; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Monday, September 11, 2023

The BEAST of Tarpaulin Creek - WHAT WAS IT?

The Beast of Tarpaulin Creek

By Jon Wyatt

Did a rogue monster terrorize a district in northeast NSW, Australia, in the 1880s? If so, what was it?

In 1884 the monthly Illustrated Sydney News edited by Philip Holdsworth (1851–1902), published an original poem called ‘Tarpaulin Creek’ or ‘What Is It?’ by Duplex. The poet hailed from Bingera (today Bingara), NSW, 204 km (127 mi) southeast of the haunted creek area.

The Tarpaulin Creek is a meandering waterway that flows seasonally southwest from the Queensland-NSW border to the Boomi River; there is now a management dam at the head, so the monster’s cave “amid impassable rocks” may be submerged. The surrounding plains are rich grazing and farming land, and suitable for sheep--easy prey for the monster. The nearest town today is Boomi, NSW.

The opening verses ask what is it? There is wild speculation in the district, many believe it is a supernatural being; however, from the description in the poem, it was a Yowie/Bigfoot.

The beast, we are told, resembles a man “a man he oft seems”, and it is huge with a frame like a “gnarled oak” and it can push over large trees. It has a dun or grey hairy chest, a clubfoot “his foot is turned backward” and an attitude “At the gleam of his eye all courage is gone”. It has in the past “vanquished... rifle”.

It mainly emerges at night when its loud vocalization “curdles the blood and stiffens the hair” and God help those who encounter it: Poor Jehu, a young coachman, has aged overnight; one of the “riflemen bold”, presumably a police trooper, has tearful flashbacks; and the road carrier, insomnia, and nightmares. The “bearded strong men”, likely prospectors, have wisely fled.

When the poem was published, critics labeled Duplex a liar and/or the witnesses drunks; however, the editor, a poet himself, told readers: “With the verse ‘What is it?’ we received the names of several influential residents of the district referred to, as collateral proof that there is something more than the semi-idiotic ravings occasioned.” So, there may have been truth behind it.

Certain words used may be unfamiliar: A hobgoblin is a wicked hearth spirit; lusus is a freak of nature; potheen is a traditional Irish liquor; dirk is a knife; Gorgon in Greek mythology a dreadful female creature; Bluebeard in French folklore a serial wife killer; bole a tree trunk; termagent a violent overbearing person; and Banshee in Irish mythology a female spirit who heralds the death of a family member, usually by loud wailings.

Is this verse a hoax or history? You be the judge.


A thing is reported on Tarpaulin Creek,
Most awesome, uncanny, it blanches the cheek;
Is it demon or brute? 'Tis matter of doubt —
Some call him a phantom, some beast out and out.

Believers in spectres, well versed in folk-lore
Say this is a common hob-goblin, no more;
But those who have seen, who have heard with their ears,
Assign a more animal cause for their fears.

Another Australian strange lusus is this,
Some aver, some make him the dead banned from bliss,
A ghost fratricidal, sore, stricken with guilt,
Who tells to the forest the blood he has spilt.

The sceptic, 'gainst both wage bantering war,
As rare samples of wits wool-gathering afar,
Each to him is but as a maundering Celt,
With potheen in his brain, or dirk in his belt.

But, jest on as he may, this Tarpaulin Creek
Is not a bad place the uncanny to seek,
For here an accord, both of women and men,
Has placed, at its head, this dire arch-outlaw's den.

Elsewhere, from a scrub that imprisons the light
At midnoon, he plunges gaunt into the night;
But here, not so far from meek pasturing flocks,
He dwells in a cave, 'mid impassable rocks.

The night is his portion, his kingdom, his home —
There he reigns, and appals whoever may come;
But the few who have seen him by the sun-ray
Pray that never again they meet such a day.

Ghoul, Gorgon, and Bluebeard, at various times,
Have each been the theme of sensational rhymes,
But not one of all supernatural three
Could prove a more dismal companion than he.

Weird dogs of the poets, the dragons of old,
But once look at him — seem not much over-bold;
Nay, the three-headed guard, in fable, of hell,
The classical legend scarce pictures more fell.

At the gleam of his eye all courage is gone,
His foot is turned backward, and his foot alone;
While, as to the grizzly dun hair an his breast,
'Twould scare the grim king of a cannibal feast.

Would you measure his strength, mark, through the bush glade,
The egress those sinewy arms have there made;
Scan the mighty free boles, once prone now supine,
Brief task for that hand as for child to count nine.

'Neath the clouded half-moon a man he oft seems,
But from no human throat come those eerie screams —
The roar of the man-eater, roused from his lair,
Just so curdles the blood and stiffens the hair.

The termagant, storming her husband quite deaf,
Quivers at that dread voice as quivers the leaf;
The hound, that would track fiercest men to the death,
Flies—like craven cur—from the grey adder's breath.

The night-coach, where road crosses creek, comes from town,
With passengers skilfully rocked up and down;
Poor Jehu, a young man some two years ago,
Now looks so quite altered, his years you can't know.

Not so many miles off are riflemen bold,
They shoot for high honour, they shun the base gold,
But the coolest, deadliest shot in the clan
Just touch on the thing—is no longer a man.

The carrier, by camp-fire beginning to dose,
Gets, only by fits, his much-needed repose;
Old Bloomer, the staunchest, most tried of the team,
Is off, quite a "flyer”; it can't be a dream.

And, most certain it is, that bearded strong men,
Who have met him but once won't meet him again;
They are wise—for, with frame like the gnarled oak stem,
He could treat, as mere playthings, a score like them.

Now read me the riddle, if read it you can,
What vanquishes thus rifle, horse, dog, and man;
Come, speak with discretion, and tell it to me—
This ogre of night! — is he brute or Banshee?

Source: Illustrated Sydney News, 2 August 1884,p14

Submitted by Jon Wyatt

NOTE: I would certainly welcome further information on this location and incident. Thanks. Lon



Have you had a sighting or encounter?
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