Thursday, November 25, 2010

Investigate Magazine's 6-page spread!

The August 2010 issue of New Zealand's Investigate Magazine featured a special report on New Zealand's panther sightings by the authors of Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers, Rebecca Lang and Michael Williams.

You can read the feature by following this link:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Panther stalks Blue Mountains

Panther-like big cats here in the Blue Mountains? Surely not! Yet a string of people over the years insist they've seen or heard one.

Digging into their stories proved intriguing for writer/photographer Michael Williams and journalist Rebecca Lang, who recently published their book Australian Big Cats – An Unnatural History of Panthers.

They report that big cat sightings are a problem in many rural areas around Australia with substantial stock losses in some; they describe their book as "a meaty compendium of sightings, killing sprees, narrow escapes, myths and mysteries that have come to form an intriguing chapter of Australian folklore."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

Meet authors at Weird Weekend

UFO investigators and people who track down sightings of strange wild animals will descend on a Devon village for their annual conference next month.

The Weird Weekend takes place in Woolfardisworthy, near Crediton, on the weekend of August 13 to 14.

During the event authors Mike Williams and Rebecca Lang will unveil their new book, Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers, which speculates about the origins of, and studies the evidence for, big cats Down Under.

The duo head a long and colourful list of speakers who will entertain crowds at the festival, held at the Woolfardisworthy Community Centre.


For information, and a complete list of speakers, contact Jon Downes, of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, on jon@

The CFZ is the world's only full time, professional cryptozoological organisation. Visit for more information.

Book gets a plug in the Sydney Daily Tele


But the final word should go to Mike Williams and partner Rebecca Lang who spent 10 years interviewing more than 750 witnesses from across Australia for their book Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History Of Panthers.

"There has been so many discrepancies with government testing of scat and fur samples. There is a big cat out there," said Mr Williams.

(The picture has nothing to do with the story, but the infamous 'Lithgow Panther' image gets trotted out by the media for most big cat stories these days!)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Panther story resurfaces in new book - South Coast Register, July 21, 2010

Panther story resurfaces in new book
by Frances Rand
South Coast Register
July 21, 2010

FOR over a hundred years big cats have stalked Kangaroo Valley.

They scare people, kill stock and leave big paw prints.

However, when it comes to being photographed, they are very shy.

A new book, Australian Big Cats – An Unnatural History of Panthers, looks into the phenomena of panther sightings.

The authors, researcher Michael Williams and journalist Rebecca Lang, have collected stories about big cat sightings for over a decade.

They theorise that the cats could be the descendants of escaped zoo animals or World War II American military mascots. They could also be mutant monstrous moggies or perhaps marsupial lions never died out.

Various scat and fur samples sent off for analysis have come back as felis catus – domestic cat. The authors weren’t impressed and decided to test the experts with some genuine leopard fur. The result – felis catus – proved science could fail.

Other experts have taken panther sightings seriously and various government departments, including the NSW Department of Primary Industries, have compiled reports. They concluded that more evidence needed to be collected.

Former Kangaroo Valley resident Doris Blinman was responsible for reporting panther sightings in the early 1980s.

During the period her yard was visited up to three times a week by one or two huge black cats for a period of a few months.

According to Mrs Blinman, the cats came both at night and in daylight and delighted in eating the fruit from her grapevine as well as eating local wildlife, including a fruit bat.

Ms Lang said there were some interesting aspects to Mrs Blinman’s story, including a “smell of sulphur” associated with the sightings.

Another local, Clarry Hansen, also sighted big cats and paw prints with a 13 to 14cm diameter.

In 1981 the two shared their stories with a Channel 9 news crew.

“It’s a reasonably well-forested area, with plentiful food sources and also being well populated could account for more people seeing panthers,” said Ms Lang.

The last local panther sighting may have been the last forever.

On New Year’s Eve 2008, a local resident reported driving past a “deceased large feline” on the side of Forest Road.

A Sydney man also saw the deceased animal by the side of the road on the same day.

In a hurry he did not stop, but returned the next day where he could find no trace of the feline.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Authors chat on NZ's The Cryptid Factor

You can now listen to our interview on NZ's The Cryptid Factor in all its glory on the link below. Our part starts @ 10.20...Mike chimes in later in the show talking about other Australian cryptids including the yowie!

Book on big cat research released - Ararat Advertiser, July 20, 2010

REGION - Eight years of research has gone into the production of the newly released book Australian Big Cats - An Unnatural History of Panthers, by Michael Williams and Rebecca Lang.

Writer/photographer Michael Williams and journalist Rebecca Lang have travelled all over Australia interviewing farmers, hunters, hikers and ordinary Australians investigating sightings, unexplained stock deaths and looking into the history books to gather information for the book.

Their travels have also brought them to the Ararat and Grampians region in their quest for evidence.

The presence of big cats in the Australian bush is one of the country's biggest mysteries and for many years there has been talk of sightings.

''There has been evidence of big cats in Victoria since the 1870s,'' Mr Williams said.

This evidence is a mixture of rich folklore, sightings and video evidence.

''In putting the book together, we have spent eight years researching and travelling around Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland collecting reports, photos, video, scat and hair samples,'' he said.

''We want to prove the case that it's not just folklore, that these are valid reports.

''We want to prove the that evidence is overwhelming, that there is some mystery animal in Australia.''

The book is available online or through PO Box 5 Hazelbrooke 2779 NSW. The cost is $35 plus $15 postage.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Big cats on the prowl? Maryborough Advertiser, July 14, 2010

Big cats on the prowl?

By Margaret Harrison • Jul 14th, 2010

020710 78

A book written about one of Australia’s greatest mysteries — are there big cats roaming around the Australian bush? — has been written by Michael Williams and Rebecca Lang.

Michael dropped into the Advertiser office recently with the newly published book, AUSTRALIAN BIG CATS An Unnatural History of PANTHERS.

The authors say they hope the book will act as a catalyst for serious research into mystery animal sightings with a view to re-discovering out-of-place, rare and extinct species — and laying to rest some urban legends along the way.

Michael has visited the Maryborough area three or four times to carry out research.

“It’s a mystery,” Michael said.

“The more you learn, the more confusing it becomes.”

Sightings of large cat-like animals have been reported from many parts of Australia over the last decades, described as being like pumas, jaguars or leopards in appearance and size.

Big cat question: Cairns Weekend Post, July 17, 2010

Could there be a secret species of cats hiding in remote corners of Australian bush? DENISE CARTER speaks to an author who's spent eight years investigating the question

IF you go down to the woods today, be careful because there are possibly very strange creatures lurking in the Australian bush.
So Michael Williams and Rebecca Lang would have us believe with their book Australian Big Cats: Unnatural History of Panthers launched three weeks ago.
The pair, Michael, a writer and photographer, and Rebecca, a journalist and editor, embarked on an discovery adventure nine years ago, having heard a lecture by Peter Chappell, who had compelling arguments for the notion of wild cats living in the bush of Australia.
The pair travelled, Michael says, from the south of Australia to the Atherton Tableland and beyond up to the Cape to record over 1000 stories of sightings, paw prints, second-hand tales, photographs, and video footage of animals that should, for the most part, never have existed in this land.
The couple stayed as guests of farmers along the way.
The stories they compiled vary from tales of black, panther-type creatures, to big, cat-looking marsupials, to striped creatures, to almost supernatural creatures with extraordinary strengths and abilities.
Michael admits his hotline, posted on his website for people to report their sightings, has been a bit of a kooky line, and it has been difficult to sort the proverbial wheat from the chaff.
Nevertheless, at the end of his travels and having sorted through all the stories, he came to three conclusions.
"The conclusions are there appears to be several species of big cat or one with multiple colours that are undiscovered in Australia," he says.
"They are non-native."
"And there appears to be from five-to 10 per cent of reports of big cats that look like marsupials."
Michael is aware of the scepticism of the general public that there could be such creatures and says most people won't believe it unless there is "a body on the table".
But the book, he says, cites very plausible references and sightings, from police officers, to national park rangers, to hunters, and farmers shocked at losing their livestock to such ferocious beasts.
Police made a statement about a wild lioness in NSW in 1985.
Michael says there were also investigations that were hushed up over the years in the state.
One investigator said there was a breeding population of jaguars; another, in 2001, agreed there were more than likely big cats; and a 2008 report, which Michael says he had to get under freedom of information, concluded there were wild cats, too.
In 2009, he says there was a revised report that said said they didn't exist.
Michael actually saw a big cat on his travels, at a farm in Maryborough, Victoria, where he was taking down the story of a farmer, who saw one such creature jump over his fence, grab a sheep, and jump back.
"What are the chances, but I saw it with a night scope at the crack of dawn drinking at a waterhole," Michael says. "It had a head like a bowling ball and it was about the size of a large German Shepherd.
"Suddenly, there was an explosion of movement from right to left.
"I was gobsmacked because I was seeing a living legend.
"Then it was looking at me but by the time I passed the night scope on it was gone."
In the book, Michael postures a few possible reasons for wild cats in Australia.
They could be the extinct marsupial lion that lived up to 30,000 years ago on the continent.
"They had the best biting mechanism of any animal ever known," Michael says.
The second theory is that the wild cats could be escaped circus or zoo animals.
"There are stories of circuses crashing every 500m," Michael says.
"Everyone has a second-hand story of a town where a circus crashed on a certain corner in the rain and an animal escaped."
The third theory is that they are released mascots from American army troops that were once stationed in Australia.
And the final hypothesis is that they are some kind of mutant domestic cat that has grown to gigantic proportions in the wild.
In Queensland, the dominant big cats sighted have been striped cats.
And in the Far North, large black cats were seen on the Atherton Tablelands and at Sherga near Weipa.
"We had a good report at Sherga from dog handlers, who were RAAF personnel," Michael says.
So now you know.
Don't say you haven't been warned.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Catch Mike on ABC Radio

The debate over whether big cats, such as panthers or pumas, are roaming the Australian bush has gone on for decades but as far as Michael Williams is concerned, there's no room for argument.

Michael is convinced Australia is home to big cats and, along with partner Rebecca Lang, has written a book to prove it.

The book is called "Australian Big Cats - An Unnatural History of Panthers".

He spoke to Matt Dowling about researching the book and what inspired his fascination for big cats.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Big Cats book 10 years in making

Geelong Advertiser, June 30, 2010
by Danny Lannen

CLINICAL animal kills in the Otways feature amid a mountain of testimonies in a ground-breaking book pointing to the existence of big cats in Australia.

Up to 15 accounts from the Otways region and more from Winchelsea, Ballarat, Mortlake and the Grampians pack the 434-page book, which has been almost 10 years in the making.

Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers has a national focus but researcher and co-author Michael Williams said up to 70 per cent of its material was Victoria-based.

"I cannot believe the amount of information that comes out of there (Victoria) and we could not have done this book if all of those farmers and hunters and others hadn't started giving us their information, photos, diaries and all the contacts,'' Mr Williams said.

He said dog trappers with 40 years' experience had testified during the collating of research, asserting that dogs could never have killed stock or fauna found killed in paddocks or bush.

“They show photos that dog predation looks nothing like the surgical industrial vacuum cleaner job these big cats are doing,” he said.

The book, co-written by journalist Rebecca Lang, details theories on big cats being released into the Australian wild, including several documented road accidents involving circus vehicles.

Mr Williams said Australian Big Cats was independently published and on sale for $35. Details at

Friday, June 25, 2010

Enjoy this extract from our book...

Big cats prowl the bush

by Rebecca Lang and Michael Williams

Helicopters hover noisily overhead, the occupants scanning the sheep-filled paddocks, undulating grassy terrain fringed with dark, forbidding bush.

On the ground, rangers comb the property, deep in the Victorian countryside. Their hand-held radios briefly crackle into life, sounding hard and scratchy amid the dull “thwock, thwock, thwock” of the helicopter blades above. State-of-the-art thermal imaging equipment throws up heat signatures of wildlife and livestock, transforming flesh and blood into blobby splashes of red with yellow-green haloes as the rangers scan the land for something large and out-of-place. Something alien and deadly. Something on a killing spree.

Hollywood couldn’t have done it better. But this isn’t an action sequence from some creature feature; these events actually took place in 1997 on a farm near Woodside, a small town in Victoria’s Gippsland, part of an effort by the state’s Department of Sustainability and the Environment (DSE) to deal with an unknown predator that had slaughtered more than 400 sheep in two years, each victim expertly dispatched (and devoured) with the efficiency of a butcher.

DSE officials were stumped, and they were pulling out all stops to try to solve the mystery that had so far cost a Victorian farmer thousands of dollars in lost stock – and threatened the credibility of the department. Trapping, snaring and fur traps had all failed to reveal the true nature of the beast, so thermal imaging equipment was employed in an eleventh-hour bid to halt the stock losses. There was talk of wild dogs at the time, but none of the corpses bore the hallmarks of dog attacks. There was no mess and little blood, and most of the corpses were devoid of flesh with only head, hide and hooves left behind. It was, for the most part, a clean, clinical kill every time.
Just as unusual – and even more disturbing – was the discovery early one morning of several sheep standing in a field, their faces mauled beyond recognition. They were still alive – just – but where a snout should have protruded from each woolly face there was now just a mass of red, shredded flesh and broken cartilage and bone.

The woman at the centre of the drama, sheep farmer Elizabeth Balderstone, was mystified as to what had attacked and killed hundreds of her sheep. “Over the two and a half years we’ve lost over 400 sheep,” Ms Balderstone told ABC Radio in July 1999. “We have them badly mauled around the tail and still alive but will die within a couple of days, or mauled around the face when whole jawbones have been removed. Other times the sheep are killed and partially or totally eaten out, when there’s just the fleece and bone skeleton left, and very little else.”

Overshadowing the gruesome discoveries were sightings of two enormous cats on the property – one brown, the other black – by a local dogger and the property’s manager. Could these monster-sized moggies have been responsible for the carnage?

Just over 40km away, Binginwarri dairy farmer Ron Jones was also starting to lose livestock to a mystery predator, as was his 82-year-old mother who lives on a nearby farm. Today the skulls of bovine victims dangle from a tree on his property, a grim reminder of a predator that attacks under cover of darkness. Jones has seen the cat(s) countless times, even shooting at it with his .22 calibre magnum rifle – a weapon he believes lacks the firepower to bring down an animal “the size of a golden retriever”.

“I’ve had cattle taken within a hundred metres of the house,” he said. “I’ve seen one at about 70 yards [64m] … It was a big, fawny-coloured cat, which was nearly as high as a strainer post which was three foot six [1m] high – it would have been about nine or 10 inches [23-25cm] wide across the chest.”

Jones has assembled a grisly photo album of dead livestock from properties around the area to build a case for the existence of the large cats, which he believes are responsible for the strange stock deaths. The scale of predation on his and neighbouring properties has raised eyebrows in government departments, and prompted some investigation. In nearby Yarram, DSE employees filmed other strangely wounded livestock around the same period – cattle with their flanks raked by claws, their hides scarred.

So who, or what, was responsible for the carnage? And why have the experiences of three Victorian farmers been echoed all over the country? For almost 150 years, sightings of strange, cat-like creatures have been reported and documented across Australia. While predominantly described as resembling jet-black panthers or sandy-coloured pumas and lions, spotted and striped large cats have also been reported since white settlement.
In their wake they have left a trail of destruction. Mutilated cattle, sheep and family pets are a testament to the ruthless efficiency of these mystery predators, which occasionally leave behind large, felid-like prints that further tantalise and torment their trackers. Where do they come from? And how did they get here?

Australia has never had an indigenous cat species – unless you count one prehistoric marsupial cousin. Tens of thousands of years ago a deadly animal stalked the wilds of the Australian bush. Thylacoleo carnifex, “the flesh-eating pouched lion”, was christened in 1859 by respected paleontologist Professor Richard Owen, who declared it a carnivorous marsupial cat, a judgment that set him at odds with the paleontology establishment.

Sporting blade-like teeth, Thylacoleo measured 1.5m in length and weighed about 120kg. Its incredibly strong jaws and presumably feline stealth would have made it a formidable hunter during the Pleistocene era (about 1.6 million years ago). The creature became extinct about 40,000 years ago, leaving the Australian bush – and the nomadic Aboriginal tribes who inhabited the country at about the same time – relatively predator-free. But many wonder: did it truly die out?

Another strong contender in the debate is an animal that once ranged from the wilds of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea right across the Australian mainland down to Tasmania – the Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus). There are certainly some aspects of the witness descriptions that resonate with this species, now officially extinct. However, in the case of the so-called Queensland Tiger, the aboreal nature of this creature cited in many reports would appear to rule the Thylacinus out of contention – and if the sightings are to be given any credence at all, they may raise the spectre of an altogether new and hitherto unidentified marsupial species.

Call of the wild
There are a rash of other theories about what these big cats are, and how they might have got here. In 1788, the first British colonists set foot on Australian soil. These resourceful men, women and children quickly established themselves and introduced a range of animals once foreign to these shores, including rabbits, foxes and the first domestic – and soon-to-be-feral – cats. Could descendants of these small British cats (and perhaps those from Dutch shipwrecks) have morphed into the super-sized cats first spotted in the bush about 100 years later?

Fast-forward to 1876, and the mega circus of Cooper, Bailey & Co (precursor to the famous Barnum and Bailey’s Circus) comes to Australian shores. The dazzling spectacle toured NSW and Victoria and featured a swag of “alien” animals including jaguars, leopards, bears, tigers, hyenas, elephants, zebras, a hippopotamus, monkeys and camels. The presence of the large American circus with its extensive exotic menagerie no doubt inspired Australia’s St Leon circus to add big cats to its line-up in 1882 – the first travelling circus troupe in Australia to do so – enthralling audiences and becoming a major draw card. However, circuses were not without problems, including frequent crashes en route and careless handling, often resulting in escapes. Are the descendants of circus escapees living and breeding in the bush?

In the 1850s and 1860s, gold fever gripped the nation. Prospectors flocked from as far away as China and America to the Victorian and NSW goldfields in pursuit of instant wealth, some of them so intent on guarding their claims they often took extraordinary precautions – including, it is believed, chaining pumas to their diggings. Are relations of those gold-rush pumas on the loose in Australia’s wilderness?

The 1940s were a period of great disruption in Australia, with American servicemen thick on the ground. When they weren’t being dispatched to war zones or romancing Australian women in crowded dance halls, if folklore is to be believed it seems they were busy caring for exotic unit mascots – namely, “black panthers”. Did servicemen really keep wild cats as unit mascots? And if so, once they got their marching orders and realised they couldn’t take them into battle, did they release these same “panthers” into the wilderness rather than humanely put them down?

And, finally, we have the growing menace of feral cats in the Australian bush. Domestic cats quickly got their claws into this country, rapidly spreading and establishing themselves across the continent. But are they now changing, mutating and growing to sizes far larger than has previously been expected of Felis catus, the domestic house cat? Could an evolutionary quirk be responsible for the hundreds of big-cat sightings around Australia? Or might feral cats have crossed with Indonesian jungle cats from earlier Aboriginal-Indonesian interactions over thousands of years, creating genetically superior “monster cats” through hybrid vigour?

Whatever the origin, the sightings of large, cat-like animals appear to be on the rise in Australia’s western and eastern states. In Western Australia in the late 1970s the state government initiated an inquiry into spiralling reports of strange predation in the Cordering district; NSW has experienced a profusion of big-cat sightings in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury areas, so much so that the state government initiated two inquiries into the matter in 1999-2001 and 2008.

The wilderness of the Blue Mountains stretches over 1 million hectares. It is a vast landscape of sheer cliffs, swamps, rugged tablelands and deep, impenetrable valleys that harbour many secrets – including, in the Wollemi National Park, the recently rediscovered “living fossil”, the Wollemi Pine. It is not unreasonable to suggest that something more than ancient trees might be lurking within that rugged landscape, some parts of which have yet to be explored by man.

On the western side of the Blue Mountains lies the small coal-mining town of Lithgow. On the morning of May 9, 2001, residents Gail and Wayne Pound were at home getting ready to go to work. It was about 7am; Gail was getting dressed while Wayne was in the shower. Looking up, she spied a large feral cat in the scrub outside her bedroom window. However, it was the cat’s much larger feline companion that caused her to do a double-take.
“We were quite mesmerised,” she told Channel Nine’s A Current Affair.

Added Wayne: “I got the binoculars and had a good look at it. And I was still looking at it and all of a sudden it got up and I said, ‘No, hang on … that’s a giant cat’ and Gail yelled out, ‘That’s a leopard!’ I said, ‘No, hang on, that’s a panther!’”

Luckily for the Pounds they had a video camera handy and managed to capture evidence of the cats’ visitation, with a naked Wayne filming the feline pair for 15 minutes before the cats moved on. The footage caused a sensation after it was sold to Channel Nine, which broadcast the images nationwide.

Upon viewing the video, the NSW Department of Agriculture’s exotic animal expert, Bill Atkinson, lent further weight to the footage: “That’s a very big cat – I would say, by the size of it, it could be a panther.” Strangely, nobody thought to reshoot footage in the same location, from the same distance with the same zoom to provide a proper comparison and give some idea of scale. Another thing forgotten in the frenzy was that the video actually showed two cats – a large cat described as a “panther” and a smaller, domestic-looking cat. In the wild, a true big cat would likely eat its much smaller domesticated cousin.

Perhaps fittingly, given its suspected big-cat status, what happened next was nothing short of a circus. Amateur researchers and government employees descended on Lithgow to hunt for further evidence of the animal. Atkinson was the only one to conduct a conventional investigation by laying hair traps and examining scratch marks on an acacia tree and large droppings left nearby. Unfortunately, he came up empty-handed.

“The scratchings and ripped bark were about 1.5m high on the tree,” Atkinson said at the time. “It is hard to believe a possum could have done that.” Perhaps aware of how his remarks might be interpreted, he later qualified them in a statement to The Sydney Morning Herald: “[They] are interesting, considering where they are, but they may have been made with a blunt penknife.”

Pile of bones
The government investigation yielded nothing, but media coverage of the events in Lithgow triggered a wave of anecdotal reports from the public. The Pounds’ sighting was by no means the first for the tiny township, and most likely not the last. For the past 20 years, big cat reports have been something of a fixture in The Lithgow Mercury, according to editor Len Ashworth, who has recorded many of the yarns himself. He’s been with the newspaper more than 50 years, starting as a cadet reporter in 1956.

“I remember back when I was a young graded journalist I was at the police station one morning when a person who was travelling through town came in in a state of distress and said he and his family had been frightened by a strange animal on a section of the highway near South Bowenfels,” Ashworth recalls. “He said he had turned off into a sidetrack off the highway below the Hassans Walls escarpment to answer a call of nature. When he got out of the car he heard a loud, growling noise and saw a large, cat-like animal … That was about 40 years ago. The police went down there with him and he pointed out the area. The track led up to the vicinity of a small mining operation. The police noted a strange smell there and found a pile of animal bones.”

Police have logged their own sightings, with two officers relating how they nearly ran over large black cats the size of dogs in the early hours of the morning on local roads. Senior constable Paul Semmut remembers his sighting in August 2004 vividly. “It was on Scenic Hill, on Chifley Road, on the eastern side of the War Memorial [about 2am]. I was driving by myself and I almost ran over the thing, it was pretty close. It was about a metre long and had black, silky fur… the way it ran off it looked like a cat. My first reaction was it was a damn big cat.

“We have had call-outs in the same area – I’ve heard of three myself, mostly shift-workers coming home from work. It’s nothing of a police nature so we don’t really worry about it, there’s just the interest factor. If we did go out we would probably get in touch with the council ranger of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and report it. I’ve always been a real sceptic about these reports, but now I’m a believer.”

Back in Gippsland, the mystery of the slaughtered livestock remains unsolved. Big black and brown cats are still seen slipping between the shadows near roads and across paddocks. And animals are still dying in savage and unusual circumstances.

From Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers, by Michael Williams and Rebecca Lang (Strange Nation Publishing, $35). Website

*This extract first appeared in The Weekend Australian magazine on June 26, 2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Curiosity leads to cat book

Rebecca Lang and Michael Williams from Hazelbrook have two little cats whom they find interesting enough, but giant cats are what really tickles their fancy — and the intrigue that stems from the growing volume of sightings in the Australian bush.

The pair launched their self-published book, Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers, at Hawkesbury Regional Museum last Sunday. The sizeable book is packed with personal accounts of encounters with large cat-like creatures in all parts of Australia, supplemented by photographs which they hope will be enough to make even cynics purr with intrigue.

“A cat is the most perfect predator and these ones are giants,” said Mr Williams.

“The Department of Primary Industry to this day claim there is no evidence they exist here but their own reports including sightings and descriptions by staff points to clear evidence they do.”

Mr Williams claims to have seen a cheetah-like animal the size of a large German Shepherd near a waterhole in Maryborough, Victoria in the early 1990s.

After they attended a presentation about big cats at a conference in Sydney in 2001, the couple surrendered to their sense of curiosity and decided to collect as much archival evidence about big cats as they could.

“We had enough material to fill a wheelie bin, so as big as the book is we couldn’t put everything in it that we had,” said Ms Lang.

“The book concentrates on the documents that are quite compelling and it is grouped into geographical areas, including a chapter on the Blue Mountains and accounts by witnesses.”

A former editor of the Hawkesbury Gazette, Ms Lang said the mystery behind the presence of big cats in the bush always generated reader interest.

“I found any time we ran a story on anything about big cat sightings the response was phenomenal and the paper would sell out.

“Sightings of black and tanned panthers or leopard-like animals in the Blue Mountains go back almost 100 years.

“We’ve included a chapter about that with the assistance of local author Bruce Cameron who gave us access to environmentalist Myles Dunphy’s account of his sighting of a cheetah-like beast near the Katoomba-Jenolan Caves Track in 1912.

“You will always get your cynics and your believers but, you know, I think we all need a bit of mystery in our lives.”

Australian Big Cats is available to order at

It is also stocked at Hazelbrook Newsagency, The Turning Page and Megalong Books.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Do big cats exist in the Hills?

MIKE Williams doesn’t believe Australian big cats exist. He knows they do.

Williams and his partner Rebecca Lang have just published their book Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers and in it they not only ask such questions as: what are they? and where did they come from?.

They also seek answers in a revealing look into one of Australia’s greatest mysteries.

One of the stories featured in the book is that of Kenthurst’s Luke Walker’s encounter in March, 2003.

His experience will forever be etched in his mind and that of Hills residents, as the cat “the size of a labrador” leapt at him in the dark and left him with deep cuts to his arm.

Williams, a writer and photographer, said he was a sceptic about the big cats until he was asked to video a conference Lang, a journalist, was holding about the mysterious feline species in 2001.

“At the conference I saw a picture taken of a lioness around 1986/87 caught by police at Broken Hill,” he said.

“From then on I knew these cats existed.

“The whole subject is fascinating.

“It is very hard to hunt down a ‘big cat’ in Australia because they are smart animals, there is not much open bushland and we don’t have trained hounds. Especially in the back of Grose Vale, you can’t see more than 100m in front of you at times.”

Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers book took the pair eight years of research and interviews to complete and during that time their experiences and discoveries have been featured in various documentaries including the Discovery Channel Animal X.

Their work has also appeared in many magazines including Australian Shooter, Big Cat Yearbook 2007, the Centre for Fortean Zoology Yearbook 2009 and The Fortean Times Paranormal Handbook 2009.

You can pick-up a copy through their website at

Saturday, June 19, 2010

On the hunt for the big cat that refuses to die

June 20, 2010

Sun Herald, Sydney

Exotic feline or enduring phantom? Something big, something strange has been stalking the Blue Mountains for decades and it's back in the spotlight, Eamonn Duff reports.

PAUL CAUCHI and his girlfriend Naomi were in a celebratory mood.

The couple had just signed the paperwork for their new home near Mudgee but that's not why they will remember May 28, 2010.

''We were driving through Yarrawonga and Naomi saw it first,'' explained Mr Cauchi.

'''Look,' she said, 'Can you see that? … It's … it's a panther!'

''And the moment I saw it, I swore out loud in disbelief - because that's exactly what it was.''

The couple had ''a perfect seven- or eight-second view'' of the creature standing in front of them, outside a goat farm.

''I'd heard the stories but never believed a word of it,'' said Mr Cauchi. ''I've seen how big feral bush cats grow, but this was no feral cat. There is no mistaking, this was a panther. Now I'm thinking, how has this remained in doubt for so long?''

NSW Minister for Primary Industries Steve Whan said he had been made aware of four other possible sighting of the ''panther'' this year.

"The state government takes all reports of alleged black cat sightings seriously,'' Mr Whan said.

Rumours have circulated for decades about a colony of panther-like cats roaming Sydney's western fringes and beyond: from Lithgow to Mudgee and the Hawkesbury to the Hunter Valley. While witnesses are routinely ridiculed, a new book published today presents a compelling argument that the creatures are more than simply folklore.

Mike Williams, co-author of Australian Big Cats - An Unnatural History of Panthers, said: ''I cannot tell you with any certainty what species of cat this is but there is no doubting it is out there. It's an extremely large feline that does not appear to be native to Australia.''

Chris Coffey, of Grose Vale, a hamlet at the foot of the Blue Mountains, saw it twice in the late 1980s. Since then, proving its existence has become an obsession. She has collected more than 450 statements from tourists, bushwalkers and locals including a NSW police officer, a Qantas pilot and a retired magistrate.

Mrs Coffey said: ''National Parks and Wildlife know it exists, because their own staff have seen it. The NSW government is aware it's here because their own reports conclude that. [But] due to negative media coverage, the current public perception is that we're all a bunch of idiots.''

The case took a twist in 2001 when a freedom-of-information request unearthed a series of confidential government documents that proved wildlife authorities were so concerned about the big cat and the danger to humans, they commissioned an ''expert'' to catch it.

The three-day hunt later failed, but ecologist Johannes J. Bauer warned: ''Difficult as it seems to accept, the most likely explanation is the presence of a large, feline predator. In this area, [it is] most likely a leopard, less likely a jaguar.''

In the years that followed, sightings continued to pour in. In 2003, Hawkesbury Council released a detailed map of sightings and livestock attacks, pinpointing Grose Vale, Grose Wold, Londonderry, Yarramundi, Bowen Mountain, Kurrajong, East Kurrajong, Colo, Agnes Banks, Windsor Downs, Ebenezer, and the Macdonald Valley.

The state government commissioned a second study in 2008. Fuelling cover-up claims, an FOI request later revealed two versions of the report, the latter heavily edited for public consumption - and stripped of its final conclusion which stated: ''It seems more likely than not on available evidence that such animals do exist in NSW.''

But sceptics continue to dismiss the creature as an urban myth. To date, there remains no solid proof, not a single photo that demonstrates that the exotic big cat is real.

Mrs Coffey remains convinced that evidence will emerge sooner rather than later - based on witness accounts, the creature is increasingly being spotted out in the open, and closer to humans.

Mr Williams, meanwhile, looks to the day when an opportunity arises to pinpoint the creature's origin. ''If these things were just leopards, we'd be losing bushwalkers left, right and centre - so that leaves us with something else. It has taken large livestock over the years and the fear is that one day a child could end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.''

According to Mrs Coffey's database, there have been several close calls. In August 2008, Brianna Lloyd, 11, and Burgundie Cartan, 12, were holidaying at Wisemans Ferry. Disobeying family instructions, the girls set off exploring a remote section of the park, then came face to face with a large black cat that sprang down from a tree in front of them.

"We heard all this crunching and then a big black thing dropped out of the tree with something [a dead duck] in its mouth, so we ran … it was hunched down like it was going to jump at us," Brianna said of the incident.

"It made a horrible growling noise. It was bigger than a labrador - it was a really big cat."

Phantom or phenomenon

BLUE MOUNTAINS residents have long been accused of seeing things but they can draw some comfort in knowing they are not alone.

A search online reveals ''alien big cats'', as they are known in cryptozoology circles, have been reported running wild everywhere from Britain to Denmark, Finland to Luxembourg and Hawaii to New Zealand.

Photographs of phantom felines are usually grainy and scientists largely scoff, citing the lack of furry evidence and the improbability of there being enough large cats for them to keep breeding.

Pumas have been spotted roaming the Grampians in Victoria for years.

American servicemen are blamed for releasing cougars into the bush after bringing them to Australia as mascots during World War II.

A Deakin University study found that a big-cat population in the area was ''beyond reasonable doubt'' but sceptics maintain they are just feral moggies turned monstrous. In New Zealand, panther sightings have been on the increase since the late 1990s around Canterbury, near Ashburton, and in the nearby foothills of the Southern Alps.

If you believe the British, big cats have been prowling their countryside for decades. There's the Surrey Puma and the Fen Tiger. Devon and Somerset share the elusive Beast of Exmoor. Every year, Gloucestershire police are inundated with dozens of sightings in the Forest of Dean.

A black panther has been savaging livestock in Leicestershire and England's smallest county, Rutland, for decades. But perhaps the most famous British big cat of all is the elusive Beast of Bodmin Moor.

Like the elusive exotic example from the Blue Mountains - from which the NRL's Penrith Panthers takes its name - one long-held theory about British big cats is they were imported by private collectors or zoos, only to later escape.

The truth is out there.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cat Diaries plug our ABC book

Thank you to Bek from the Cat Diaries for plugging our book in her recent big cat article, which you can read here:

There are several theories as to how big cats may have come to live on Australian shores: the ‘marsupial lion’ that never really became extinct; zoo or circus escapees left behind; even that the lions that served as military mascots of the US army were never taken back to the States after they were stationed here during the WWII.

These theories, along with a lot of sightings, pictures and interviews are included in a book being released next week called Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers. Written by Michael Williams and Rebecca Lang, the book is available

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Australian Big Cats...the trailer!

A few teaser images from the forthcoming book, due out shortly...

Sunday, May 2, 2010