Over recent months there have been many sightings of a black panther on walking tracks around the Otford area.
Since the pioneers were isolated on farming properties there have been many strange and unanswerable sounds and sightings of wild beasts roaming the escarpment above the Illawarra.
In about 1866, Benjamin Rixon caught a glimpse of what he thought was a gorilla. Another five years would pass before the gorilla was sighted again, this time by George Osborne, a well-known hotelier and undertaker, who at the time operated the Illawarra Hotel in Dapto.
This occurred during his travels around the isolated areas, collecting data for the 1871 census. He had just left Matthew Reen's property and was on his way to John Graham in Avondale when his horse became restless at the sight of a large animal climbing down a tree. George Osborne described what he had seen: "Height about five feet, slender proportioned, arms long, legs like a human being, only the feet being about 18 inches long, and shaped like an iguana, with long toes, the muscles of the arms and chest being well developed, the back of the head straight with the neck and body, but the front of the face projected forward with monkey features. Every particle of the body except the feet and face covered with black hair with a tan-coloured streak from the neck to the abdomen. While looking at me its eyes and mouth were in motion, after the fashion of a monkey. It walked quadruped fashion, but at every few paces it would turn around, and looked at me following it, supporting the body with the two legs and one arm while its other arm was placed across its hip. I also noticed that it had no tail."
Just two months later in June 1871, a news item mentioned that no one had seen the gorilla since although Mr Osborne may yet give an account of it and place it alongside the "Cordeaux Serpent".
Then in August 1877, a report appeared of the sighting of a gorilla further south at Kangaroo Ground. In this case an armed search party set out to locate the creature. Nothing was found. Another six years would pass before the gorilla was seen again, this time in January 1883 when it was sighted between the Mount Keira and Mount Kembla coal tunnels. Many of the residents in those areas had been catching a glimpse of the hairy creature. People became so terrified that schoolchildren stayed away from Mount Keira School.
The Cordeaux Serpent was first mentioned in the news in June 1871 when the gorilla story broke. Just five months later, the Illawarra Banner carried another story about the sighting of a serpent. This time it was Moses Driver, who was stripping bark from a tree near Mr Moran's when he heard a "whirring" noise. He turned to see a large serpent slither between the upright brushes placed to keep wallabies off the property. Warily, he moved back, and after the creature went back through the brushes, he went to look and all he found was a giant skin that had been left behind caught in the brush. He thought to himself that the snake he had seen must have been what the locals called "Andrew's Serpent".
In October 1908, the folk of Cordeaux were disturbed at night by the roars of a large animal. The residents who saw it declared that it was not a large dog, although it left very large footprints. The stories of this creature continued until mid-1909 when the South Australian Tantanoola Tiger's story re-emerged with the creature now being in Illawarra. It had attacked Dr Scott, knocking him senseless as he was leaving a patient's home at Mount Kembla. Just days later a Kembla Heights miner was frightened when he heard the howling noise and was also knocked to the ground. This time the newspapers claimed that the tiger, reported to be living in caves in the Cordeaux area, must have been a vegetarian as it had not attacked either man.
Throughout history there have been many sightings of strange creatures.
Information courtesy of Carol Herben OAM. Call 0409 832 854 or email firstname.lastname@example.org