Sunday, 2 December 2012

Paranormal Investigators:Past & Present: Dr. David Waldron

Snarls from the Tea TreeDr David Waldron

It's with great pleasure that I am able to present to you a brief interview with an Australian based Cryptozoologist and historian, Dr David Waldron

I asked Dr Waldron what sparked his interest in Cryptozoology and the paranormal?
Dr Waldron: “ I have always had a curiosity about that sort of thing since I was very young, both in history and fiction. Later I found that as these areas were culturally fringe, in terms of respectability, they were a gold mine of new research materials and data for folklore and historical studies which were incredibly culturally pervasive yet almost completely unstudied.”

Allen: “Dr Waldron, have you had any experiences, or sightings, involving animals that fall in the realm of cryptozoology?”
Dr Waldron: “About 10 years ago I was driving from Geelong through to Ballan via Anakie where I was sure I had a big black cat run out on the road in front of me. Now it was late at night, so prone to hypnogogic states, I was tired, and it was in the headlights for a few seconds but it convinced that irrespective of the empirical reality of the phenomena, people were legitimately having that experience. This is what led me to my current project on the folklore and history of Big Cats in Victoria and South Australia.
In my adolescence, I used to go camping out a lot at night and saw a few examples of odd phenomena in the sky. Once again, I can't speak to what they were, but definitely intrigued me to learn more about the factors which shape how people interpret these experiences.”

Allen: “Why did you become an investigator/ researcher?”
Dr Waldron: “Well it was a flow on from my academic studies. My undergraduate degree was in international relations and philosophy and my honour's thesis was on a history of Free market economic theory in South Korea, Ghana and Mexico. During that time I was interested in post-colonial theory and how it shapes representations of formerly colonised peoples and I saw parallels with how the Pagan movement, in which I had many friends, represented the pre-industrial past. This led to my PhD thesis and later book 'Sign of the Witch: Modernity and the Pagan Revival". After that, I was looking for new projects to research and my parents happened to live in the town of Bungay on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk. After hearing a lot about the Black Dog of Bungay I decided I couldn't let a story like that slide by unstudied and so co-wrote a book with the curator of the Bungay museum, Chris Reeve, on the history of that story and phenomena entitled 'Shock! the Black Dog of Bungay: A Case Study in Local Folklore".
When this was complete the people in charge of research at the University of Ballarat strongly recommended I look at an Australian local field of research and I decided to look at South Eastern Australia's big cat folklore.
I had grown up with the stories from my childhood in Gippsland and I had the previously mentioned experience which led me to my current project 'Snarls from the tea-tree: A History of Victoria's big Cat Folklore" co-written with Simon Townsend.”

Allen: “Do you work with a team or solo on projects?”
Dr Waldron: ”I find it helps to work in pairs as you have someone to soundboard ideas with, test read your materials and bring new data to the table.
I always am very happy to co-operate with other researchers and share raw data as a collegial atmosphere is always a central part of advancing research.
Indeed, one of the odder things I found in cryptozoology is the tendency for people to get jealously defensive of the claims or possessive of their raw data. this hamstrings research and makes it personal when only open and frank debate and sharing of data will develop solid evidence. The number of times I have come across potentially fascinating data which
has been made worthless through interpersonal conflicts and people being jealous of their raw data is quite extraordinary in cryptozoology. In response to this, I put all my Big Cat news clippings, Victorian Government documentation, print casts and so on available for public access at the University of Ballarat Library Geoffrey Blainey Collections.
I hope that by leading by example I can encourage a more co-operative and collegial atmosphere in sharing data and being open about claims and evidence. I have also donated all royalties to "Snarls from the tea-Tree" to a fund held by Big Cats Victoria to pay for DNA analysis of stock kills. Likewise, I donated all royalties from 'Shock! the lack Dog of Bungay" to the Bungay Museum.”

Allen: “What is your main interest of study?”
Dr Waldron: ”What really interests me is the development of folklore over time in relation to social, cultural, environmental and political factors over time.”

Allen: “Have you written any books pertaining to the paranormal or cryptozoology?”
Dr Waldron: "Sign of the Witch: Modernity and the Pagan revival.", "Shock! the Black Dog of Bungay: A Case Study in Local Folklore" and just recently "Snarls from the Tea-Tree: Victoria’s big Cat Folklore."

Allen: “Which cryptid animal/beast/monster is your favourite and why?”
Dr Waldron: ”I really like the ghostly Black Dog mythology. Deeply pervasive myths with origins going back to antiquity.”

Allen: ”What is your favourite location to investigate, and why?”
Dr Waldron: ”Rural England. people are a delight to talk to and work with and there is a, in my view, much healthier approach to folklore and history surrounding paranormal claims, mythic creatures and cryptids. Because the stories are linked to national identity and heritage linked to a pre-industrial past there is not the intense anxiety about empirical truth but rather an ambiguous engagement tied to people's identity where what the story means is more important than if you can prove something to be scientifically true.”
Allen: ”Do you have any interesting stories related to an investigation or research you care to share?”
Dr Waldron: ”What I love in historical research are the little cultural cul de sacs such as looking for big Cats myths and coming across a Yowie panic around Mt Cole in the 1930s.
The little side stories of local history in late medieval England pertaining to daily life and those little glimpses you get into daily life in another era.”

Allen: “Has anything unexplainable or paranormal ever happened on an investigation that you wish to share?”
Dr Waldron: “Not really, or at least not in which I found other explanations later on. I did come across a lot of fascinating stories from sincere people but given that one cannot speak to someone else's experience they are hard to validate. I have seen some very bizarre stock kills attributed to big cats in local folklore including a horse once but this is not unexplainable just a matter of forensic analysis by a qualified veterinary scientist and some DNA analysis. Given in Australia's history we even have human agency duplicating the look of big cat kills to cover stock theft there are a wide variety of explanations including multiple predation, human agency and, of course Big Cats, especially given there have been known individual animals on the loose for some time as well as unidentified behaviours by known animals. Everything is explainable though, really, just a matter of time and research.”

Allen: “What do you consider the best evidence captured, or the best resource collected?”
Dr Waldron: “The Theodora Brown Archive at the University of Essex. It is a vast archive of folklore, paranormal stories, legends and myths about almost every aspect of British folklore you can imagine dating back into the 19th century. It chronicles almost every aspect of life and is all primary source materials. Just magic. I was planning this year to do a study of her collection and a biography but recent changes to University funding policy has made this impossible now.”

Allen: “Have you done any media appearances in relation to your work?”
Dr Waldron: “A little bit in relation to the Black Dog of Bungay project on UK T.V and print media and I did a few interviews in the US on the Witch book.
However, the Big Cat project has had extraordinary media interest with dozens of interviews with the Weekly Times, Herald Sun, Ballarat Courier, Hamilton Spectator, Geelong Advertiser etc and on Channel 7 news and ABC radio both locally and on the Statewide Drive program.
I also had a footballer called Shane Crawford turn up to the University of Ballarat doing a reality TV show sort of thing with another actor, as if he was taking this actor out big cat hunting.
In fact, the level of emotional anxiety and vitriol over the topic from both believer and sceptical quarters has just astounded me over a topic which, at the base level, is not really any different to feral pigs, goats, dogs or any one of a vast array of introduced animals.”

Dr Waldron's & Simon Townsend's Latest Book
 “Snarls from the Tea Tree: A History of Victoria's Big Cat Folklore”
 is available for purchase here:

The collection at the Geoffrey Blainey Research Centre, that Dr Waldron speak of above is available for public perusal here under the title of Australian Animal Folklore

I would like to thank Dr Waldron for his time in allowing me to interview him, and for his excellent and detailed answers.
Also many thanks to Jason of Apparition Technologies with his help in arranging this interview.

- Allen Tiller

© 2012 Eidolon Paranormal
written and researched by
Allen Tiller

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