Wednesday, 12 January 2011

From the archives: The Northam Monster (1935)

THE NORTHAM MONSTER.
A Mystery of the Avon.
Bv N.LO.
J* ONSTERS have stalked the pages of history and tradition from the earliest times, and it is not necessary to consult Mr. H. G. Wells's 'Lost World'.
to find them in savagery unadorned. There was Medusa, the serpent-haired offspring of Phorcys, who turned every one gazing on her into stone, and in our own time the Dusseldorf Monster whose career was brought to an end by the German police after he had effected quite a considerable reduction in the female population, there were Bluebeard his prototype. 
Chimera, the fire-breathing monster whose talents, however, do not compare very favourably with those of the modern Indian fire-eaters; there were the Loch Ness Monster, Argus the hun dred-eyed, the s.ea monster discovered in April of this year near Narooma (New South Wales), Minotaur, the half bull and half man who was slain by Theseus, and the Rottnest Monster which despite the high hopes at first entertained re garding it, was finally pronounced to he ;he flesh and blubber of a whale. 
But in relation to all of these the Nor thern Monster stands on a plane of its own. Most of the ancient monsters came to violent ends or were turned into harmless creatures by the heroes or magicians who acted as policemen in those far-off times, and the modern monsters have failed to survive the on slaughts of public opinion as expressed through the law courts, or the investiga tions of interfering scientists anxious to find commonplace explanations for the most romantic things. 
But, as I have said, the Northam Monster was different. It came with the best of credentials, the attestation of a police officer, it remaind long enough to excite the wildest expectations, and it departed before it was found out and before the prying hands of inquisitive experts could be placed upon it, and a plausible explanation of its existence could be formulated.
If ever a monster deserved well of a disillusioned public it did. It did not excite great expectations and then ruthlessly wreck them. It did not display its partly decomposed carcass in blatant vulgarity, inviting the scrutiny of inquisitive scientists, as did the Rottnest Monster. Indeed if anything its actions indicated a retiring disposi tion. A Mysterious Swimmer.
On Saturday, January iz, 1929, a Mrs. Whitworth saw what she stated appeared to be an alligator reposing on a sand bank near a bridge spanning the Avon River at Northam, but whgn she reported the matter to her husband he ridiculed the idea. On the following day, however, the creature was again noticed by some youths and that night at the conclusion of a band concert which was held in a park by the side of the Avon River the Monster was seen swimming around a bridge. 
The young men who saw it waited in the vicinity until after midnight and then communicated with the police. Inspector G. Johnston, accompanied by a police constable, proceeded to the bridge to investigate. The electric lights of the town had by then been turned off, but they were switched on by the night ope rator, and by the light of an incandescent globe, Inspector Johnston stated, he clearly saw the Monster, which others who were present declared to be a shark. 
The discovery caused great excitement and bathers were warned, although the fact that many continued during succeed ing days to bathe hi the river without apparent fear, was a rather significant commentary. Early on Monday morning a constable, accompanied by the police black tracker Norman, patrolled the river when, however, no sign was seen of the Monster. 
Crowds thronged both shores of the river, and the bridges spanning it were packed on Monday night with sightseers. Many claimed that they saw the creature, and were prepared to de scribe it, but the general attitude did not encourage them. A large number of people, however, waited in the vicinity of one bridge until one o'clock on Tues day morning when Norman, the black tracker, saw what at first he stated was an alligator and later a 'big lizard.' In spector Johnston at that time was armed with a rifle, but he deemed it inadvis able to discharge it. 
On Tuesday-morning, however, the police were informed that the creature was to be seen partly out of the water on a bank. A constable was dispatched to the scene, and fired two shots at the alleged alligator, the second finding its mark. It was then discovered to be a log! The Last Glimpse. 
On Tuesday evening the Monster put in an appearance at a spot about 50 yards from the central bridge, where it caused a great sensation. A light was flashed on the river at the spot where it was believed the creature had splashed, whereupon it dived below the surface. 
That was the last that was ever seen of the Northam Monster. 
On Wednesday Constable Davis took a canoe and visited the various sandbanks and islands in the river, with out finding any trace of the intruder. When the matter was again referred to Inspector Johnston he denied that the creature was an alligator. 
Its back had guttered in the light like a silver surface, he insisted, and it was obviously some sort of fish. Mr. G. C. Jessup, an authority on the fish of the Avon River, suggested that the Monster might be a large Murray Cod. A number of these had been placed in the river 15 years previously, much to the chagrin of the then president of the Fish Acclimatisation Society who stated that they would feed upon every other type of fish in the river. 
Others suggested that the crea ture might be an alligator which had been brought from the North- West when it was a baby, and a reporter of the staff of a Bunbury newspaper alleged that the 'crafty townsmen' of Northam, like the landlord in Andreyev's play, had 'manu- factured' the Monster to increase the tourist traffic. He called upon the citizens of his own town to exhibit similar enter prise. 
A Publican in Pyjamas. Several attempts were made to capture the Monster, the most serious being that of a portly publican who, clad in py jamas and armed with a rifle, secreted himself near the bank of the Avon when most of the townspeople had retired for the night. 
He had not been there long before doubts as to the wisdom of his action began to assail him, and these were increased by youths who in passing did not hesitate to call him an old fool. 
'You're right, son.' said the publican mildly, and retired to his bed. 
The Monster is only a memory at Northam today. Possibly the creature was a shark, which by some means had found its way up the river during a flood period, or an alligator as some insisted, but whatever it was it preserved its secret.

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