Bunyips and Yowies
What does a bunyip look like?
The bunyip is an Australian mythological creature that lives near or in water. Unlike most mythological or cryptid creatures the bunyip does not actually have a clearly defined appearance. It has been described as resembling a contradictory array of fish and animals, with different arrangements of fur, fins and tusks.
More modern portrayals, however, have settled on showing the bunyip as a four legged furred mammal roughly similar to a large cat, stoat or bilby. However these modern illustration are also quite diverse (see, for example, depictions by Allen Douglas or Damien Mason).
If the bunyip exists, what is it?
It has been suggested that the bunyip may be a surviving form of dinosaur or other animals generally presumed to be extinct, such as the marsupial Diprotodon.
More mundanely, it has been suggested that know species outside of their normal range or heard in the darkness, might have inspired the legend. For example, the bunyip might be a rare lost seal wandering the inland waterways, a large eel, or the saltwater crocodile. Others draw comparisons with the river tortoise.
Others suggest that more recent sighting of bunyips were probably actually human fugitives hiding out in remote swampy areas. However this explanation probably applied more easily to the yowie.
Also known as:
The word 'Bunyip' is said to derive from an Aboriginal world meaning devil or spirit.
Degraded or deformed animal skulls are often presented as "bunyip skulls". In 1847 a skull was displayed as belonging to a bunyip, but went missing shortly afterwards. It has been suggested the skull was of a foal suffering from hydrocephaly.
More recently skulls identified as belonging to deformed foals were also put forward as bunyip skulls. Which is rather peculiar as although they looked weird, and the bunyip has been described in wildly varying ways, no one had ever suggested the bunyip was a cyclops.
There is a myth that the Three Sisters in the Blue mountains of Australia are three grils turned to stone to save them from an attack from a bunyip.
Famous Bunyip Sightings
Recorded bunyip sighting date back to the dawn of European settlement of Australia. Examples that are recorded on newspapers and other archived materials are the best preserved. however there were many other encounters that are recorded only through place names and verbal traditions. Bunyip sightings are most common during the mid-nineteenth century. Modern sightings are so sparse that some cryptozoologists believe that the bunyip, whatever it might have been, is now extinct.
1821: Lake Bathurst South by E.S. Hall
1845: The Geelong Bunyip (shown right)
An attack by a bunyip was recorded in the Geelong Advertiser, of Victoria, in July, 1845. This bunyip was described as walking upright and having an amfibious appearance. This story is considered the first printed report of a bunyip under that name.
1847: George Hobler
"It was about as big as a six months' old calf, of a dark brown color, 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."
1852: Mount Gambier Bunyip
The Register (30 December 1852) related that: "...the monster of the bulrushes made his appearance ... The animal was about 12 or 14 feet [long] and I suppose must be the bunyip, so long supposed to be a creation of the native's imagination."
For a full listed of documented sighting see this site.
Bunyips in Literature
As a distinctly Australian creature the bunyip is popular in the emerging national literary tradition, especially in books written for children and young adults.
1957: The Bunyip Hole by Patricia Wrightson
1970: Gloop the Bunyip by Colin Theile
Theile was a very prolific Australian writer who won many awards for children's fiction.
1972: The Monster that Ate Canberra by Michael Salmon
This popular book has seen new editions in 1990 and 2004.
1980: The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek by Jenny Wagner
This is probably one of the best known works of bunyip fiction, about a sad bunyip with an identity crisis. The bunyip is confronted by the fact that no one believes he exists. The evocative illustrations by Ron Brooks subsequently appeared on stamps and as a statue.
2008: Rosie and the Bunyip by Meredith Costain
"Can Rosie solve the mystery of the scary howling noise down by Ghost Gum Creek?"
2009: Emily and the Big Bad Bunyip by Jackie French
A picture book with a Christmas theme: " 'I'm mad and I'm mean! Bunyips don't like Christmas!' ... Can Emily Emu and her friends possibly make the Bunyip smile this Christmas?"
2004: Bunyips: Australia's Folklore or Fear by Robert Holden
A book discussing the significance of the bunyip in myth and literature published by the National Library of Australia.
The Bunyip in Visual Arts
Bunyips appear in ancient Abortiginal rock art including the example shown right.
In 2011 a sculpture of 'Alexander the Bunyip' from a children's book was installed in Canberra. The artist is Anne Ross and the bunyip is based on a character from Michael Salmon's 'The Monster that Ate Canberra'.
The bunyip is an Australian icon that gives its name to many Australian products and services including:
'Yowie' is a name given to a human-like creature. This creature is sometimes seen as being synonymous with the bunyip, and sometimes as a different creature entirely.
The yowie is currently described as roughly equivalent to mythological hominids from other areas such as the abominable snowman, big foot, sasquatch and yeti.
Some consider that there is a smaller version of the Yowie referred to as the "Brown Jack".
Also known as:
Famous Yowie Sightings
Unlike bunyip sightings, yowie sighting are general recent and cluster in specific areas of new South Wales.
2009: Pilliga Forest, New South Wales (photographed)
Daisy Matthews and others see a wild-looking hairy figure.
2009: Mount George, New South Wales
Fay Burke and Alayna Garnett report seeing " his big hairy animal thing... about eight foot tall and four foot wide."
2006: Megalong Valley, Blue Mountains, New South Wales
A horse rider reported seeing a figure that was "It looked sort of like a monkey, but more human".
Yowies in Fiction
- 1995: The Yarra Yowie by Geoff Barlow and John Cokley
- 2004: The Yowie that Nobody Wanted by Ann Ferns
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