Today we’re taking a trip to the land where everything will try to murder you, Australia! While there are many creatures in the Australian outback there is one that stands out compared to the others. It has been given many descriptions over the years; a giant starfish, a crocodile with a head resembling a dog, feathers, claws, fins, tusks, beards, a duck bill, a horse tail, a single eye, and a mouth on the stomach, all of these things, or combinations of these things, have been used to describe this creature that has gone by many names such as, the Wowee-wowee, the Yaa-loo, the Kianpraty, and the Dongu, but it’s most commonly known as the Bunyip. Despite the numerous descriptions, one thing is certain, it’s big enough to eat a human. Some stories describe the Bunyip as a terrifying predator while others claim that it is a friendly herbivore. The Bunyip has been a part of Aboriginal history and tradition for centuries and it’s still well known today.
The Bunyip is an aquatic creature and is said to live in large bodies of water such as ponds, swamps, creeks, riverbeds, and waterholes. Like all cryptids, the Bunyips origins are a mystery, the word “Bunyip” Comes from the Wemba-Wemba language of the native people of Victoria in South-Eastern Australia and it is usually translated as “devil” or “evil spirit”. Despite this modern translation and the reports of several Aboriginal people being “hugged to death” by this creature, the native Australians view the Bunyip as a kind protector of Australia’s wildlife rather than a man-eating monster.
Whether good or evil, most natives believe that the Bunyip has supernatural powers, like being able to alter the water level in its home, or use its thunderous roar to keep out unwelcome visitors. One legend claims that the Bunyip hypnotized a woman and kept her as a slave for several weeks until a large thunderstorm broke the spell.
The earliest known evidence of the Bunyip is a set of large bones that were discovered in 1818 by a famous explorer named Hamilton Humes. He didn’t believe that the bones belonged to a mythical creature but instead thought they belonged to a manatee or a hippo. Humes declined a request from the Philosophical Society of Australasia to return to the lake where he found the skeleton and have it shipped to their headquarters for research. Another set of bones were found in 1830, in Wellington Cave, by an anatomist named Sir Richard Owen who identified them as belonging to a large extinct marsupial, though he did note that the surrounding tribes held the belief that a similar creature lived in the nearby waterways. A local newspaper, the Geelong Advertiser, announced in 1845 that yet another set of fossils had been discovered and were identified by a local Aboriginal man who claimed they belonged to an undiscovered species known as the Bunyip. This story was the catalyst for numerous monster sightings across Australia. In 1847, a strange skull was discovered and many people claimed that it belonged to the Bunyip despite experts identifying it as belonging to a deformed fetal calf. Despite this information, the skull was accepted into the Australian Museum in Sydney where it was displayed as a Bunyip skull. As one would imagine, the display was very popular until it was mysteriously stolen. Sometime before 1847, explorer George French Angas gathered a description of the creature from the Moorundi people of the Murray river, stating that the Bunyip 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.” In 1851, the Australasian newspaper put out a report on what is now known as The Challicum Bunyip. At the time there were three deep waterholes in Fiery creek about 6 ½ miles from Challicum station near Ararat, Victoria and near those waterholes, carved into the turf, was the outline of a Bunyip. Some legends claim that a group of Aboriginals found the already dead bunyip and traced an outline of its body, while other tales claim that the group was attacked by the creature and one of them was killed before they speared the creature and traced the outline. Either way, local Aboriginals would frequently travel to this location to maintain the outline. Despite the efforts to keep the outline intact, it was eventually covered by vegetation and is now barely recognizable and difficult to make out any details but the measurements of the outline put the creature at 28 ft or 8.5 m end to end. In his 1852 biography, escaped convict William Buckley wrote about his 30 years with the Wathaurong people and their encounters with the Bunyip. Buckley wrote “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 claims to have seen this creature several times and added “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 that the creature is commonly found in the Barwon River. By the end of the 1850s, the popularity of the Bunyip began to fade.
Today the Bunyip is usually shown as a friendly creature that has its own children’s books, and even a tv series. Though this may sound strange, the word Bunyip got a little popularity in the world of politics, often used as a derogatory term to make fun of political movements whose members were “imposters” or “humbug”. The word was even used to mock a group of European settlers who wanted to create a new class in Australian society, they called it “the Bunyip aristocracy”. The word was used again to attack the Liberal Party of Australia.
While the Bunyip is now only seen as a folktale, many have theorized that the Bunyip may be a surviving Diprotodon, an ancient creature that has been extinct in Australia for over 46,000 years. Or maybe native Australians passed down tales of the Diprotodon through numerous generations and the slight variations in the stories have brought about what we know today as the Bunyip. So let us know what you think, is the Bunyip just passed down tales of a long extinct animal? Did they not go extinct and are a few still wandering the Australian outback? Or is it as simple as a seal wandering too far inland?