The Bulli Tiger Mystery


The ‘tiger’ [image digitally altered] on Bulli Pass. Bulli’s mysterious bush tiger caused much excitement, and generated plenty of stories both on southern highlands and around the Illawarra.


DURING the early part of the first half of last century, reports were circulating that a tiger was wandering the ruggered bushland on Bulli Mountain. Was it the famed extinct Tasmania Tiger, or thylacine, or perhaps an escaped big cat from a travelling circus or was it an exotic pet that had deserted its owner?

The mystery of the Bulli tiger was never solved, but there are a few theories.

The mystery begins in Marulan, on the NSW Southern Highlands in February 1903.

The Canyonleigh school teacher was riding on horseback, when six miles out of town he was attacked by what he described as a tiger. His horse was severely scratched, and the rider, although suffering shock, was unharmed.

John Field, a local settler, reported having seen the animal, supposed to be a tiger, the day before while out shooting.

He told the newspapers that the tiger was lying in the scrub, four miles from town. Search parties found tracks and several other sightings were reported.

One explanation was that the tiger was in fact a leopard. A person had supposedly brought a young leopard from South Africa, and went to stay with a friend in the Marulan district. He took his pet with him, but the latter escaped, and “amused itself by chasing peaceable citizens and otherwise harrowing the feelings of the people of Marulan”.

The Sydney Evening News reported the owner of the leopard, “with visions of a huge bill of expenses for ‘moral and intellectual damage’, is lying very low, and keeps on saying nothing. He hopes nobody ever saw him with the leopard in his possession, and is now studying the law on the subject. This is said to be the explanation of the Marulan Mystery”.    

The following month the Marulan sightings had stopped, with reports the tiger had made its way towards the coast, and the Illawarra region. The South Coast Times reported in April that the tiger was spotted near Lake Illawarra, “where he, she, or it was seen swimming across one of the creeks that run into the Lake”. The South Coast Times reported again on April 25:

It is stated on good authority that some of our mountain friends, including Mr. Robson, met what appeared to be in the dim moonlight, the Albion Park tiger on the Balgownie Heights, on last Saturday night, while returning home from our village. Needless to say they gave the tiger the benefit of the road.

Newspapers of the day had some fun with the reports, as did the sceptics who debunked the sightings.

The first mention of a the tiger in the Bulli district was a reported in the South Coast Times on June 13 1903 after a sighting near the fruit growing hamlet of Sherbrooke, on the Bulli Mountain.

Particulars of the Sherbrooke tiger incident are as follows :- Two young men were camped in the bush at Sherbrooke, not far from the main road, on Thursday night last week. About 9 o’clock, as they were playing a game of cards they heard a noise, and looking out, saw what appeared to be a huge monster, with striped belly and glaring eyes, on a log about 20 yards away.One of them fired a rifle at it, but the cartridge, unfortunately, was a blank one. Both then took refuge up trees, and stayed there till they were nearly perished with cold. It happens that a Thirroul resident owns a big dog of roving propensities, fairly answering the description of the tiger, and this anima lwas seen on the road, a few minutes after the monster appeared at the camp.

One of the men who scampered up the tree to escape the tiger was quick to defend his story. He wrote to the South Coast Times with his account of what he and his mates encountered.

‘J.’ Bulli, writes :- In the Sherbrooke correspondence in one of the recent issues of the South Coast Times appeared particulars of the Sherbrooke tiger. I being one of the young men referred to deem it my place to contradict some of the statements made there-in. For instance, it was stated that a few minutes after the time we saw the animal a large dog (which resembled a tiger) with roving propensities was seen on roadway. This statement is absolutely wrong, as the same animal prowled in the bush near the camp till two o’clock  in the morning. Secondly it was stated we camped close to the road, which is a mistake, as we are camped a quarter of a mile from the road. Lastily it was said a blank cartridge was discharged at the animal; this also is a mistake, as there were no cartridges in camp at the time.

There were the occasional sightings of the tiger over the following years, but no one was able to capture of kill the animal.

Six years later the tiger again made newspaper headlines. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Saturday March 27 1909:

Mr. A. J. Hill, bank manager, was driving home from Kiama early on Thursday evening when his horse stopped suddenly. The driver found it was confronted by an animal resembling a tiger in every respect, which stealthily and in a crouching position passed within a few feet of the vehicle, going towards Pioneer Creek. Some time previous the animal was reported to have been seen in Bulli Mountain.

The Kiama Independent reported in August 1909 that “the supposed tiger” in the Wollongong district was “causing much merriment”.

On Wednesday a numerously signed petition was presented to the Mayor of Wollongong to call a public meeting to devise means of capturing it, and to decide what will be done with the skin. The whole matter is generally treated as a joke.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2015

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