Despite its cutesy name, the Bunyip is a beast to be feared. It makes its home primarily in the creeks and swamps of Australia. It is amphibious and has been described in a variety of ways, although the consensus is it has a round head, long neck, and a body that looks something like a cross between an ox and a manatee. A report in the Wagga Advocate in 1872 said ‘it was half as long as a retriever dog... its body was jet black.’ You can tell one is near if you hear "booming or roaring noises" and you should pay heed to these noises, as they are notorious for having a taste for human flesh...especially for women and children.
Bunyips appear to be nocturnal and does its best work creeping up on animals and humans in the dark. For this reason, Aboriginal tribes were understandably frightened to go near any waterholes, wells, swamps, and waterbeds after dark.
Long before Europeans ever set foot on Australia, the Aboriginal tribes told tales of the Bunyip. Bill Wannan, a researcher of Australian folkore told the Murray River team, which specializes in tourism, "that old Aborigines told him that the ‘bunyips devoured humans, coming up on them in silence and when least expected."
When Europeans began to land and make contact with Aboriginal tribes they heard tell of the Bunyip. It is believed that Europeans might have, originally, deeply feared the Bunyip. Why? As Folklore Thursday succintly puts it, "Imagine [the First Fleet of British people, half of which were convicts] first reactions to seeing a kangaroo, an echidna or a platypus? No wonder the tales of the Bunyip were accepted by the settlers." After seeing so many strange creature, who were they to take a skeptic route when it came to the Bunyip.
As noted, eye-witness accounts tend to be spotty regarding a similar description bu they can all agree on one thing...whatever they saw terrified them.
A newspaper article from 1845 reports, "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 forelegs are much longer, but still of great strength. The extremities are furnished with long claws, but the (natives) 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."
The 1800s seemed to be the most popular time for reported Bunyip sightings and a “Bunyip skull” was discovered in 1846 and put on display. However, it was later found out to be a hoax and was likely the skull of a deformed horse or cow.
What are some of the more skeptic approaches to the Bunyip? Well, it might be the "rare appearance of fugitive seals far upstream" and the cry itself might be "that of the bittern marsh bird." Others claim the Bunyip may be an old "cultural memory of the diproodon passed down from the times when mega fauna roamed the Australian landscape." Diprotodons resembled giant wombats and was over three meters long. It might also simply be a cautionary tale to avoid midnight jaunts around swamps one could easily fall and drown in. Real or not, I think an Australian swamp is one of the last places I'd like to be.
The above image is public domain.
Caption: ABORIGINAL MYTHS. - THE BUNYIP (caption) - photomechanical reproduction : halftone. State Library of Victoria Accession Number: IAN01/10/90/12 Image Number: mp006089 Notes: Print published in the Illustrated Australian news. Title printed below image l.c. Publication: Melbourne : David Syme & Co., Engraved in image l.l.: J. Macfarlane