I’ve seen the Penrith Panther

IF you grew up in the outer fringes of Sydney or in the Blue Mountains, at some point you’ve likely heard the story of the Western Sydney Panther, or ‘the Lithgow Panther’, ‘the Richmond Panther’ or, well, you get the gist.

Like Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman, the creature is largely viewed as legend, mainly because, well, what would a big cat be doing completely removed from its native habitat, stalking around the Australian bush and remaining pretty much unseen?

There are a number of possible explanations;

Some suggest the fact that a big cat has been seen infrequently and over such a large area is indicative of aliens. It’s not hard to understand why people scoff and mock alleged witnesses when a theory like that comes to head.

Some suggest the Panther (or its predecessor) was released by visiting military, who had brought the animal to the country as their mascot and then couldn’t be bothered taking it home.

One of the more popular theories is that it was an escapee from the now defunct ‘Bullen’s Animal World’ and ‘African Lions Safari’ that used to exist in Wallacia – right in the heart of the area in which the animal has most commonly been seen. The parks closed in 1986 and 1991 respectively but still housed the large animals afterwards, and a herd of lionesses even escaped in 1995.

Then there’s the belief that the alleged ‘Panther’ is just a HUGE feral cat – the byproduct of decades of breeding and aggression, perfectly evolved to live in such a vast and densely overgrown setting.

Last but not least are the large majority of people who simply think the whole thing is bullshit. All the theories are out there and easily finable on Google, but ultimately, despite dismissal and speculation, there have been over 600 sightings of the cat over the past two decades.

Actually, make that 601 – because it might surprise you to know that I HAVE SEEN THE PANTHER.

I have a pretty bad memory at the best of times, but I’ll never forget the evening in question. Some of the finer details? Maybe. But they’re not particularly relevant – I hope.

While I can’t even remember the exact year, I remember the car we were in and that helps narrow it down to some time between 2003 and 2005. I was accompanied by one Dean Gallagher and – according to him, though I don’t remember – one Shane Dwyer.

Now, unfortunately for my own credibility, at this point I must preface that we used to smoke a lot of marijuana. I don’t believe that said fact has anything to do with what I did or didn’t see, but it does explain what myself and two friends were doing out in the middle of nowhere at the time in question.

Given our similar living circumstances (read: with family), we’d often get together and go on what we dubbed ‘stoner adventures’ – we’d get in a car and go somewhere remote to smoke weed since we couldn’t do it at home. We had a number of places in the local area that we’d frequent, sitting in the car in the dark and passing the bong between us. As glamorous as it sounds, those were some great times.

It was one of these adventures that took us to a place we’d all been before, out in Orchard Hills, near Penrith. If you were to visit during the day you’d see the area as a vast, open space full of agricultural land, primarily used for livestock and by people who are waiting for a million-dollar offer from property developers. There isn’t much out there, the houses are widely spaced and the population density is low.

The place we would typically go offered a sprawling view of the area, but there was also a side street that offered camouflage and, in the dark, inform you of someone (read: the Po-po) coming towards you well before they knew you were there. It was a long dirt road that was surrounded by almost waist-high grass.

Now, no doubt because of the weed, I remember the finer details about as well as a slimy criminal or catholic priest on trial. I can’t even remember the street name because I was never the driver.

Had we smoked before we arrived? I’m just not sure. Had we already smoked at the spot? I can’t recall. Why did Dean have his pants off? No comment. One of two things happened, but either way the result was the same. Perhaps such ambiguity makes the story a little less captivating but I hope it has the added effect of sincerity

Either we had just pulled up to the spot and were about to turn the lights off – OR we had sat at the spot and smoked and were just about to leave.

What I remember is the lights suddenly shining (either by being turned on or because of the changing angle) on a HUGE pair of BIG, YELLOW EYES lurking in the grass. Behind those eyes was a hulking figure about as high as the car window that looked like a shadow, and it was literally no more than three feet from the front of the car.

By the time we’d finished uttering the words ‘WHAT THE FUCK?’ the eyes were gone. Not much longer and we were too.

Now your first thought is probably that it was some ‘drug-induced hallucination’ but weed doesn’t do that to you, and after conferring with one of the accompanying party who also saw it, I know it wasn’t just me. Don’t be stupid.

Then you might think “Panther? It was probably just a cow or some shit you idiots.” To this I would also respond in the negative, because on another stoner adventure we almost DID hit a cow that popped up in the middle of a road on a pitch-black night and the terrified, wide eyes looked entirely different, not to mention smaller.

Big eyes? Maybe it was an owl. No – no owl is that big, or lurking in the long grass. These eyes were yellow I tells’ya, and few creatures have eyes like that. It was definitely a giant cat.

This memory has stuck for a long time, which to me further highlights that it really happened. I have never seen it again, never gone looking for it and don’t really care, but the topic came up in a recent conversation so I thought I’d share the tale.

Can I say with 100% surety that it was the Penrith Panther? No. But 90% is good enough for me to believe. If you want to say that I’m wrong or full of shit, the burden falls to you to prove that the animal has never and could never have existed.

Until then, know that I have seen the Penrith Panther – and apart from writing stupid movie reviews and the occasional moronic opinion piece, I assure you that I am a rational, clear-thinking and even somewhat intelligent individual. Even when I smoke weed.

For the most part.

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