|The Bunyip: Mythical Beast, Modern-day Monster|
|By Matthew J. Eaton|
The Aborigines Dreamtime stories of creation were full of fantastic and magical beasts; the Bunyip was one of the beasts. In Dreamtime the Bunyip was a spirit, which inhabited river, lakes, swamps, and billabongs (former parts of rivers that were left behind when the course of the river was altered). Like other beasts in Dreamtime, the Bunyip was malevolent towards human beings. The Bunyip would defend it's watery home from all who invaded it, normally devouring the invader. At night the Bunyip was said to go and prey upon women and children. Because the Bunyip was such a threat to the Aborigines of the time whenever its terrifying bellowing cry was heard Aborigines steered clear of any water sources.
The settler's view of the Bunyip varies greatly from that of the Aborigines. Whereas the Dreamtime Bunyip was a fierce man-killer, the more modern view sees them are herbivorous grazing animals. The Aborigine's fear of Bunyip can probably be traced back to a known aquatic man-killer, the saltwater crocodile. Settlers also report two different kinds of Bunyips. The more common of the two has a dog-like face and a long shaggy coat. The second and more rare of the Bunyips is the reported to have a long maned neck, as well as a shaggy coat. As to not create confusion between the two Bunyips; the common Bunyip will be called the Dog-faced Bunyip, and the rarer Bunyip will be called the Long-necked Bunyip.
The Dog-faced Bunyip is commonly thought to inhabit lakes and rivers in New South Wales, Victoria, and Australian Capital Territory. There have also been a few Dog-Faced Bunyip sightings on the off shore island state of Tasmania. Reports of the Long-necked Bunyip have only come from New South Wales. No mystery animals fitting the description of the Bunyip have come from Iran Jaya or Papua New Guinea. Sightings
Most sightings of the Bunyip occurred during the 19th century, with a few sighting in the past century. 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 colour, 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 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 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. A similar beast was shot at in New South Wales; it retreated into a lagoon and was said to make a grunting sound. Then in 1890 an expedition by the Melbourne Zoo failed to capture a Bunyip commonly seen in the Euroa district near Victoria. Bernard Heuvelmans reports Bunyip sightings from as recently as 1932 near large hydroelectric dams in Tasmania. The Line Up
Now that we've gone over the different sightings of the Bunyip we must ask ourselves if it truly exists as evidence suggests, then what is it?
It seems that there is one extinct animal out there to explain every cryptid now days. The Bunyip is no exception. Diprotodons were large rhino sized plant eating marsupials, which went extinct about 10,000 years ago. Since nearly everything in Australia is a marsupial, why not the Bunyip? Much like the modern view of the Bunyip, the diprotodon was a grazing animal. Lifestyle wise it has been compared to modern cattle, rhinos, and tapirs.
Officially there is only one known species of diprotodon (Diprotodon australis) and it is unclear if it was a somewhat aquatic animal. Although some researchers believe that if diprotodon did survive then it evolved into something like a marsupial hippo. If this is true then a diprotodon could indeed be a Bunyip. Appearance wise the diprotodon is similar to the Bunyip. It had a face somewhat like that of a dog, as well as a somewhat shaggy coat; both major traits of the Bunyip. So could the Bunyip be a diprotodon? Yes, but first we would have to accept the fact that diprotodons survived and evolved into a hippo-like animal. That alone could be a hard theory to stomach.
Wayward or New Seal
Of all the animals that frequent Australia, seals fit the description of the Bunyip the best. Researchers have used the seal to explain the Bunyip in one of two ways. The first of these theories seems the more likely one. This is the theory that seals worked their way into the interior lakes and swamps through rivers. Then people who are not use to seeing seals misidentify them for the Bunyip. The second and more radical of the two theories is that long ago seals did work their way into the interior, but somehow became trapped. Eventually these trapped seals adapted to their freshwater conditions, and fur coats would eventually replace their blubber. If we accept this theory then it could also explain the Bunyip.
As stated earlier the first seal theory does seem the more likely of the two. The fact that most Bunyips are seeing swimming in the water and only their heads are visible strengthens the misidentified seal theory. But it is those few land sightings of Bunyips, which proves that not all sightings are of just seals. The search for the Bunyip's identity continues.
It is thought that most of the sightings of Bunyips from the early parts of the 20th century were of nothing more then fugitives hiding in the swamps and billabongs. The billabongs were a prime area to hide from the long arm of the law, since they are such inhospitable places. Those hiding there were called swaggies, whenever they heard something coming their way they would take cover under the water. Once they thought the coast was clear they would rise up out the water, normally covered in muck and weeds. Anyone who was still around would most certainly be frightened by the whole ordeal and run off. So some Bunyips weren't Bunyips at all just men hiding in the billabongs. Just like the seal theory, not all Bunyip reports can be written off as nothing more than swaggies. Conclusion
The Bunyip is one of those animals that can't just be written off as myth. The fact that reports of them go back to the Dreamtime stories proves this, the sightings by settlers strengthens it. What we have is a genuine mystery aquatic animal here, or should I say we did. With the lack of reports in recent years it seems the Bunyip may have gone extinct. If this is true then it will be a great tragedy to cryptozoology. Here is a truly magnificent animal that may have gone extinct before its existence was even proven. Until a dedicated researcher comes along, and is willing to waste money and man-hours searching will we discover the truth behind the story of the Bunyip.