The mythical Bunyip

The Aborigines Dreamtime stories of creation were full of fantastic and magical beasts; the Bunyip was one of the beasts. In Dreamtime the Bunyip was a spirit, which inhabited river, lakes, swamps, and billabongs (former parts of rivers that were left behind when the course of the river was altered).

Like other beasts in Dreamtime, the Bunyip was malevolent towards human beings. The Bunyip would defend it’s watery home from all who invaded it, normally devouring the invader. At night the Bunyip was said to go and prey upon women and children. Because the Bunyip was such a threat to the Aborigines of the time whenever its terrifying bellowing cry was heard Aborigines steered clear of any water sources.

To the Aborigines the Bunyip was a beast of many different shapes and sizes. Some Bunyips were covered in feathers; some even had scales like crocodiles. Common features in most Aboriginal drawings of Bunyips are a horse-like tail, flippers, and tusks like the ones found on walruses.

 

The settler‘s view of the Bunyip varies greatly from that of the Aborigines. Whereas the Dreamtime Bunyip was a fierce man-killer, the more modern view sees them are herbivorous grazing animals. The Aborigine’s fear of Bunyip can probably be traced back to a known aquatic man-killer, the saltwater crocodile. Settlers also report two different kinds of Bunyips. The more common of the two has a dog-like face and a long shaggy coat. The second and more rare of the Bunyips is the reported to have a long maned neck, as well as a shaggy coat. As to not create confusion between the two Bunyips; the common Bunyip will be called the Dog-faced Bunyip, and the rarer Bunyip will be called the Long-necked Bunyip.

The Dog-faced Bunyip is commonly thought to inhabit lakes and rivers in New South Wales, Victoria, and Australian Capital Territory. There have also been a few Dog-Faced Bunyip sightings on the off shore island state of Tasmania. Reports of the Long-necked Bunyip have only come from New South Wales. No mystery animals fitting the description of the Bunyip have come from Iran Jaya or Papua New Guinea.

Most sightings of the Bunyip occurred during the 19th century, with a few sighting in the past century. One morning in November 1821, E.S. Hall saw a Dog-faced Bunyip with jet-black hair in the marsh running into Lake Bathurst South, New South Wales.

In 1847 a young herdsmen saw a Long-necked Bunyip grazing while he was looking for some cows in a flooded area. A local settler, George Hobler, reported the young herdsman’s story to the Sydney Morning Herald. According to the report made Hobler:

“It was about as big as a six months’ old calf, of a dark brown colour, a long neck, and long pointed head; it had large ears which pricked up when it perceived him (the herdsmen); had a thick mane of hair from the head down the neck, and two large tusks. He turned to run away, and this creature equally alarmed ran off too, and from glance he took at it he describes it as having an awkward shambling gallop; the forequarters of the animal were very large in proportion to the hindquarters, and it had a large tail.”

He took two men to the place next morning to look for its track, which they described as broad and square, somewhat like what the spread hand of a man would make in soft muddy ground.

In 1852 a Dog-faced Bunyip was observed in Lake Tiberias, Tasmania. It was described as being 4 to 4˝ feet long, with a head like a bulldog and black shaggy fur. While rowing across Great Lake, Tasmania, Charles Headlam and a friend almost bumped into a Dog-faced Bunyip. They described it as being about the size of a fully-grown sheepdog, and having two small wing-like flippers. The Bunyip stayed at the top of the water until it swam out of view.

By Matthew J. Eaton

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