The Bunyip

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Area(s) Reported: Australia
Date(s) Reported: Timeless

Long before European settlers came to Australia, the native aborigines told tales of a large amphibious man-eating beast called the “bunyip.” Though many different aborigine groups across the continent professed their belief in the existence of this beast, their stories presented varying descriptions of what it looked like... perhaps because almost everyone who had supposedly seen a bunyip was eaten by it.

Bunyips were said to inhabit lagoons, water holes, and billabongs (watery pools left when rivers run dry)... they are not found in running waters, like rivers or creeks. The only evidence that a bunyip might be in the area was either a bunyip attack, or strange noises and bloodcurdling cries that could sometimes be heard coming from these watery habitats. Aborigines would avoid areas where these sounds came from, on the assumption that a bunyip had caught a victim to eat.

The bunyip might have remained a curious creature in aboriginal stories except that the Europeans who later moved into the country believed that bunyips were been based on actual animals... so they started to look for them. One of the first Europeans to claim to see a bunyip was William Buckley, an escaped convict that lived with the aborigines from 1803 to 1835. All he ever saw of the creatures were their backs in waterways, which he described as “covered with feathers of a dusky-grey colour.” Buckley estimated that all of the different bunyips he saw were about the size of a full-grown calf. When alone, he made several attempts to spear one; but he knew his aborigine friends would likely kill him if they found out he’d tried.

Physical Evidence?

In 1847, a strange skull was found on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River in New South Wales; aborigines identified it as a bunyip skull. At first it was believed to belong to an unknown species of animal, so it was put on display in the Australian Museum for two days as a “bunyip skull.” It was soon determined that the skull was actually that of a deformed foal, and, therefore, not evidence of an unknown species... but by then 'bunyips' had caught the attention of the public.

For the rest of the 19th century, many people wrote to Australian newspapers claiming to have seen a bunyip... and the descriptions given were almost always different. The problem was that with no set description of the bunyip to begin with, any strange thing in or near water was being labeled as a “bunyip.”

Bunyips?

From the various reports, however, two particular descriptions were repeated more than any others; and many people now believe that these two “bunyips” are actual unknown animals. One is described as a black shaggy beast with a bulldog-like head. The other is described as hairy, the size of a calf, with a long neck with a mane of hair running down it, a pointed head, and two long ears that prick up when surprised. Some people feel these “bunyip” reports are simply confused sightings of emus, kangaroos, and crocodiles (among other creatures). Another theory is that people are seeing an unknown type of black shaggy seal that occasionally swims far inland, sometimes getting trapped in land-locked ponds and billabongs as waterways dry up.

Strange noises in waterways are still associated with bunyips, though the creatures are now considered more of a tall tale; and mothers have been known to use stories of a child-eating bunyip to scare little ones away from playing in the wilds. So, despite the lack of physical evidence, the bunyip has become a well-known monster. It’s not surprising that the Australian phrase “why chase the bunyip?” has become a proverb meaning “why pursue an impossible task?”

Too Many!

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Sources

  • "The Bunyip," by Mrs. Campbell Praed, article in London Society, October 1887. pg. 416-423. Online: Click here!
  • "Bunyips," under the National Library of Australia, 2008 website. Online [Old Location!]: Click here! - [Archived Location]: Click here!
  • "Bunyips," under the Paracrypt website, 2008 website. Online: Click here!
  • "Large Aquatic Animals," by C. Gould, article in the Monthly Notices of Papers and Proceeding of the Royal Society of Tasmania for 1870, 1871 Mercury Steam Press Office, Tasmania, Australia. pgs. 32-38. Online: Click here!
  • The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, by John Morgan, 1852 Archibald MacDougall, Tasmania, Australia. pgs. 48, 108-109. Online: Click here!
  • "Mystery Animals of Australia," by Gilbert Whitley, article in the Australian Museum Magazine, Vol. VII, No. 4, March/May 1940. Pg. 133-136. PDF download from the Australian Museum: Click here!
  • "On the 'Bunyip' of Australia Felix," by Ronald C. Gunn, article in The Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science, January, 1847. pgs. 147-149. Online: Click here!
  • "Queer Beasts of the Bush: The Legend of the Bunyip," by J.C. LeSouef, article in The Argus, August 13, 1932, Melbourne, Australia. Online at the Crytomundo website: Click here!

Just Images

  • "Bertie the Bunyip," article in the TV Party website, 2010. Online: Click here!
  • The Cryto-Web: Photo Gallery, by Andrew D. Gable, 2010 website. Online [preserved in the Wayback Archives]: Click here!

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