In the Shadow of the Bunyip

Last Updated on June 2, 2020 by

If one is looking for an example or pillar of mystery and complete vexation of all those who attempt to uncover the ideas surrounding a creature either natural or otherwise, one will not find a history more diverse and contradictory than that of the legendary Bunyip of Australia.  Even today accounts of the creature vary widely between tellers of the tale.  It is said to be anything from a ghost to a natural sea creature, and even the history of its folklore is shrouded in mystery.

When Hamilton Hume first came across a set of bones protruding mysteriously from an area of swamp near Lake Bathurst he was told by locals that the creature did not belong to any of the various animals explorers had identified at that point.  Indeed as Hume investigated further and studied the specimen he found he could not quite place its biology and chalked the whole incident up as a mystery.  Still, he wrote home that a strange name had come up in the tales told of this mysterious creature, a name that had been heard by explorers during frightened late night tellings of tales around a campfire: The Bunyip.  The term itself in the local terminology indicated a sort of spirit or monster that had tormented tribes throughout history.  It was categorized by some explorers as a sort of ghost or spirit while others contended that it was a real biological animal that could be shot and therefore killed.  Accounts of its description varied widely from region to region causing many to believe that the creature was itself the product of overactive imaginations and not actual sightings.

Soon the creature became the center of a powerful folklore in itself, ranging in size and shape in each new telling of the story.  The creature became the answer to many an unexplainable knock on the door or tap on a window.  Howls in the night from even known and studied animals became the cackle of the bunyip to those who believed in and feared the creature.  Some explorers suggested that the whole incident was nothing more than an elaborate prank, but others were certain that it was a monster of very real power and consequence.  The creature was observed by several hunting parties and even fired upon by a few.  And in the early 1900s, print media of the time fell in love with the idea of this mysterious creature and even created their own interpretations of the creature in its movements and its attacks on humans.  Soon magazines were carrying cover stories of the adventures travelers had had while encountering the legendary monster in the wild outback.

What does a bunyip look like?  The question has been asked by many tourists in Australia, and the answer is often the same, “It depends on who you ask.”  Many skeptics of the Bunyip mythology have suggested it may have actually been an ancestral memory of the now extinct Nototherium which was visually a sort of cross between an elephant and a mole.