Wemba-Wemba or Wergaia language of Aboriginal people of South-Eastern Australia. However, the bunyip appears to have formed part of traditional Aboriginal beliefs and stories throughout Australia, although its name varied according to tribal nomenclature. In his 2001 book, writer Robert Holden identified at least nine regional variations for the creature known as the bunyip across Aboriginal Australia. Various written accounts of bunyips were made by Europeans in the early and mid-19th century, as settlement spread across the country.
The word bunyip is usually translated by Aboriginal Australians today as "devil" or "evil spirit". However, this translation may not accurately represent the role of the bunyip in Aboriginal mythology or its possible origins before written accounts were made. Some modern sources allude to a linguistic connection between the bunyip and Bunjil, "a mythic 'Great Man' who made the mountains and rivers and man and all the animals." The word bunyip may not have appeared in print in English until the mid-1840s.
By the 1850s, bunyip had also become a "synonym for impostor, pretender, humbug and the like" in the broader Australian community. The term bunyip aristocracy was first coined in 1853 to describe Australians aspiring to be aristocrats. In the early 1990s, it was famously used by Prime Minister Paul Keating to describe members of the conservative Liberal Party of Australiaopposition.
The word bunyip can still be found in a number of Australian contexts, including place names such as the Bunyip River (which flows intoWesternport Bay in southern Victoria) and the town of Bunyip, Victoria.
Descriptions of bunyips vary widely. George French Angus may have collected a description of a bunyip in his account of a "water spirit" from the Moorundi people of theMurray River before 1847, stating it is "much dreaded by them… It inhabits the Murray; but…they have some difficulty describing it. Its most usual form…is said to be that of an enormous starfish." Robert Brough Smyth's Aborigines of Victoria of 1878 devoted ten pages to the bunyip, but concluded "in truth little is known among the blacks respecting its form, covering or habits; they appear to have been in such dread of it as to have been unable to take note of its characteristics." However, common features in many 19th-century newspaper accounts include a dog-like face, dark fur, ahorse-like tail, flippers, and walrus-like tusks or horns or a duck-like bill.
The Challicum bunyip, an outline image of a bunyip carved by Aborigines into the bank of Fiery Creek, near Ararat, Victoria, was first recorded by The Australasian newspaper in 1851. According to the report, the bunyip had been speared after killing an Aboriginal man. Antiquarian Reynell Johns claimed that until the mid-1850s, Aboriginal people made a "habit of visiting the place annually and retracing the outlines of the figure [of the bunyip] which is about 11 paces long and 4 paces in extreme breadth."
Non-Aboriginal Australians have made various attempts to understand and explain the origins of the bunyip as a physical entity over the past 150 years.
Writing in 1933, Charles Fenner suggested that it was likely that the "actual origin of the bunyip myth lies in the fact that from time to time seals have made their way up the ... Murray and Darling (Rivers)". He provided examples of seals found as far inland as Overland Corner, Loxton, and Conargo and reminded readers that "the smooth fur, prominent 'apricot' eyes and the bellowing cry are characteristic of the seal."
Another suggestion is that the bunyip may be a cultural memory of extinct Australian marsupials such as the Diprotodon orPalorchestes. This connection was first formally made by Dr George Bennett of the Australian Museum in 1871, but in the early 1990s, palaeontologist Pat Vickers-Rich and geologist Neil Archbold also cautiously suggested that Aboriginal legends "perhaps had stemmed from an acquaintance with prehistoric bones or even living prehistoric animals themselves ... When confronted with the remains of some of the now extinct Australian marsupials, Aborigines would often identify them as the bunyip."
Another connection to the bunyip is the shy Australasian bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus). During the breeding season, the male call of this marsh-dwelling bird is a "low pitched boom"; hence, it is occasionally called the "bunyip bird".
During the early settlement of Australia by Europeans, the notion that the bunyip was an actual unknown animal that awaited discovery became common. Early European settlers, unfamiliar with the sights and sounds of the island continent's peculiar fauna, regarded the bunyip as one more strange Australian animal and sometimes attributed unfamiliar animal calls or cries to it. It has also been suggested that 19th-century bunyip lore was reinforced by imported European memories, such as that of the Irish Púca.
A large number of bunyip sightings occurred during the 1840s and 1850s, particularly in the southeastern colonies of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, as European settlers extended their reach. The following is not an exhaustive list of accounts:
Hume find of 1818
One of the earliest accounts relating to a large unknown freshwater animal was in 1818,when Hamilton Hume and James Meehan found some large bones at Lake Bathurst in New South Wales. They did not call thumb|217pxthe animal a bunyip, but described the remains indicating the creature as very much like a hippopotamus or manatee. The Philosophical Society of Australasia later offered to reimburse Hume for any costs incurred in recovering a specimen of the unknown animal, but for various reasons, Hume did not return to the lake.
Wellington Caves fossils, 1830
More significant was the discovery of fossilised bones of "some quadruped much larger than the ox or buffalo" in the Wellington Caves in mid-1830 by bushman George Rankin and later by Thomas Mitchell. Sydney's ReverendJohn Dunmore Lang announced the find as "convincing proof of the deluge". However, it was British anatomist Sir Richard Owen who identified the fossils as the gigantic marsupials Nototherium and Diprotodon. At the same time, some settlers observed "all natives throughout these... districts have a tradition (of) a very large animal having at one time existed in the large creeks and rivers and by many it is said that such animals now exist."
First written use of the word bunyip, 1845
In July 1845, The Geelong Advertiser announced the discovery of fossils found near Geelong, under the headline "Wonderful Discovery of a new Animal". This was a continuation of a story on 'fossil remains' from the previous issue. The newspaper continued, "On the bone being shown to an intelligent black (sic), he at once recognised it as belonging to the bunyip, which he declared he had seen. On being requested to make a drawing of it, he did so without hesitation." The account noted a story of an Aboriginal woman being killed by a bunyip and the "most direct evidence of all" – that of a man named Mumbowran "who showed several deep wounds on his breast made by the claws of the animal". The account provided this description of the creature:
"The Bunyip, then, is represented as uniting the characteristics of a bird and of an alligator. It has a head resembling an emu, with a long bill, at the extremity of which is a transverse projection on each side, with serrated edges like the bone of the stingray. Its body and legs partake of the nature of the alligator. The hind legs are remarkably thick and strong, and the fore legs are much longer, but still of great strength. The extremities are furnished with long claws, but the blacks say its usual method of killing its prey is by hugging it to death. When in the water it swims like a frog, and when on shore it walks on its hind legs with its head erect, in which position it measures twelve or thirteen feet in height."
Shortly after this account appeared, it was repeated in other Australian newspapers. However, it appears to be the first use of the wordbunyip in a written publication.
The Australian Museum's bunyip of 1847
In January 1846, a peculiar skull was taken from the banks of Murrumbidgee River nearBalranald, New South Wales. Initial reports suggested that it was the skull of something unknown to science. The squatter who found it remarked, "all the natives to whom it was shown called [it] a bunyip". By July 1847, several experts had identified the skull as the deformed foetal skull of a foal or calf. At the same time, however, the so-called bunyip skull was put on display in the Australian Museum (Sydney) for two days. Visitors flocked to see it, and The Sydney Morning Herald said that it prompted many people to speak out about their "bunyip sightings". Reports of this discovery used the phrase 'Kine Pratie' as well as Bunyip and explorer William Hovell, who examined the skull, also called it a 'katen-pai'.
In March of that year 'a bunyip or an immense Platibus' (Platypus) was sighted 'sunning himself on the placid bosom of the Yarra, just opposite the Custom House' in Melbourne. 'Immeadiately a crowd gathered' and three men set off by boat 'to secure the stranger' who 'disappeared' when they were 'about a yard from him'.
William Buckley's account of bunyips, 1852
Another early written account is attributed to escaped convict William Buckley in his 1852 biography of thirty years living with theWathaurong people. His 1852 account records "in... Lake Moodewarri [now Lake Modewarre] as well as in most of the others inland...is a...very extraordinary amphibious animal, which the natives call Bunyip." Buckley's account suggests he saw such a creature on several occasions. He adds, "I could never see any part, except the back, which appeared to be covered with feathers of a dusky grey colour. It seemed to be about the size of a full grown calf... I could never learn from any of the natives that they had seen either the head or tail." Buckley also claimed the creature was common in the Barwon River and cites an example he heard of an Aboriginal woman being killed by one. He emphasized the bunyip was believed to have supernatural powers.
The word bunyip has been used in other Australian contexts, including The Bunyip newspaper as the banner of a local weekly newspaper published in the town of Gawler, South Australia. First published as a pamphlet by the Gawler Humbug Society in 1863, the name was chosen because "the Bunyip is the true type of Australian Humbug!" The word is also used in numerous other Australian contexts, including the House of the Gentle Bunyip in Clifton Hill, Victoria. There is also a coin-operated bunyip at Murray Bridge, South Australia, at Sturt Reserve on the town's riverfront.
Numerous tales of the bunyip in written literature appeared in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These included a story in Andrew Lang's The Brown Fairy Book (1904). The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek is a contemporary Australian children's picture book about a bunyip.
Alexander Bunyip, created by children's author and illustrator Michael Salmon, first appeared in print in The Monster That Ate Canberra in 1972, Alexander Bunyip went on to appear in many other books and a live-action television series, Alexander Bunyip's Billabong. A statue of Alexander was opened in front of the Gungahlin Library in 2011.
Bunyips appear in Naomi Novik's fantasy novel Tongues of Serpents., and in the short story Bunyip's Gift in Mind's Eye by Jackie French. It also makes an appearance as the primary threat to the treasure seekers in the Bengali novel called Chander Pahar byBibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay.
A character named Bruce Bunyip appears in the book The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater. He is initially described as "big and swarthy, and had tiny eyes, a scowl and his eyebrows grew together." Later, the character wails that his mother "says my father is a monster and I'm a monster too."
In the popular indie game Minecraft, on Australian English language choice, a "creeper" is changed to a Bunyip.
In the 2011 film Toomelah, one of the main characters, Linden, sings a song about a Bunyip.
The bunyip is a mythical creature — a lake monster — from Australian folklore; the word itself means “devil” or “spirit.” According to Aboriginal legend, the bloodthirsty bunyip inhabited swamps, riverbeds, billabongs (the stagnant backwaters of a river), and even wells, and lay in wait at night to devour any animal or person lurking nearby — although it was said to have a particular fondness for the sweet flesh of women and children.The legend also held that the bunyip was a very aggressive hairy animal with supernatural powers.
Not one to surprise unsuspecting interlopers, the bunyip warned its victims of their imminent doom with terrifying howls. Some Aborigines (today the more commonly accepted term is Indigenous Australians) avoided swampy areas out of fear of being grabbed and eaten.
If one were able to quiz members of early Aboriginal tribes, one would soon realize that although there was general agreement as to the cryptid’s habitat and preferred diet, the natives’ descriptions of their physical attributes varied wildly, almost seeming to be of completely different monsters. For example, early Aboriginal drawings depicted a creature with a horse-like tail, flippers, and walrus-like tusks or horns.They were described in the legend variously as being feathered or scaly like crocodiles. Sometimes the bunyip was enormous, other times the size of a large dog. According to some, the bunyip looked like an oversized snake with a beard and a mane or a huge furry half-human beast with a long neck and bird-like head. At times it was reported to have a long body and horse-shaped head. Some researchers believe that the bunyip category may have included more than one cryptid, and are of the opinion that without an organized body of data the reports can never be substantiated.
In the mid-1800s, an unidentified skull was found along a river bank in New South Wales that seemed to prove the existence of bunyips. Many observers were not convinced, and believed the skull discovery was a hoax. Research was halted because the skull mysteriously disappeared after a few days on exhibit at the Australian Museum in Sydney. Coincidentally, reports of bunyip sightings increased dramatically during this time.
Although legendary bunyip sightings have emanated from throughout Australia, 19th century occurrences centered especially on Lake George and Lake Bathurst.Later reports described the once-carnivorous monster as a harmless grazing herbivore. The first sightings were reported in the early 1800s; the last recorded sighting was in 1890.
Researchers have offered their own possible scientific bases for the bunyip folktales. Depending on the researcher, the bunyip lake monster could be:
- Related to the doyarchu, also called the “Irish Crocodile,” a known aquatic man-killer
- A giant otter
- An undiscovered aquatic marsupial
- An undiscovered variety of freshwater seal
- A Diprotodon, extinct for some 20,000 years, which is known to have terrified early Australian settlers
- An Australian Fur Seal, which emits a loud cry similar to the bunyip when it is trapped inland by flooding
- Based on fossilized animal skeletons that the Indigenous Australians came across, such as of the prehistoric giant kangaroo, the Procoptodon, whose fossils indicate they weighed more than 5.8 kg or 500 pounds.
Even though today most Australians consider the bunyip to be mythical, they have not dismissed its lore. In fact, the National Library of Australia sponsors a traveling exhibition on bunyips, and several folk-tales appear on the government’s Web site. In addition, a set of four postage stamps has been issued with different version of its likeness to commemorate the legendary bunyip.
Part of aboriginal folklore, the Bunyip was a spirit, which inhabited the rivers, lakes, swamps and billabongs of Australia. The Bunyip was
said to be malevolent towards humans and would defend its water home from anyone foolish enough to enter it.
At night the Bunyip was said to prey upon the women and children of aboriginal tribes. 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.
Modern Bunyip’s, or at least those reported by the original settlers as well as today’s residence of Australia, vary greatly from the Bunyip in aboriginal stories. The aboriginal Bunyip was a fierce man killer where as the more modern view sees them as herbivorous grazing animals. During early settlement of Australia the notion that the Bunyip was an actual unknown creature awaiting discovery was widely held as truth.
Early European settlers were not accustom to the sights and sounds of the islands perculiar animal species regarded the Bunyip as one more strange Australian animal, and sometimes attributed unfamiliar calls or cries to it. In 1846 the discovery of a strange skull in an isolated area associated with these 'bunyip calls' seemed to provide physical evidence of the bunyip's existence.
The percular skull was found on the banks of Murrumbidgee River in New South Wales, several experts concluded the that skull was from a creature unknown to science. In 1847 the “Bunyip Skull” was put on exhibition at the Australian Museum in Sydney for two days. During the skull’s stay at the museum the Sydney Morning Herald reported a extreme increase in Bunyip sightings.
It seemed that everyone became immediately aware that they had heard 'strange sounds' from the lagoons at night, or had seen 'something black' in the water. It was later concluded that the skull was nothing more than that of a disfigured horse or calf and disappeared from the museum soon afterwards.
Based on eye wittness reports there are two different kidns of Bunyip, the first being the more common, Dog Faced Bunyip, said to have a face like a dog and a shaggy coat, and the second being the Long Necked Bunyip, said to have a long haired mane and a similar shaggy coat. The Dog Faced Bunyip is thought to inhabit the lakes and rivers of New South Wales, Victoria and the Austrelian capital territory, there have even been sightings on the off shore island state of Tasmania. Reports of the rarer Long Necked Bunyip seem to only come from New South Wales.
Some researchers believe that the Bunyip may be a surviving Diprotodons, which was a large rhino sized plant eating marsupials, said to have gone extinct about 10,000 years ago. Much like reports of the modern Bunyip the Diprotodon was a grazing animal, the two also shared many of the same physical features.
The Diprotodon had a face somewhat like that of a dog, as well as a somewhat shaggy coat; both major traits of the Bunyip. Scientists who find this theory a little unlikely suggest that the Bunyip is nothing more than a seal, a common marine mammal found along the coasts of Australia.
These scientists suggest that the seals worked their way into the interior lakes and swamps through rivers only to be spotted by locals who where not accustom to seals and misidentify them as Bunyips. One thing is for certain, as long as there have been humans in Australia there have been sightings of the Bunyip and until there is a dedicated team of individuals willing to spend the time and money in search of this creature, it will remain a mystery.
The Physical Evidence Beyond sightings of the Bunyip, and tales passed down by aboriginals, there remains no evidence of the existence of the Bunyip. Unfortunately, a lack of sightings in recent years has led some researches to believe that the Bunyip has gone extinct.
The Sightings 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 color, 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 4½ 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.
In 1872 three men watched a Dog-faced Bunyip swimming in Midgeon Lagoon, New South Wales for about a half-hour. One of the men gave the following first-hand description to the Wagga Wagga Advertiser: Half as long again as an ordinary retriever dog; the hair all over its body was jet-black and shining, its coat was very long, the hair spreading out on the surface of the water for about 5 inches, and floating loosely as the creature rose and fell by its own motion. I could not detect any tail, and the hair about its head was too long and glossy to admit of my seeing its eyes; the ears were well marked.
In 1886 some horsemen who were fording a river near Canberra reported seeing a Dog-faced Bunyip, which was about the size of a dog and had a white coat. They threw stones at the Bunyip until it was out of sight.
In 1890 a Bunyip with a white coat was shot at in New South Wales; it retreated into a lagoon and was said to make a grunting sound.
The Stats – (Where applicable)
• Classification: Unknown • Size: About that of a large dog. • Weight: Unknown • Diet: Unknown • Location: Australia and Tasmania • Movement: Can Travel both on land and in water. • Environment: Rivers, Marshes, Lakes, Swamps ad Billabongs.
Having stalked its way through Aboriginal legends into modern folklore, the Bunyip is a bizarre aquatic mammal that is said to lurk beneath the placid waters of Australia’s lakes, riverbeds and watering holes.
Harkening back to the Aboriginal “Dreamtime” legends of creation, the Bunyip was considered to be a malevolent water spirit, which emerged only at night to devour any human or animal foolish enough to wander too close to it’s watery abode. The more modern interpretation of this creature is that of an animal that is a biologically manifest and decidedly gentle — if slightly eccentric — herbivore.
Known for its blood-curdling shriek, descriptions of this animal vary as often as the stories told about them. According to the Aborigines, the Bunyip was a species that inhabited numerous amphibious forms, including the “dog-faced” — not unlike the infamous EUROA BEAST — and “long neck” varieties.
That having been stated, the “long neck” version of this creature might actually represent traditional LAKE MONSTERsightings.
Perhaps some eyewitnesses — who were more familiar with local Bunyip legends than those of famous freshwater beasts like CHAMP— may have confused these creatures with the somewhat more common indigenous cryptid.
The debate between the “dog-faced” and “long neck” Bunyips notwithstanding, there are a very few traits which have commonly held true regarding the appearance of this ostensibly HYBRID BEAST.
Said to be approximately the size of a calf, with a canine-like features and a coat of shaggy hair, this animal has also been depicted as having tusks, fins, scales, claws, wings, a long tail and even feathers.
As if the creature’s appearance weren’t strange enough,the Bunyip was said to lay turtle-like eggs in a platypus nest, while subsisting on a diet which varied from crayfish to human beings. It was also said that its guttural growl was akin to a sonic “boom,” which inspired terror in the locals who were often woken in the dead of night by its nefarious cry. Due to the bizarre nature of these accounts, the Bunyip has suffered much ridicule, even among cryptozoological circles.
Despite the obvious multifariousness of the features attributed to this beast, one must admit that the similarities between the Bunyip and other AQUATIC ENIGMAS of Europe — such as the DOBHAR-CHU, EACH-UISGE and KELPIE — are startlingly evident.
While the Bunyip had been recorded in Aboriginal folklore for centuries — where it was described as being as large as a bull with an emu’s head and neck, a horse’s mane and tail and a seal-like flippers — the first modern account of the beast hails from a lagoon near Narrandera where white settlers of the area claimed to have seen the creature in 1872. These witnesses described the mystery animal as being: “half as long again as a retriever dog, with long black hair all over its body.”
Approximately a year later another Bunyip was seen Dalby, which is located in Queensland, home of the QUEENSLAND CARCASS. This creature was described as having the head of a seal, a fish-like tail and, oddly, one small and one large fin.
While these cases may seem to be the product of rich native folklore and settlers with overactive imaginations, the fact remains that Australia is the home to some of the Earth’s most unique animals and
that the Bunyip may well be a living, breathing member of Australia’s incredibly diverse fauna.
It has also been suggested by some researchers that the Bunyip may, in fact, be a modern descendant of a prehistoric marsupial known as Diprotodon Australis or, as it more commonly referred, the giant sloth.