Michael Fomenko, at age 80, was still powering up and down the Bruce Highway.
Michael Fomenko, at age 80, was still powering up and down the Bruce Highway.

Tributes flow for beloved ‘Tarzan’

AN INCREDIBLE piece of Queensland history has come to an end with the death of Michael "Tarzan" Fomenko.

The wild man of the Far North died on Friday after spending his final months in aged care at the Babinda Multi Purpose Health Centre.

The 88-year-old's captivating life story has become part of the region's folklore.

It has it all - Russian royalty, athletic prowess, brushes with the law and a man choosing to live as a hermit battling crocodiles and the elements in the savage rainforest.

His sister Inessa Fomenko confirmed to the Cairns Post this morning that he had breathed his last breath.

"Michael Fomenko was a man to be remembered for his undying love for the Australian bush and his incredible courage in pursuit of his dreams," she said.

Tributes have started to flow the man often spotted trudging along the Bruce Hwy, bare-chested with a sugar sack slung over his shoulder.

Michael ‘Tarzan’ Fomenko, living north of Cairns.
Michael ‘Tarzan’ Fomenko, living north of Cairns.

Babinda resident Alan Kingston remembered first meeting Mr Fomenko about 50 years ago.

"I worked in the Babinda Sugar Mill for about six years," he explained.

"He'd have a billy that he wanted sugar in.

"I'd look at his billy and it would have grubby looking sugar in it.

"I'd wash it out with hot, boiling water and I'd make him a good billy full of sugar."

Mr Kingston recalled a leather-skinned young man in his physical prime making long journeys on foot with his trusty bag of supplies.

"He'd camp under the bridges - under the Mulgrave and Russell River bridge," he said.

Mr Fomenko's death will be sorely felt across the region.

"I kept promising myself I'd go up to the hospital and see if he recognised me," Mr Kingston said.

"I never did, and it's too late now."

Michael Fomenko was reportedly a descendant of Russian royalty.
Michael Fomenko was reportedly a descendant of Russian royalty.

Mr Fomenko earned his nickname for the way he lived his life, and the obvious parallels to Edgar Rice Burroughs' fictional character, Tarzan.

He was reportedly a descendant of Russian royalty - a point of contention among scholars - who fled to Australia and learned to shun society after being committed to psychiatric institutions.

He was a quiet and gentle man who would share his tucker with other travellers, but was equally reputed to wrestle crocodiles and giant boars with just his bare hands and a machete.

The tale of Tarzan has locked up in the public's imagination for decades, and separating fact from fantasy is a difficult task.

Michael Fomenko, known as Tarzan in Far North Queensland where he was discovered living in the wild, arrives under police escort at the Mayne Junction railway station.
Michael Fomenko, known as Tarzan in Far North Queensland where he was discovered living in the wild, arrives under police escort at the Mayne Junction railway station.

One thing everybody can agree upon is that he once paddled from the Daintree to West Papua, which was then Dutch New Guinea - no mean feat in a dugout canoe.

Peter Ryle, author of Michael "Tarzan" Fomenko, The Man Who Dared To Live His Own Exotic Dream, said he lived an "amazing" life despite some stories being unverifiable.

"I learnt most of the stories told about him either didn't happen the way they were said to have happened or … there's no way to know if it happened at all," he told the Cairns Post in 2016.

Cairns artist Mark Skelcher's painting of the Far North’s beloved Michael “Tarzan” Fomenko. He created the artwork in 2014.
Cairns artist Mark Skelcher's painting of the Far North’s beloved Michael “Tarzan” Fomenko. He created the artwork in 2014.

"He did paddle to West Papua, which was then Dutch New Guinea, from the Daintree … it's still a great story.

"I would contend that probably the only people who could emulate what he did, paddling that canoe, is someone trained up to SAS conditions."

Mr Fomenko moved back to Babinda earlier this year following a stint at the Cooinda Aged Care Centre in Gympie.

He was admitted to the Gympie nursing home in 2012 after falling ill while trying to walk to Sydney to visit his sister.

His transfer came after he continually asked staff to allow him to move back to the place he adored.

When a spot opened up in Gympie, he was finally able to return home.

The Cooinda Aged Care Centre at Gympie, where Michael Fomenko — aka FNQ's Tarzan — lived before he moved back to Babinda. PHOTO: DOMINIC GEIGER
The Cooinda Aged Care Centre at Gympie, where Michael Fomenko — aka FNQ's Tarzan — lived before he moved back to Babinda. PHOTO: DOMINIC GEIGER

TIMELINE

1930: Michael Fomenko is born in Georgia to former Princess Elizabeth Matchabelli and university lecturer Daniel Fomenko. The family lives in Georgia until the late '30s before moving to Japan.

1941: As war is on the horizon the family flees to Sydney.

1950s : Mr Fomenko is tipped to represent the Australian team in the decathlon at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, but instead he leaves the family home and moves to the Far North.

1964: Police arrest Mr Fomenko and he is committed to psychiatric institutions.

1969: Mr Fomenko returns to the wilds of Cape York.

1990: Mr Fomenko relocates near Babinda. He becomes a regular sight walking on the Bruce Highway.

2012: Mr Fomenko tries to walk to Sydney to reunite with his family. He falls ill and is taken to live at Cooinda Aged Care Centre in Gympie.

2016: Former Cairns Post journalist Dominic Geiger delivers Cairns residents' letters of support to Mr Fomenko in Gympie.

Early 2018: Mr Fomenko is relocated back to the Far North to live in Babinda.

August 17 2018: Mr Fomenko passes away in Babinda at age 88.

Michael Fomenko hits the road again after Cyclone Larry in 2006. Photo by Michael Watt
Michael Fomenko hits the road again after Cyclone Larry in 2006. Photo by Michael Watt

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN

MICHAEL Fomenko was known for many things in the Far North.

The average Cairns resident would say he was the old shirtless man, slightly stooped and with a sugar or potato sack hoisted over his shoulder shuffling along the highway between Babinda and Cairns. But to the people of Cape York, he was the young man who came and lived with the indigenous tribes and learned their way of life.

To the people of Papua New Guinea, he was the man who dug out his own canoe and paddled 600km in treacherous waters from Cooktown to Merauke and lived to tell the tale.

A young Michael Fomenko.
A young Michael Fomenko.

Mr Fomenko was the man who could kill a wild boar with a machete and would kick back with a can of Coca-Cola after the hunt. He was the man who Cairns residents penned letter after letter to when he became unable to walk.

But most of all, he was the man who captivated the attention of a town as he unashamedly lived a free life away from rules and regulations as the real-life Tarzan of the Far North.



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