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Friday 2 January 2015

The Light on the Jungle Trail

     As I have said in the heading, if you keep your eyes and your mind open, you will find that the paranormal, the miraculous, the simply inexplicable, not only happen, but are not even uncommon. Anomalies turn up everywhere, even in bestsellers read by thousands of people.
     For example, many of us in southeast Queensland will have had pleasant memories of O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, set deep in the subtropical rainforest in the rugged mountainous terrain of the Lamington National Park. Back in 1937, the youngest of the O'Reilly brothers, Bernard O'Reilly became an instant celebrity due to an astonishing feat of bushcraft. A Stinson passenger aircraft had disappeared on a flight from Brisbane to Sydney. It was generally assumed that it had gone down somewhere near Sydney, but O'Reilly was convinced it had crashed in the Macpherson Ranges. Navigating by dead reckoning through dense, trackless, unmarked rainforest and over four mountain ridges, he discovered the crash and was able to lead a rescue party to the survivors. Repeatedly asked for his own version of the story, he wrote it down and appended a long account of his childhood in the Blue Mountains and the establishment, first of the dairy farms, and then of the guest house, by himself and his siblings. The result was Green Mountains, written in late 1940, before he went off to war. As I said, it has probably been read by thousands of people. I can hardly hope that this post will be so successful, but perhaps my readers will be more likely to take notice of the following instances.
     First of all, it must be understood that the O'Reilly establishment was (and still is) in the middle of nowhere, and in those days it was connected to the outside world by the Stockyard Creek track. Hacked out of the jungle by the elder brothers, unsurfaced and often deep in mud, it crawled along between the edge of a cliff and rainforest. The opening up of the jungle to light always means that the forest edge quickly becomes an impenetrable barrier of undergrowth - in this case, of stinging tree saplings and thorny vines. Nevertheless, members of the family often had to negotiate it at night. Also, it is important to know that they were familiar with the cries of all the common night birds and marsupials. Nevertheless, as Bernard describes in part 2, chapter 5:
There was another cry, too, late at night, from the jungle a mile away, a thin high wail, which none of us could identify, but which we have facetiously named the Stockyard Creek Banshee. Almost every time I have ridden the Stockyard Creek at night the "Banshee" has wailed from the far side of the gorge; it has never been heard by us anywhere else. Some suggest it might be the earthbound spirit of a black warrior - be that as it may, it is not the only uncanny thing about the gorge. [pp 148-9 of the undated Envirobook edition] 
     Well, animal noises at night can always be confusing, and no-one can say he knows them all. Just the same, it is worth recording.
     At the head of the gorge stood the Stockyard Creek depot: an iron roof without walls, with gigantic trees towering above it, and the floor of the gorge just fifty yards wide, with precipitous walls on either side. At this point, the route stretched impassable to all motorised vehicles, and both guests and luggage had to be transferred to horses. It also possessed a sinister atmosphere. Although he had spent upward of a thousand nights alone under the stars, mostly in jungle, this place produced, on both him and other members of the family,
a feeling that someone or something was behind you, a feeling which made you want to look over your shoulder, as you sat by the campfire.
     Well, that's the subjective impression, for what it was worth. However, it was with this background that his sister, Rose had the following experience one February night. She had taken a party of guests back to the train at Beaudesert, and now was returning with a single town youth, "an excitable, highly-strung chap." By the time they arrived at the depot it was night - and not just an ordinary night, but one beset by "a strong southeaster with black rolling clouds and misty rain, a night on which it would be difficult to see one's hand." They now hurried up the track, but paused at one point to allow the horses a rest. The youth, disturbed by the eerie atmosphere, looked over his shoulder, and cried out, "What's that light?"
Rose looked around; fifty yards back, where the track turned a corner, there was a bright orange glow which illuminated the falling rain. As they watched, it came around the corner of the track, a steady flame of light, about two candle power; it advanced for about four seconds, and then disappeared. Rose called out - no answer. The horses suddenly began to plunge and reef at their bits from fright. Rose called again "Hullo, who are you?" no answer. No bushman ever born would refuse to answer such a cheery call out on the wilds on such a night; Rose was curious, but not alarmed. "I am going back to see about this," she said, heading her horse down the dark track, but the horse reared up, swung around and dashed back to his mate before she could check him." [p 196, near the end of the book]
     She tried to turn the horse again, when the panic-stricken youth threatened to gallop back to the house alone. Reluctantly, she continued on her way. A week later, Bernard was bringing a group of visitors up at night, and Rose led a string of fourteen horses, single file down the cliff to meet them. However, when they reached the place where the incident had occurred, the normally stolid lead mare refused to go on. It took another twenty minutes of shouting and stone-throwing to make them move. This was repeated on several other occasions, including once when they were homeward bound. It was most unusual for horses to stop under such conditions.
     They did their best to think of a satisfactory explanation. Let's not forget the situation: rough, one-way trail, precipice on one side, impenetrable undergrowth on the other, pitch blackness, rain. This is hardly the place to find some wandering outsider with a mysterious orange light, who won't even answer when hailed. One might also suspect that, if there were a human hand behind the light, it might have been illuminated. O'Reilly also pointed out that the light appeared less than three feet from the ground, and that no pedestrian could have kept pace with their horses up that steep range. Furthermore, their horses were not scared of humans.
     As far as non-human agencies were concerned, the light was far brighter than any firefly or glow-worm, and inconsistent with their behaviour. There was no storm or electricity to produce ball lightning or any similar phenomenon. There was nothing which could have produced a will-o'-the-wisp. And, I might add, none of these should have affected the behaviour of the horses on later dates.
     Readers will no doubt be aware that mysterious lights of a similar nature have been reported all over the world. I don't think they are paranormal (well, not very), but simply a natural phenomenon we do not yet understand. At least this one wasn't as ominous as the Island Lights of Crusheen.

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