PANTHER TALES

Is the truth out
there somewhere?

 A black shadow dropped down into the circle. It was Bagheera the black panther, inky black all over, but with the panther markings showing up in certain lights like the pattern of watered silk. Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody cared to cross his path, for he was as cunning as Tabaqui, as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down.

Rudyard Kipling; The Jungle Book.

 

The black panther is an incredibly reclusive animal.

You wouldn’t really expect to see one while walking around the Australian countryside.

They are not native to Australia, for a start.

But recorded sightings go back as far as 1880 from places such as Gippsland, the Blue Mountains, Lithgow, Mudgee, the Grampians, Frankston, Buderim, the Hawkesbury, the Hunter, Sydney’s North West, the NSW Great Dividing Range from Armidale to the Queensland border, the Gloucester Tops and many places in between.

There have been more than 1000 reported sightings of a “black panther” from pretty much every state of Australia.

Just how many panthers are around is unclear but there must have been many: black panthers have an average life span of about 12 years in the wild and 20 years in captivity. Female black panthers usually live longer.

Panthers live a solitary life. They meet only during mating season. After three months of pregnancy the female will give birth to two-four babies and will take care of them by herself.

The Australian “phantom panthers” have been blamed for the disappearance and death of many farm animals. Half eaten sheep carcasses have been found strung up high in tree branches (the panther is considered the strongest tree-climber in the world of big cats).

Legends vary but two common threads are that some – or many – escaped from a travelling circus or zoo or some – or many – were brought into the country by visiting American military people during R and R breaks and were either left here or escaped. There must have been at least two, of course, given the territory over which they have ranged.

A slightly more scientific possibility also has been raised; that they are a surviving relative – or relatives – of thylacoleo carnifex, once Australia’s largest marsupial carnivore. So maybe they could be native to Australia after all.

The website didyouknow-facts.com observed: Black panthers are really beautiful but rare. They are usually found in the thick forests of United States, UK and Australia.

Usually found?

That all may be hard to swallow because no one in Australia has ever captured one alive. Droppings and hairs thought to be from the elusive mysterious panthers have been anyalised and tested. None have returned positive results; the usual finding is that the material has come from wild dogs or feral cats.

And feral cats – overgrown ones – probably provide the most reasonable explanation, although it is a little odd that they all seem to be jet black.

By definition, a panther can be any of various big cats with black fur; most especially, the black-coated leopard of Asia and Africa; any big cat of the genus Panthera such as the black jaguar of the Americas; and a cougar that’s generally known as  the Florida panther.

So, they are big black cats. But do they roam the Australian countryside?

There are plenty of people who believe they do, yet tangible evidence is scarce.

Says Rex Gilroy writing for mysteriousaustralia.com: “In all my 30 years of investigations into the Australian panther mystery, I have not uncovered one authenticated case of a panther having escaped from an Australian circus or zoo and gone wild. Nor is there much substantiation to the other exaggerated story that cougars were liberated in various parts of Australia by American servicemen during World War 2. The Australian panther, like the still-living Thylacine, giant monitor lizard and Yowie, still evades capture and until one is available for scientific study, its actual identity will continue to remain unestablished. One thing, however, is certain. It cannot be a member of the feline family as no such animal is known from the Australian fossil record.”

The Northern Tablelands, Blue Mountains and Hunter and Hawkesbury Valleys of NSW seem to be popular haunts of the mysterious big black cat known as the panther.

There many are tales from the Great Dividing Range between Armidale and the Queensland border of the Emmaville Panther.

The Glen Innes Examiner newspaper reviewed the Emmaville Panther case that it had reported over the years. One of the earlier reports said: “It seems that this spate of panther sightings all began on June 20, 1958, with a 15-year-old boy, Donald Clifford who, while searching for lost horses spotted a large cat-like beast a mere ‘thirty paces ahead’ in rough country 18 miles from Emmaville. He ‘fled for his life’ and alerted a Mr McElroy who was mining in the vicinity. It just so happened that said miner had the previous day seen a carcass of a big kangaroo ‘ripped to shreds and its backbone torn out’. His jacket, which he’d left on the ground some distance away, has also been torn to pieces. On returning to the site, Mr McElroy and Donald’s father Mr Rex Clifford said the prints they found were the ‘size of a man’s hand, with claw marks prominent’.”

The article went on to say that earlier in the week, near Tenterfield, a little farther north, three different people had seen an animal they were sure was a black panther or puma crossing the Casino road. Those particular sightings were explained away by a Mr Gray who said it had been claimed a puma escaped from a circus in the Inverell area.

All this activity attracted interest from no lesser person than the chairman of the Taronga Zoo Trust, Sir Edward Hallstrom, who offered a reward for the capture, dead or alive of the animal; 1000 pounds if the animal proved to be an Australian marsupial cat or 500 pounds if it was an Indian panther.

That news was taken on board throughout the region. One farmer loaded up his shotgun and set off on his Ferguson tractor to look for the beast. He returned empty handed, as did all other would-be bounty hunters.

Needless to say, many locals dismissed reported sightings, attributing them to the possible “tired and emotional” state of the “witnesses”.

Some saw some levity in the situation.

Another Examiner report noted: “A member of the Emmaville golf club with an obvious wicked sense of humour decided enough was enough and posted the following in the Examiner with the weekend’s golf notes: “As a result of the recent ‘panther’ scare and the fact that our course is in the general direction of where it may have been seen, the following rule applies for weekend play – ‘A ball lying so close to a panther that the swing or stance is restricted, may be dropped two club lengths away (keeping the panther in the line of play to the hole). If the panther is accidently moved in so doing, it may be replaced without penalty’.”

Sightings of a panther in that area actually date back to 1902.

According to the Inverell Times , Harry Leader and his brother were camped on Horse Stealers Gully a few miles east of Keera in 1902. One night they heard a blood curdling roar and for a brief moment they saw an animal in the fire light. One of the brothers shot it. They then sent the slain animal to Sydney for tanning. The tanner informed them that it was a panther.

In Victoria, sightings were recorded as far back as 1907.

The Bendigo Advertiser reported on 21 January 1907: “On Thursday 17th inst when Misses Albeith and Irene Christensen were driving to Marooka through the Whipstick scrub, about 18 miles north of Bendigo, they had a novel experience. They saw an animal on top of a hill, but naturally thinking it was a fox did not at first take particular notice, but as the animal not heeding their approach came slowly down the hill opposite their vehicle and within a few yards, and then leisurely turned into the scrub, they could not fail to distinguish i9t as a fine specimen of a panther.” Another report of the same incident noted: “The young ladies lost no time in leaving the locality where such a dreaded animal roamed at large. They stated that it showed no sign of its savage nature. Its body was about 3ft in length and about 2ft or more in height.”

Such was panther fervour at one time, a non-sighting made headlines. One Victorian newspaper reported on 8 December 1937: “Panther not seen – Melbourne, Tuesday. A party of marchers last night were unable to locate the panther-like mystery animal at Mornington. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to lure the animal from its lair.”

Back up north, in 1958, politician Stan Wyatt saw a big black animal like a panther near Tenterfield. Others who sighted the animal around that time included reputable people such as the Rev Canon W. J. Pritchard of Guyra and Doctor R. S. Patterson of Glen Innes.

Mrs A. M. Potter and her son, Peter, saw one twice. The first time was near Bunzulla, a few miles outside Tenterfield in 1963 and in February 1968. Mrs Potter saw the panther walking quietly out of a creek 200 m from the house. She called her son, Peter and his wife, Cathy, and watched the cat through binoculars for some minutes. Peter described the animal as a large black cat about 5ft long and about 18 inches to 2ft high.

It was about this time it was reported that as many as 40 sheep were killed over one weekend and many other animals were reported to have been killed and claw marks were found on what remained of the carcases.

A little further south, another panther emerged.

In September 1964 two truck drivers carting gravel from Black Mountain, just south of Guyra, claimed to have seen a panther. A newspaper reported: “Mr Eric Douglas, from Armidale, said he and a friend got a good look at the animal. He said it was about 50 yards away, its body was about three feet long and its tail shaped like that of a wallaby – about 2 ft long.”

Two years later, there was another sighting near Guyra. In March 1966, a Caloundra (Qld) man said he saw a panther-like creature while he was driving north from Sydney. He told the local newspaper: “I was about 400 yards past a small bridge just north of Guyra – I think it was the Ryanda bridge. I looked up towards a hill beside the road and saw this thing that looked like a panther running towards some shrubs about 300 yards away. I am sure it was a big cat I saw. I rang the Guyra police and they told me people had been out hunting for the animal but had not been able to catch it.”

Back at Black Mountain again and in 2008 a Rotary District Governor was arriving at local couple’s house for an overnight stay. He said that as he drove into the house yard he saw a strange animal caught briefly by the car’s headlights before it sprinted away. He described the animal as jet black, around 500 mm high and 800 mm long with a tail about 400 mm long. It was noted that the Governor had not been drinking.

Blue Mountains (west of Sydney) panther sightings have been reported for more than a century.

Speculation about the Blue Mountains panther includes the oft repeated theory that it descended from either circus or zoo escapees, or is a descendant of a military mascot.

A doctor, dentist, solicitor, vicar and Qantas pilot all have claimed to have seen the Blue Mountains big cat. So have some Rural Fire Service volunteers and an officer from the Department of Agriculture. A NSW detective told a newspaper he watched the beast, from barely 50 metres away, for more than a minute. And he was convinced it was a black panther.

More recently, video footage showing a large black cat near Lithgow was examined by a group of zoo, museum, parks and agriculture staff, who concluded that it was a large domestic cat (2 to 3 times normal size).

There have been more than 460 sightings in the Hawkesbury since 2001, making that area the current big-cat-spotting champion of Australia.

Hawkesbury Council mayor Bart Bassett said: “There have been too many sightings by too many reputable people for it not to be true. We’re talking about a dentist, a retired magistrate and actual Department of Primary Industries staff.” he said.

Most of the Hawkesbury sightings centre on the Grose Valley, where there have been more than 64 sightings of a wild black cat. But is it a panther?

There have been plenty of sightings in the Hunter area, too, including at Minmi, Wallsend, Munmorah, Freemans Waterhole, Morisset, Swansea, Kurri Kurri, Cessnock, Singleton, the Watagan Mountains, Medowie and Stroud.

In 2002, a NSW government inquiry found it was ‘‘more likely than not’’ a colony of big cats was roaming Sydney’s outskirts and beyond.

But a 2009 Department of Primary Industries report concluded that “there is still nothing to conclusively say that a large black cat exists”.

An Australian “big cat” chaser in 2017 named Gympie as one of Queensland’s hotspots for big cat sightings.

Vaughan King, founder of the Australian Big Cat Research Group website pantherpeople.com said that while NSW and Victoria all recorded many sightings, “Gympie is up there Queensland-wide.”

Mr King, a former Australia Zoo big cat handler based at the Sunshine Coast, said a circus trainer admitted to him that some of his circus animals were lost in the Gympie region years ago during an accident.

“Asiatic leopards were brought into the country years ago for the zoo and circus industries,” Mr King said. “There’s been that many sightings over the last 100 years- it’s a phenomena. I’m trying to prove they do actually exist.”

There have been sightings in Tasmania, too.

Three mates exploring the Snowy Range west of Hobart in 1972 said that one Sunday morning they spotted a large, black furry cat-like animal near the edge of scrub not far from their camp. The animal quickly disappeared but the men said they later found large paw-prints embedded in soil.

Victoria has had its share of sightings, some quite recently.

Kalorama couple Tim Hurley, 25, and his girlfriend were driving on a bush track near the Maroondah Reservoir, heading to Mt Saint Leonard lookout in Melbourne’s outer east, when they saw two huge black cats one Sunday in 2016.

Mr Hurley said he saw the back of an animal with a long shiny black tail slip into the bush.

Sightings have been recorded over at least 60 years of cougars, panthers or pumas in a wide stretch of Victoria from Gippsland to the Otways, the Grampians, central Victoria and at Beechworth in the north-east.

In 2012 in Lancefield, Victoria, several sightings and photographs emerged of a big black cat roaming bush trails. One of the most credible sightings was by a zoo keeper who also took a photograph of the big cat, saying she wouldn’t have believed it either, but was convinced about what she saw.

Another panther appeared in Lancefield one night in 2015 – in the form of a statue. Cast in steel, the statue appeared mysteriously in the middle of the night. It was made by anonymous artist as a monument to all the rumoured local sightings of big black cats.

A Victorian Government report in 2012 said the existence of big cats in Victoria was unlikely, but some people still believed evidence of their presence would be found some day.

And that, too, is the hope of believers around the country.

The campaign for the right to vote

Suffragettes – 100 years
since their victory

London’s Parliament Square has 11 statues of famous men. They are statesmen and other notable people – Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Benjamin Disraeli, Sir Robert Peel and Nelson Mandela are some.

  

Churchill and Mandela are being joined in
London’s Parliament Square by Millicent Fawcett

There have been no statues of a woman. Until 2018, that is.

The latest statue to enter the square is that of Millicent Fawcett. Her arrival celebrates the 100th anniversary of the women of England being given the right to vote through the the 1918 Representation of the People Act.

The Act came about thanks to the women’s suffrage movement.

Millicent Fawcett started the move for women to have the vote in 1897 when she founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage.

  MILLICENT FAWCETT

She argued that if parliament made laws and if women had to obey those laws, then women should be part of the process of making those laws; she argued that as women had to pay taxes as men, they should have the same rights as men.

Progress was very slow. She believed in peaceful protest so there would be no argument to deny women the right to vote because of their bad behaviour.

But most men in Parliament believed women would not understand the workings of government and therefore should not have a role in the electoral process.

 Peaceful protest

Women grew increasingly impatient and in 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia. They were not prepared to wait patiently.

THE PANKHURSTS – Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia

The Union became better known as the Suffragettes, some of whom resorted to dramatic and severe action to get what they wanted.

The Suffragettes burned down churches (the Church of England opposed women having a vote); they vandalised Oxford Street; they chained themselves to Buckingham Palace as the Royal Family was also seen as opposing their demands; they hired out boats, sailed up the Thames and shouted abuse through loud hailers at Parliament as it sat. Others refused to pay their tax. Politicians were attacked as they went to work. Their homes were fire bombed. Golf courses were vandalised.

Such violent acts became a calling card of the Suffragettes.

When they went to jail they began hunger strikes. The government responded with what was known as the Cat and Mouse Act. When a Suffragette was sent to prison, it was assumed she would go on a hunger strike. The Cat and Mouse Act allowed the Suffragettes to go on a hunger strike and let them get weaker and weaker. Force feeding was not used and when the Suffragettes became very weak, they were released in the belief that their spirit (and health) had been broken.

More extreme action followed. The most dramatic moment came at the June 1913 Epsom Derby race meeting when Emily Wilding Davison threw herself under the King’s horse, Anmer, as it rounded Tattenham Corner. She was killed; the Suffragettes had their first martyr.

The Scene at Epsom in June 1913.

The agitation continued, interrupted eventually by World War 1.

In a show of patriotism, Emmeline Pankhurst directed Suffragettes to end the violence and support the war effort.

Their work to support the Government in the war was rewarded in1918, when parliament passed the Representation of the People Act.

England was not the first country to confer voting rights to women.

NZ led the way

On 19 September 1893 the governor of New Zealand, Lord Glasgow, signed an Electoral Act that made his country the first self-governing entity in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

In most other democracies women did not win the right to the vote until after the First World War.

New Zealand’s achievement was the result of years of work by suffrage campaigners, led by Kate Sheppard.

Kate Sheppard is honoured on the NZ 10 dollar note

In 1878, 1879 and 1887 bills or amendments extending the vote to women (or at least female ratepayers) had only narrowly failed to pass in Parliament.

Petitions followed. In 1891 more than 9,000 signatures were gathered, in 1892 almost 20,000, and finally in 1893 there were almost 32,000, just about a quarter of the adult European female population of New Zealand at the time.

The liquor industry, fearful that women would support growing demands for the prohibition of alcohol, lobbied sympathetic Members of Parliament and organised their own counter-petitions.

Despite extensive lobbying by such groups as the liquor industry, on 8 September 1893 the bill was passed by 20 votes to 18.

While New Zealand was the first self-governing country to give women voting rights; the first move is credited to the British dependency of the Isle of Man which in 1881 gave the right to vote to women who owned property.

Sixteen reasons

Some of the Australian colonies also moved promptly. South Australia followed the lead of New Zealand in 1894 and women were able to vote in the next election, held in 1895.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) of South Australia circulated a leaflet in September 1895 entitled “Sixteen Reasons for Supporting Women’s Suffrage”.

The arguments included:

  • Because Parliament should be a reflection of the wishes of the people.
  • Because a Government of the people, by the people, and for the people, should mean all the people and not one half.
  • Because most laws affect women as much as men.

The final point made on the leaflet was simple: “Because, to sum up all reasons in one – it is just.”

Women such as Rose Scott in Sydney, Henrietta Dugdale in Melbourne and Edith Cowan in Western Australia began to organise themselves and agitate. Their goal was the education of men and women about women’s rights and their right to vote, as well as effecting social and political change.

 EDITH COWAN

South Australia also permitted women to stand for election alongside men. In 1899 Western Australia enacted full women’s suffrage, enabling women to vote in the constitutional referendum of 31 July 1900 and the 1901 state and federal elections. In 1902 women in the remaining four colonies were given the right to vote, too. After the six Australian colonies formed the Commonwealth of Australia, women in Australia in 1902 became the first in the world permitted to stand for elections to their national parliament.

Discriminatory restrictions against Aboriginal people (including women) voting in national elections were not completely removed until 1962.

The Victorian parliament was in fact first to break ranks to give women the vote – but it was an accident, in 1863 when the Electoral Act 1863 (Vic) was passed.

“A novel sight”

It was by mistake that the phrase “all persons” was used to refer to people on the municipal voting rolls which then were based on property ownership. At the time, many women did own property and were therefore entitled to vote in local elections and, thanks to the new Electoral Act, state elections as well.

In the 1864 state elections some women dared to exercise that right under the new Act. The Argus newspaper commented: At one of the polling booths … a novel sight was witnessed. A coach filled with ladies drove up, and the fair occupants alighted and recorded their votes …
– 5 November 1864.

The Electoral Act was quickly amended (in 1865) on the grounds that it was not the original intention of the Act that women should obtain the vote, even though the phrase “all persons” was used.

The first European country to introduce women’s suffrage was the Grand Duchy of Finland, then part of the Russian Empire, which elected the world’s first women Members of Parliament in the 1907 parliamentary elections. Norway followed, granting full women’s suffrage in 1913.

Most independent countries enacted women’s suffrage in the interwar era, including Canada in 1917, Poland in 1918 and the United States in 1920.

Declaration

June 4 is a big day in the history of American women: it was on that day in 1919 that Congress passed the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed them the right to vote. The amendment was ratified on 18 August 1920.

In 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention, resolved to press for women’s suffrage.

During the 1850s, Susan B. Anthony became interested in women’s rights. In the early 1850s, she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Seneca Falls.

The Seneca Falls Convention drew up a “Declaration of Sentiments” and Stanton took the lead in proposing that women be granted the right to vote. She continued to write and lecture on women’s rights and other reforms. After meeting Anthony she became one of the leaders in promoting women’s rights.

 AMERICAN PROTEST

Though most countries of the world now allow women to vote, suffrage is not yet complete among sovereign states. Vatican City still holds out. Saudi Arabia was one of the last countries to come to the voting party, in 2015.

Sources: Smithsonian, history web sites, BBC, the British Library. National Archives.
Pictures: Wikimedia Commons.