Sunday, July 17, 2016


Peter Ryle's book
On a list of subjects to be researched during a   too short visit to the Cairns Historical Society was Michael "Tarzan" Fomenko , who gave up city life  to  roam  about  Far North Queensland , living mainly in the open , building  canoes, one of which he  paddled  800kms from Cooktown  to  Dutch   New  Guinea . 

The  athletic  son  of  a  supposed "Russian Princess " and a  father who was a  master  at  Sydney Church of England Grammar School, Fomenko  received  much  media  attention,  dubbed The Wild White Man  of  North   Queensland .
By  Peter Simon
When I was a reporter on the Cairns  Post  in the  early l960s, a Sydney newspaper asked me to track down  Fomenko  and  write  an article about him .
 While I did not  find  Fomenko , I spoke to people who  had  seen  Tarzan , had hearsay anecdotes  , had seen him  from a  distance  getting about in  a loin cloth  with a knife  at his  hip,  a  bag over his shoulder  in which  he carried  sugar  cane he obtained  from the Babinda  sugar mill.  It was said   "wild looking " Fomenko once camped on a  beach to  which there  was   a  bus service that  he occasionally used , never  paying , the driver too scared to ask for money from  this  strange man   carrying  a   knife. 
A straight story I wrote as a result of my search  got a  run  in Sydney and  up came a   renowned  beat up  reporter  who  went to  Cooktown  and  then south to isolated  Cedar  Bay  resulting in an exclusive in which Tarzan Fomenko supposedly  gave  his last interview before forsaking civilisation forever  and   dashing  off  into the  wilds of Cape York  , scattering  tropical flowers  along the way. There was  even  a  photograph  purporting to show  him in the  jungle  when in fact it was  a   well  known  Cedar  Bay  identity  who was paid  to stumble  through  the  undergrowth  and  pretend  to  be Tarzan .

Cairns Post photographer John Ellison and I both  chortled  over and made  highly disparaging remarks about  Tarzan's bogus  last  interview  story ; John , a caring individual   who  along with his wife had been involved in helping Aboriginal communities , later  worked  for East West Airlines  in Tamworth, where he  committed suicide   in   his   photographic  darkroom . 
By sheer  good luck , when I called at the Cairns Historical Society in attendance  was a member ,  historian , Peter Ryle, of  Kuranda ,  who in February  this year   had  launched  the  above book, Michael " Tarzan" Fomenko  The  Man Who  Dared To  Live His  Own Exotic  Dream .
The  book  nearly did not eventuate . Author Ryle  details  how  Harold Jung ,  into body building and martial arts  , had  befriended   Fomenko  and  over 20 years  had  gathered a  wealth of  material-taped interviews , newspaper cuttings ,  radio reports ,  photographs ,  intending  to  write a book  about  him .
 Harold's parents, Bruno and Jutta Jung,  had owned a  cane farm  at Deeral , south of Cairns , where  Fomenko had  built  his  first canoe while   living on the banks  of  a  river.
Over the years, Harold Jung  called into the Cairns Historical Society in his  search for more  information   about  Fomenko  and came into  contact with Canadian Gil  Jennex who, after  retiring in  Darwin, where he had  worked in the education department  ,  got  the library  into  order  at  the  historical  society.
Jennex   said   the intention was that Jung   would  write   a  book about Fomenko ; chapters had been discussed and other  book writing related   aspects.  However,  Jung  developed cancer and  died .
His  brother , Ingram , later came to the historical society and discussed what could be done with  his  brother's  Fomenko  archive .   Jennex  directed  him  to  Peter  Ryle who,  after  working at  various jobs including with  the Queensland Railway, Queerah Meatworks , near Cairns ,  and 30  years as  a brickie , retired  and began studying  history and politics  at  James Cook University , Cairns.  He had  written several books on North Queensland ,  including the history of the Cairns Port Authority . His wife, Lorraine , typed  book   manuscripts  for  the late Northern Territory  and   Queensland   author  and   publisher , Glenville Pike .   
Ryle put  a  solid year into  double checking  the information , recontacting people interviewed  over  the years  , the  book   launched  at  the  German Club .
Fomenko  is  now  in  a  retirement  village  in  Gympie, Queensland.  Author Ryle can be contacted at