|Strachan McQuade R.I.P.|
McQuade: This week I’m hanging around the Sydney Opera House, a magnificent structure named after Scotland’s No 1 opera singer and line-dancing icon, Sydney Devine, which is as flimsy a connection as any to introduce another divine vision in the shape of Australian writer, Rebecca Lang. (Editor – Stop it, McQuade. You’re just embarrassing yourself) Now, Ms Lang, correct me if I’m wrong, but your name does have very strong Scottish connotations. It even appears in a famous Scottish saying, ‘Lang May Your Lum Reek.’ For the benefit of non Scots I should point out that the English translation of this is literally, ‘Long May Your Chimney Smoke.’ No idea how this ties in with my preliminary rambling. I should probably have quit after my clever and complimentary Devine/Divine allusion. But tell us anyway, do you have Scottish blood in you? And if so, please do spill the beans if you have any notorious Celtic ancestors in your family tree such as cannibals, grave robbers, or erm….. witches. That’s a prompt you know.
Lang: Yes Strachan, I do! My Dad’s side of the family comes from Scotland – they emigrated in the 1800s during the gold rush, and liked it so much they stayed here.
We do seem to have a few characters in the family tree – colourful folklorist Andrew Lang, colonial novelist John Lang, newspaper editor, republican and Presbyterian Reverend John Dunmore Lang, and a wrongly tried, hung and burnt ‘witch’, Margaret Lang, whose only crime was being a midwife. Of course she is slightly notorious for admitting to a little tryst with the Devil as she stood on the scaffold with the noose about her neck, but she did maintain her (overall) innocence. Sadly she ran out of time and didn’t quite get to squeeze in a good curse before the hangman’s dance!
McQuade: Sounds like most women I’ve known. Blethering on for ages about all sorts of inconsequential rubbish and then run out of time when it comes to the important bit. You and Mike Willams published a book called ‘Australian Big Cats’- a subject, which being honest, isn’t half as exotic as my book on the Fulvous Whistling Duck. Big cats are probably very common in Australia with well-meaning owners overfeeding their feline pets too many tins of Whiskas I expect. So what’s special about these Big Cats? Can they levitate? By Jove, that would a useful talent for an overweight cat. It would save all sorts of wear and tear on their overburdened joints. But, despite saying all that, I’ll suspend my judgement and let you explain what the book was about. Commence, while I nibble on this delicious Vegemite sandwich.
Lang: Don’t choke on that sandwich Strachan! In my neck of the woods we only use Vegemite for extra-strength curries and axle grease.
Now, to the cats. Well I guess you could say they’re special because they’re not supposed to be in Australia and yet they have been seen all over Australia for decades. Most intriguingly, people aren’t just seeing black leopards or jaguars (black cats generically referred to as ‘panthers’) they’re also seeing sandy-coloured North American cougars!
Mike and I published Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers in 2010, which was the first time anyone had seriously reviewed in-depth all of the cases on record. We even tracked down and investigated a few of our own, and in the process of writing the book over an eight-year period, amassed a huge library of photographs, video clips and witness testimonies, as well as 150 years’ worth of newspaper clippings!
Strachan, you can read an extract of Australian Big Cats here (leave your tenner at the door): http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/big-cats-prowl-the-bush/story-e6frg8h6-1225883808451
So, convinced yet?
McQuade: Nope. And please don’t ask me questions while I’m eating. It gives me terrible heartburn not to mention a burning anal itch.
Lang: Ironically, in the past 30 years there has been something like four government enquiries in different states in Australia into the existence of big cats, all with a similar outcome – and yet people keep reporting credible sightings, some highly reputable including vets, academics, zoologists, big game hunters, zoo workers, farmers, and Dept of Agriculture employees. Mind-boggling!
We have since re-published the 1970s classic Savage Shadow: The Search for the Australian Cougar by David O’Reilly in 2011, writing the foreword for the book. That story is eerily similar to our own experiences.
We’re now working on a couple of other cat-related projects, so clearly we are now completely obsessed with the whole thing!
McQuade: Well, I’d say you put your case forward most convincingly. Cougars, eh? Reminds me of when our church manse was over-run by very big rats. The Kirk beadle commented they were so enormous we’d need a mad-cap crazy cougar with a spectacularly large appetite to take care of them. Not realising he was speaking figuratively, I placed a small ad in my butcher’s shop window requesting the services of a mad-for-it, insatiable cougar. My late wife was furious when a mature lady with a very short skirt and a cleavage appeared at our front door demanding sex. Which brings me to my next question. Why, at a recent Fortean Times Conference in London, were you lecturing the audience about the disgusting adult pastime of having sex in an outdoor car-park with complete strangers. I have ears everywhere, you know. It’s because I keep leaving them on buses and trains.
There are two occupations in Australia that bear the name ‘dogger’ – people who hunt, shoot and poison feral/wild dogs on farms, and the ‘dogsbodies’ who clamber over dangerous scaffolding at great height on construction sites.
I was trying to recount the experiences of an Australian dogger in the bush who saw a giant pussy, which cause much hilarity among the British audience. (Editor – You don’t say?) I didn’t have the faintest idea what they were on about, and for their part they must have wondered what recreational sex had to do with big cat sightings! Well they bought some books anyway, so it wasn’t all a bust. (Editor – Take note, Rebecca - Bust is another sexually provocative word in this country)
McQuade: I’m so glad it was all a misunderstanding. Saves me the trouble of making a citizen’s arrest and reporting you to the authorities. In this case, probably the Kennel Club. But staying with the Fortean connection, you do have a special interest in all things Fortean. In fact I hear that recently you got involved in hunting down that almost mythical beast, the Black-Widowed-Koala-Bear. Long suspected to be the progeny of an accidental mating between a black widow spider and a koala, resulting in a cute-looking bear with eight legs and a lethal bite. I imagine it would be a popular replacement for turkey on holiday occasions as everyone would get a leg. Did you manage to track one down, spinning its web in a eucalyptus tree?
|Black Widowed Koala|
Lang: Oh, er…do you mean the Orang Pendek? I don't do marsupial spiders.
McQuade: Orang Pendeck, Black-Widowed-Koala, all that stuff sounds alike to me. Carry on, it’s bound to be codswallop anyway.
Lang: I joined an expedition to Sumatra in late 2011 to go searching for evidence of the fabled ‘short man of the forest’, the Orang pendek, literally ‘short man’ in Indonesian, which prompted some amusing exchanges in a country which is full of rather short people.
McQuade: Amusing exchanges are what I do. Never come across a decent Indonesian stand-up comic in my life. Or death, come to that.
Lang: People have been seeing the shy primate since Dutch colonisation, and it’s one cryptozoological mystery that many believe has a good chance of turning out to be the real deal! The Orang Pendek is described as having dark grey to red fur, broad shoulders, a huge chest and powerful arms.
You can read all about the beastie and our expedition in The Guardian here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2011/sep/09/orang-pendek-quest-sumatra
Sadly we didn’t find one, but we did take home some interesting plaster casts – but nothing absolutely definitive. We also caught up with some farmers who had seen the Orang pendek on their land – along with some hungry-looking leopards, tigers and giant pigs roaming among the tobacco plants and cinnamon trees. It’s not an easy life earning a quid in Indonesia as a farmer!
McQuade: By Jove. That’s amazing. Little monkey people. Who’d have thought? Actually there was this one time when our church steeple got an infestation of monkeys. The Kirk beadle said it would take a crate full of big fat bananas to tempt them out. If that oaf thought he could fool me twice and have me rushing off to the greengrocers to buy bananas, he was sadly mistaken. I simply hired a gamekeeper and had them all shot. Anyway, time is getting short and I’ve a bus to catch home, so tell me, Ms Lang. What’s the next big project for you?
Lang: I’m actually hard at work on a couple of fiction and non-fiction projects – some more cryptozoology themed books, a few short horror stories and a women’s fiction novel.
At the encouragement of my good friend Richard Freeman I have written some Fortean-themed horror stories for inclusion in a forthcoming anthology he is editing for the CFZ Press. I also have another title coming out with Strange Nation Publishing in 2013 and a couple of other joint publishing projects. It’s all systems go!
McQuade: By Jingo! Or should that be, By Dingo! It’s a fair dinkum cobber and any other similarly strangulated expressions of enthusiastic approval you Australians like to use. Many thanks to you, Ms Lang for taking time out from hunting strange creatures to speak with me. In return I’d like to present you with this rubber bath plug to stop the water swirling the wrong way down your drain. Widdershins, that’s anti-clockwise to you, is a certain sign of the devil and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to end up sharing the same fate as your wicked Satan-fixated ancestor, Margaret Lang. If your bath tub does eventually require emptying, simply use a bucket to bail out the excess water and pour it out the window. Right, here’s my bus. G’day to you Madam.