Bunyip

Mystery Marsupial of Australia.

Etymology: Probably derived from the Australian Banib . A "monster of Aboriginal legend, supposed to haunt water-holes; any freak or impostor," according to G. A. Wilkes, Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms, 3d ed. (Sydney, Australia: Sydney University Press, 1990). The form Bahnyip appeared in the Sydney Gazette in 1812. Bernard Heuvelmans thought the word derived from Bunjil, the supreme being of the Victorian Aborigines. The name is widely used in Victoria and New South Wales and was first heard by whites in the Sydney area. By 1852, the word had become a synonym for "impostor" or "humbug" in Sydney. The term bunyip aristocracy refers to snobbish Australian conservatives.

Variant names: Banib, Bunnyar (in Western Australia), Bunyup, Burley beast, Dongus (in New South Wales), Gu-ru-ngaty (Thurawal/ Australian, New South Wales), Kajanprati, Katenpai, Kianpraty (in Victoria), Kine praty, Kinepratia, Kuddimudra, Mirree-ulla (Wirad-huri/Australian, New South Wales), Mochel

Mochel Moolgewanke, Munni munni (in Queensland), Toor-roo-don (in Victoria), Tum-bata (in Victoria), HjnatPAN, WAa-Wee, Wan-gul (in Western Australia), Wouwai (near Lake Macquarie, New South Wales).

Physical description: According to Tony Healy and Paul Cropper, about 60 percent of the sightings resemble seals or swimming dogs, and 20 percent are long-necked creatures with small heads. (The remainder are too ambiguous to categorize.)

Seal-dog variety—Seal-like. Length, 4-6 feet. Shaggy, black or brown hair. Round head and whiskers like a seal's, otter's, or bulldog's. Shining eyes. Prominent ears. No tail.

Long-necked variety——Length, 5-15 feet. Black or brown fur. Head like a horse's or an emu's. Large ears. Small tusks. Elongated, maned neck about 3 feet long, with many folds of skin. Four legs. Three toes. Horselike tail.

Behavior: Amphibious. Nocturnal. Swims swiftly with fins or flippers. Loud, roaring call. Eats crayfish. Lays eggs in platypus nests in underwater burrows. Said by the Aborigines to be a guardian water spirit that eats women and children and causes sickness.

Tracks: Three-toed. Emulike.

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, and swamps.

Distribution: Traditions range throughout the continent, with sightings centered in Victoria, southern New South Wales, and eastern South Australia.

Significant sightings: In June 1801, mineralogist Joseph Charles Bailly of the French Le Géographe Expedition reported hearing the bellow of some large animal in the Swan River, Western Australia.

Hamilton Hume and James Meehan found skulls and bone fragments of amphibious animals the day after they discovered Lake Bathurst, New South Wales, in April 1818.

The earliest sightings by a colonist were at Lake Bathurst by Edward Smith Hall (later a founder of the Bank of New South Wales), who saw both the seal-dog and the long-necked varieties. In November 1821, Hall saw a black Bun-yip with a bulldog's head thrashing in the water for five minutes. In December 1822, he was drying himself off after bathing in the eastern end of the lake when he saw a 3-foot, black head and neck gliding along the surface for about 300 yards. Some of the reports in the lake of animals with bulldoglike heads that made noises like a porpoise were possibly prompted by seals, which are known to have migrated to the nearby Mulware River in 1947.

Employees of George Holder (or Hopper) saw two horselike Bunyips in Paika Lake, New South Wales, in the 1840s.

Atholl Fletcher found a fresh skull along the lower Murrumbidgee River, New South Wales, in 1846. The top of the cranium, the front of the snout, and the lower jaw were missing. The cranium was about 9 inches long. The eye sockets were abnormally close to the upper jaw. No other bones were present. It was first examined by James Grant, who considered it to be a fetal skull of an unknown animal. William S. Macleay in Sydney also considered it to be from a young animal, possibly a fetus; comparing it to a fetal mare's skull, he thought it most likely belonged to a deformed colt. Based on an illustration, Sir Richard Owen in England pronounced it a calf's skull. It was taken to the Australian Museum in Sydney but has long since vanished. The Aboriginal name for the animal was said to be Katenpai.

Geologist E. J. Dunn observed several animals swimming in the flooded Murrumbidgee River near Gundagai in 1850.

A naturalist named Stocqueler reported "freshwater seals" in the Goulburn and Murray Rivers, New South Wales, in 1857.

Horsemen saw a whitish, dog-sized animal in 1886 along the River Molonglo, Australian Capital Territory.

On September 8, 1949, L. Keegan and his wife reported they had seen a 4-foot animal with shaggy ears several times over the past two weeks in the Lauriston Reservoir, Victoria. They claimed it used its ears in swimming through the water at tremendous speed.

In the 1960s, Jack Mitchell collected many reports by Aborigines, farmers, and tourists of a seal-dog Bunyip in the Macquarie River between Wellington and Warren, New South Wales.

A roaring animal that splattered mud around the bank of the Nerang River was heard near Gilston, Queensland, in 1965.

Present status: Widely believed in as a partially supernatural being by the Aborigines of southeastern Australia at the time of white settlement. There are few modern sightings, and most are vague or fanciful. The long-necked variety of Bunyip has not been reported since the nineteenth century and may be extinct. Possible explanations:

(1) Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) or Australian sea lions (Neophoca cinerea) that stray inland through the river systems might explain some sightings of the seal-dog Bunyip. In the nineteenth century, these were known to travel many miles up the Murray, Shoalhaven, and Murrumbidgee Rivers. Elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) were also known along the coast. Either of these animals seen unexpectedly in an unusual habitat could be misidentified.

(2) An unknown form of freshwater seal endemic to southeastern Australia.

(3) Booming calls of the Brown bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus) of Victoria and New South Wales have been attributed to the Bun-yip. One of its nicknames is the "bunyip bird."

(4) The Musk duck (Biziura lobata) was responsible for one report in Sydney in 1960.

(5) Some reports may have involved large Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii), which grow to more than 5 feet.

(6) The Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), the largest living reptile, is found in northern Australia, but it may have been known to Aborigines in the south in pre-colonial times, forming the basis for a Bun-yip legend. Mature males average 14—16 feet long and are generally dark, with lighter tan or gray areas.

(7) An Australian version of the long-necked Freshwater Monster.

(8) Aboriginal legends of surviving Quaternary marsupials. Two candidates are the terrestrial, herbivorous, tapir-snouted Palor-chestes, suggested by Tim Flannery and Michael Archer, said to have been the size of a bull, or Diprotodon optatum, the largest known marsupial, about 10 feet long with a 3-foot skull, suggested by C. W. Anderson and Karl Shuker. Neither were amphibious, however.

(9) An unknown species of otterlike marsupial.

Sources: "The Bunyip, or Kine pratie," Sydney Morning Herald, January 21, 1847, p. 2; William H. Hovell, "The Apocryphal Animal of the Interior of New South Wales," Sydney Morning Herald, February 9, 1847; William Sharp Macleay, "On t he Skull Now Exhibit ed at t he Colonial Museum of Sydney, As That of t he 'Bunyip,'" Sydney Morning Herald, July 14, 1847; William West garth, Australia Felix (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1848); Ronald C Gunn, "On the 'Bunyip' of Australia Felix," Tasmanian Journal ofNatural Science 3 (1849): 147-149; John Morgan, The Life and Adventures ofWilliam Buckley (Hobart, Tasm., Australia: A. Macdougall, 1852), pp. 48, 108-109; Moreton Bay (Queensl.) Free Press, April 15, 1857, p. 3; Charles Gould, "Large Aquatic Animals," Papers and Proceedings ofthe Royal Society ofTasmania, 1872, pp. 32-41; Robert Brough Smyth, The Aborigines of Victoria (Melbourne, Australia: Government Printer, 1878); William Hardy Wilson, The Cow Pasture Road (William Hardy Wilson, 1920), p. 19; C W. Anderson, "The Largest Marsupial," Australian Museum Magazine 2 (1924): 113-116; John Gale, Canberra: History and Legends (Queanbeyan, N.S.W., Australia: A. M. Fallick, 1927); Charles Fenner, Bunyips and Billabongs (Sydney, Australia: Angus and Robertson, 1933); Gilbert Whit ley, "Myst ery Animals of Aust r alia," Australian Museum Magazine 7 (1940): 132-139; Char les Bar r et t, The Bunyip and Other Mythical Monsters and Legends (Melbourne, Australia: Reed and Harris, 1946), pp. 7-30; Alan Marshall, "Bunyips Never Whistle," Melbourne Argus Magazine, December 14, 1951; K.G. Dugan, "Darwin and Diprotodon: The Wellingt on Cave Fossils and t he Law of Succession," Proceedings ofthe Linnaean Society of New South Wales 104 (1980): 265-272; Pat r icia Vicker s-Rich and Ger ar d Van Tet s, eds., Kadimakara: Extinct Vertebrates of Australia (Lilydale, Vic., Australia: Pioneer Design Studio, 1985), pp. 17, 234-244; W. S. Ramson, ed., The Australian National Dictionary (Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp.

109-110; Christopher Smith, "A Second Look at the Bunyip," INFO Journal, no. 64 (October 1991): 11-13, 37; Tony Healy and Paul Cr opper, Out ofthe Shadows: Mystery Animals of Australia (Chippendale, N.S.W., Australia: Ironbark, 1994), pp. 161-180; Malcolm Smith, Bunyips andBigfoots (Alexandria, N.S.W., Australia: Millennium Books, 1996), pp. 1-24; Robert Holden and Nicholas Holden, Bunyips: Australia's Folklore ofFear (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2001).

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