Police are hunting a man over the attempted abduction of a nine-year-old boy at Wollongong's Botanic Garden yesterday afternoon.
The boy has told police the stranger twice attempted to entice him into bushes before grabbing him, covering his mouth and telling him "not to scream".
The boy and his six-year-old friend had been searching the gardens for lizards a short distance from their mothers about 12.20pm, Wollongong police Inspector Brian Wyver said.
The boys walked away from the man twice after he invited them into a bush area to see a red belly black snake.
Later, the boys took their search to a wooded area, where the man appeared a third time and seized the older boy, pushing him towards the bushes, the boy claims.
"The [older boy] states ... the male has then taken hold of [him] around the waist with one arm, covering his mouth with the other hand," Inspector Wyver said. "The male has told the [older boy] not to scream ... [he] has struggled with the male, temporarily freeing his mouth, and yelled at the [younger boy] to run for help."
The boy told police he then elbowed the man to win his freedom, and ran after his friend.
The pair raised the alarm with three adult strangers.
A Keiraville resident, at the park with two children, saw up to 12 police later flood the gardens as part of an investigation.
The resident said the activity caused some alarm in the park, which was mostly populated by families with children on picnics or using the play equipment.
"There was one (police officer), then there was two then there was 10," the resident said.
"As soon as (the police) left, everyone else left. There were whispers."
Police are treating the event as an attempted abduction after taking statements from the two boys and the adults they approached for help.
Insp Wyver said forensic officers were examining the boy's clothing for clues to the identity of the man, who was last seen running towards the Conservatorium of Music.
It is believed he wore a grey short-sleeved t-shirt with a white face printed on the front; white shorts - stopping just above the knee - a grey cap and dark-tinted glasses.
He carried a green Woolworths "enviro" shopping bag and is described as approximately 40 years old, 170cms tall, with a medium build and short, shaven grey hair.
Anyone with information should call CrimeStoppers - 1800 333 000.