen a number of giant goannas.
Large Monitor Lizard - Approx Size - 22 Feet Long
On 28th April 1982, Mr Walter Lake was driving his Land-Rover toward Karratha on a 20-foot-wide dirt road near the Nickol River and was forced to come to a quick stop when a large monitor lizard with mottle-coloured skin dashed across the road 30 feet ahead of him. In the few seconds I got to look at the animal, I could see that its entire length covered the road. It was about 22 feet from head to tail," he told me later.
Similar stories come from the Kimberley region far to the north. One such report, passed on to me in 1982, concerned a stockman who was mustering cattle in the Margaret River area the year before, when he spotted a monitor of greyish appearance, about 20 feet in length, moving through tall grass toward some grazing stock. The stockman fired a couple of rounds into the creature at a distance of 50 yards. Although the bullets seemed to have no immediate effect on the reptile, it turned and bounded off on its four powerful legs into thick scrub nearby.
Western Australian Reports
Back in late 1979, Western Australian press and radio publicity about my researches into the giant monitor lizards (or goannas, to give them their Aboriginal designation), resulted in many letters from people over a wide area of the state. Not all these letters concerned reptiles of enormous size, but creatures ranging between 10 and 15 feet in length. One incident the journalists could not make into light entertainment was the case earlier this century of a local man who was said to have been killed and eaten by two of these lizard monsters on a property out of town. Searchers later found what was left of him in nearby scrub.
By now the reader must be wondering what species of monitor lizard we are dealing with. This is a fair question. Certainly they are no ordinary species. Today, the largest living monitor species accepted by scientists is the notorious komodo dragon, Varanus komodoensis, found on Komodo Island and one other in the Indonesian chain. But the komodo dragon is a mere three metres in length, compared to the 6.6, 8.3 and 10-metre lengths given for some giant-sized Australian monitors. Of course there are the occasional over-large komodo specimens noted, the record length being four metres.
Australian perentie Monitor
Next to the kormodo dragon is the Australian perentie monitor, Varanus giganteus, which, at 2.6 metres, is claimed to be the second largest monitor in the world. Its distribution is said to be on the western side of the Great Dividing Range. They are not found in Victoria but occur through western Queensland, the Northern Territory, South and Western Australia. The inhabitants of New Guinea would take issue on these figures, for their Salvadores monitor, Varanus salvadori, has been claimed to reach a good 14 feet (4.6 metres).
The komodo dragons continue to live up to their fearsome reputation. Centuries ago, ancient seafarers, either wrecked on the Kornodo Island coast or landing for a visit, soon learnt to fear these reptiles, for many seamen were taken by them as they slept or merely rested in daytime upon rocks by the shore. It is an interesting point that the komodo dragons feed mainly upon the weak and helpless, or carrion. Therefore, a sleeping native or other person is easily mistaken by these animals for a dead body, and immediately pounced upon!
In 1975, a holidaying Swiss banker was eaten by one of these beasts as he sat down for a rest on a jungle track. All that was found of him later was his camera.
Similarly, another 'dragon' had a taste of French food when it caught an unwary Frenchman in a similar situation one day in 1978.
In another incident, a woman tourist visiting a nature reserve where these reptiles are permitted to move about freely, fainted on a lawn, whereupon two three-metre dragons that she'd not long before been photographing began to move in her direction. She was only saved by the quick intervention of two native guides who beat them off with sticks.
These monitors have been known to terrorise whole villages, lurking in wait for unsuspecting children who stray into the jungle or else entering huts in the dead of night to drag off sleeping natives.
Megalania & other Giant Forms
Having dealt with these smaller varieties of monitor, we are still left with the mysterious giant Australian form. There can be but one suspect, but it has been thought extinct for the last 3,000 years or so: the Australian giant monitor, Megalania prisca. Its 'official' length, based upon scant fossil bone remains and the composite reconstruction of a single individual from two incomplete skeletons, is around 8.3 metres. From Aboriginal traditions as well as modem-day eyewitness descriptions it is evident that it reached larger sizes.
Aborigines are adamant that these monster-monitors reached up to 30 feet (10 metres) in length and weighed around 3,000 pounds. They also claim there was an even larger form! Megalania's fossil remains date from Miocene times (i.e., from around 25 million years ago to the the last great ice age or Pleistocene period about one million to 10,000 years ago). They preyed upon the marsupial megafauna, dying out with them mainly due to environmental changes and the depredations of Stone Age man.
Aboriginal Rock Engravings
Aboriginal rock engravings depicting Megalania near Sydney and the central coast of New South Wales date as recently as 3,000 years-the age of some fossil fragments of the creatures found in various parts of eastern Australia, if not elsewhere.
There is scientific opinion that Megalania prisca was the forefather of the other New Guinean and Indonesian forms, based upon skeletal comparisons. The ancestral form would have spread out of Australia up the former land-bridge which, for a time, joined Australia-New Guinea to south-eastern and mainland Asia, as will be argued later. The world-famous Riversleigh fossil beds, situated north of Mount Isa in far north-western Queensland close to the Gulf of Carpentaria, have lately revealed further fossil remains of Megalania together with other remains of giant emus and other'megafauna' dating from Miocene times.
Before examining the mass of evidence for living Megalania gathered from New South Wales, we shall study some equally astounding reports from Queensland. "Big goannas live in the Kuranda forests," some of the more talkative locals of this little community perched high up on the Atherton Tableland above Caims will tell you. The creatures have left their large tracks across properties on the edge of jungle and taken the odd calf or two, even poultry. Some locals have even sighted these creatures but few talk about these things, no doubt fearing ridicule. Aborigines claim the reptiles wander a wide area of the Cape York and Gulf country forests.
To Be Updated 2007