I Knew Tarzan

A photo of a young Michael Formenko when he was living with Aborigines in Cape York. Australia.
Michael Formenko

This is not the guy in the movies, he was just an actor.

This Tarzan is a guy (Michael Formenko), who removed himself from mainstream life, made his home in the North Queensland (Australia), jungle, and lived what many would say was an aimless existence.

Others might call it an extraordinary life.

What makes a man who attended a prestigious public school in Sydney.

A champion athlete with State titles to his name, who was a more than good possiblity to represent Australia in the Decathlon at the 1956 Olympics, give it all away and live rough in the Australian wild?

I never knew him.

Quite possibly no one did.

I knew of him. In fact he had been roaming around Nth.Qld. for nearly 15 years before he came across my radar.

That may have been because he had been locked up in a series of mental institutions, and had been out of circulation for about 5 years.

Then one day some kid came to school telling some story he heard his parents discussing over dinner about Tarzan.

Many of us kids had either forgotten, or were not aware of him.

Over the next couple of days, there were all sorts of stories being told about this wild man who lived in the jungle.

Then one day, some kid came to school and told us he saw Tarzan on his way home from school the previous day.

Of course we would want to know all the important fascinating details.

“Did you talk to him.”

“Does he have long hair?”

“What was he wearing?”

Unfortunately the kid was in a bus and would have only caught a glimpse of him.

Sometimes if we were playing football or cricket at the showgrounds after school, and some kid came past and told us that Tarzan was near the servo on the highway (which ran straight beside our little town).

We would drop what we were doing, jump on our pushbikes race out of the showgrounds onto the main road then, over the bridge and railway line to the service station, to see if we could catch a glimpse of him.

We were always too late, he had already vanished.

Much of what we knew about him was often the cause for arguments.

Someone would be telling a story about him and someone would cry out…

“Thats bullshit!”

“No, its true my father told me”

Unless his father was considered a legend, no-one was going to believe him.

The trouble was, some of those legends we looked up to were some of the biggest bullshit artists around.

Some of Tarzans many feats are documented.

Michael Formenko in a dugout canoe

Paddling a dugout canoe 700klms from Cooktown (in Far Nth.Qld.), to Dutch New Guinea.

It took him nearly 2 years.

That decathlon endurance.

At one point he was nearly dying of starvation, before coming across some Aboriginals on a remote beach up on Cape York.

Then becoming “lost at sea” on his way back from New Guinea.

He was found on one of the Islands living with the Islanders.

No story about Northern Australia is complete without mentioning crocodiles.

Tarzan had crocodiles and wild boars on his menu.

Using spears and a machete to provide meals for himself.

Much of his time was spent further up the coast from Cairns.

Living with Aborigines, making dugout canoes, hunting crocodiles and wild pigs.

But also many of the stories involved him travelling long distances.

Walking or sometimes jogging.

The only times he wore a shirt when he was in a town area getting supplies. More often than not, it was a pair of shorts with a “sugar bag” slung across his shoulder, carrying his few possessions and some provisions.

An old school friend sitting with a much loved legend. 2016

Sometimes he would leave the rainforest areas and venture out to the western plains hundreds of kilometers away.

A truck driver we knew, who had picked Tarzan up out there on a few occasions, once asked him what he did for food out there?

Tarzan told him that he could always find fresh meat in the mornings along the roadside.

These days there are road side resturants called Road Kill.

The roadkill cafe sign in yellow, with the slogan you kill it we grill it.

Mental Institutions.

Apart from the eposide of being confined to a series of institutions (it was reported to be at the request of his mother actually), the police never bothered him.

Back then the institutions not only filled you big pharma’s products, but gave you electric shocks as well.

Whatever they did to him though, wasn’t enough to stop him going back to being what he was, and doing what he had always wanted.

It was like an unfinished business he had to attend to.

Maybe if he hadn’t gone through that ordeal his life would have evolved into other areas.

At one point he did mention he would like to become a doctor.

His experience with tropical remedies would have been benefical.

In his later years if he hadn’t been sighted for some time, someone would ask the police for information.

Unfortunately for them (after his prevoius experience with the law), at the first sign of anyone official, Tarzan would vanish… ghost like.

So all they could do is check with his few aqaintences, or businesses he visited on his trips to town for supplies.

Sometimes the local newspapers would also ask the question, publishing any replies they received.

Much like the Kurdaitcha man, there would be reports of him being sighted in different areas 100’s of kilometers apart from each other.

Painting of an aging Tarzan (Michael Formenko) with his sugar bag.

Hisd end came in August 2018 at a nursing home, not too far from a big strangler fig tree he had used as a shelter over many years of wanderings.



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Michael Dubhthaigh

Thanks for stopping by. I write straight off the top of my head and sometimes forget to edit. More about me here. https://bit.ly/3I8it7D