Long-time readers will recall the story of the ‘Ozenkadnook tiger’ photo, taken in 1964 by Rilla Martin in western Victoria, Australia, and passed off as an allegedly real photo of a striped mammal seen running through the bush. That one black and white photo – the original of which is now lost – is meant to show one of those ‘mainland thylacines’ so beloved of cryptozoological lore. I’ve covered the case at least twice here at Tet Zoo, most recently because I included a section on the photo in my book Hunting Monsters (Naish 2016). I apologise for covering it again. However, there’s been a development.. of sorts.

Rilla Martin, from a televised piece of interview footage included on an Australian news programme. Credit: Rebecca Lang

Here I want to avoid discussing the whole case once more (see the articles linked to here for much longer accounts) but… let me note that due to (1) the weird look of the beast in the photo, (2) the unlikely scenario in which Martin successfully photographed it (have you ever tried to photograph a running animal, from a car, while moving?), and (3) the impression from quirks of Martin’s body language that she was not being wholly honest in a televised interview… oh, not to mention (4) the probable fact that big striped marsupial carnivores likely did not exist in 1960s Victoria anyway… my conclusion in the book is that the case was most likely a hoax (Naish 2016). This comes off the back of years of speculation in which I’ve had several correspondents tell me how they can identify the animal therein as a real, living beast, perhaps even a modern thylacoleonid (see also Shuker 1989, Healy & Cropper 1994, Smith 1996, Williams & Lang 2010).

There are many ways of interpreting the creature in the Ozenkadnook tiger photo; at left is a drawing by Ethan Kocak (used with permission) showing one such interpretation. At right, an inverted version of the photo (also produced by Ethan). This seems to confirm that the creature does indeed have distinct 'eyelashes' as seen by some. Credit: Ethan Kocak

On Friday of last week – one day before I was due to talk about cryptozoology at the Oxford Literary Festival – an interesting article appeared in The Weekend Australian. Penned by Canberra-based columnist Jack the Insider, the article commemorates cartoonist and caricaturist Bill Leak, who died earlier in March. It says that Leak had “a fair degree for pranking”, and (in between discussions of numerous hilarious pranking tales) states that Bill, his father and a mate once “fashioned a thylacine shape out of cardboard, painted it up with the stripes roughly in the right places and armed with a box brownie, took a snap of their homemade Tassie Tiger in the scrub”. They were inspired by local sightings from the Goroke region of Victoria.

And thus a famous hoax photo was born, good enough to gain traction in the national and international news and “commence a hunt for the thylacine”. This level of interest was never intended, the article says, so the Leak family made alibis, hid the pretend thylacine in a shed and agreed never to speak of the incident. The cardboard model was later destroyed. So far so good, but where is the link to Rilla Martin?

The famous 1964 photo, attributed to Rilla Martin. The original is of unknown whereabouts and all we have are various prints and copies included in other works. Consequently no-one really knows who to attribute the image to.

I asked Jack the Insider: he surmised that Martin somehow agreed to take credit for the photo, but other details are as yet unclear. If there is truth to this particular hoax claim – personally I suspect there is – maybe more details will turn up in time. As always, we must remember not to accept confession-type stories all too easily (and thus be guilty of confirmation bias). But, there we are… I feel that are we are, indeed, edging towards the resolution and closure of this particular case.

For previous Tet Zoo articles on this case, see...



Refs - -

Healy, T. & Cropper, P. 1994. Out of the Shadows: Mystery Animals ofAustralia. Ironbark, Chippendale, Australia.

Naish, D. 2016. Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths. Arcturus, London.

Shuker, K. P. N. 1989. Mystery Cats of the World. Robert Hale, London.

Smith, M. 1996. Bunyips & Bigfoots: In Search of Australia’s Mystery Animals. Millennium Books, Alexandria, Australia.

Williams, M. & Lang, R. 2010. Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers. Strange Nation, Hazelbrook, NSW.