Legendary Creatures of Australian Myth and Folklore
A Few Interesting Facts
- The Australian Colonial Museum once held a supposed bunyip skull, and reported sightings of the creature continued up until the 1970s.
- The Australian navy was once called out to search Darwin Harbour for a sea serpent after numerous reported sightings.
- Experts from around the world were assembled on a remote Tasmanian beach to investigate another sea monster.
- Massive stock killings by big cats have continued to spark the interest of state politicians.
- A prominent politician was one of a party of twenty witnesses who saw a giant ape-like creature in the Queensland bush.
Cryptozoology is the study an pursuit of mythical animals, or those known only from native tradition, eyewitness testimony, footprints, or other evidence not officially recognised by science. Few lay persons, or even zoologists themselves, are familiar with the scores of mystery creatures, both large and small, that have been reported all over the world. Their knowledge is limited to the few high-profile wonders like the American Bigfoot, Himalayan Yeti, and Loch Ness monster. The problem many cryptozoologists face is that they are often seen as monster hunters and, therefore, not taken seriously, especially by the scientific community.
I wrote this hub with the assumption that "what is true needs to be told, and what is not true is at least interesting."
Alien Big Cats
The term Alien Big Cats (or ABCs) was coined to fit the numerous sightings of big cats throughout Australia. We have no indigenous species of big cat on the continent. In fact even the domestic tabby is introduced and is responsible for the extinction of a number of native animals.
Sightings of big cats are by far the most widely and frequently reported of any animals of Australian folklore. The origins of these elusive beasts are a continued matter of conjecture, however, it is often surmised that they may have been part of a circus or travelling show from where they escaped into the bush, thereafter appearing occasionally to kill local livestock.
Another popular explanation is that they are escaped mascots (e.g. cougars) of American forces stationed in Australia during WWII.
Most sightings of these alien big cats continue to this day and have resulted in them being given names linked to the areas they were seen:
Queensland : The Charters Towers Cougar, The Mount Spec Cougar, The Townsville Cougar, The Waterford Panther
New South Wales : The Emmaville Panther, The Kangaroo Valley Panther, The Marulan Tiger
Victoria : The Dromana Mountain Lion, The Kyneton Cat
Western Australia : The Nannup Tiger
Tasmania : The Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine)
It is interesting to note that most of the above sightings reported cats similar in description to the North American cougar or South American panther. Those called 'tiger' tended to resemble the Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine although, it is not a cat, but a marsupial, and is deserving of its own chapter.
The Tasmanian Tiger "Thylacine"
A carnivorous marsupial known as the "Thylacine" was a striped wolf-like creature and perhaps the best known of all the beasts of Australian lore and legend. Unlike most other-such creatures, the Tasmanian Tiger, or Wolf, is definitely known to have existed with photographic, film and taxidermied proof. The last known Thylacine died in captivity at Tasmania's Hobart Zoo in September 1936. Although it is now believed extinct, reported sightings, and searches are still regular occurrences in both Tasmania and Mainland Australia.
A creature of Aboriginal mythology, usually said to be hairy, though sometimes feathered, and to live in billabongs and waterholes from where it will attack passing animals and humans.
A number of accounts describe the creatures as deep black in colour, about the size of a retriever dog with a small head like a dog or seal.. some refer to long hair, some short..some with a swan-like neck, others almost no neck. A booming voice or call seems to be a popular report however and that Aboriginals are afraid of it. There is a possibility however that what has been called a bunyip could be in fact a dozen different creatures. Charles Barrett, the author of a book on bunyips, listed the following terms: too-roo-don, kajanprati, katenpai, tunapatam, tumbata and bunyip - all synonyms for bunyip. Some of the sightings may have been of real animals, some imaginary.
Sightings of bunyips have only been reported as far north as the Condamine River, Darling Downs in Southern Queensland and as far west as the Rocky River, South Australia, but also throughout New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.
Although based on indigenous belief, the bunyip has merged with other water-monster traditions brought to Australia such as the northern English Jenny or Ginny Greenteeth.
Some historians and scholars point out that the Aborigines first mentioned bunyips around the same time that European settlers imported cattle to Australia (though who would they have reported it to prior to European settlement?). It is suggested that the Aborigines probably became frightened by the bellowing of cattle caught in the mud near water holes.
These mythical and terrifying creatures of Aboriginal origin are thought to inhabit Queensland's tropical coastal rainforests. Yaramas are said to be evil beings about a metre (three feet) tall, with huge heads, mouths and bellies. They have scaly red and green skin and, instead of fingers and toes, are equipped with cup-shaped suckers similar to octopi.
The yarama like to perch in fig trees and pounce on humans passing beneath, fastening their suckers and draining the victims blood, then devouring what's left. According to legend, should a victim be regurgitated and survive, the yarama will get revenge by drinking the community's entire water supply.
The drinking of blood bears some similarities with European vampire lore, as well as the belief that surviving victims always become yarama themselves. It is also worth note that fig trees are the favourite habitat of flying foxes (fruit bats), which may have some bearing.
A fierce hairy creature of unknown gender also originating from Aboriginal mythology. The earliest mention of the yowie seems to be 1835, though no sightings were reported until 1871. Since that time there have been many reported sightings which continue to the present day. However the term "yowie" doesn't appear to have come into general use until 1975. The yowie is popularly considered to be Australia's version of the American big foot, and the Himalayan yeti. It is reported to inhabit thickly forested and mountainous areas and sightings have been reported chiefly along the eastern coast of Australia between Kilcoy (two hours North-West of Brisbane) in Queensland to the Blue Mountains near Sydney, New South Wales.
One of the most detailed accounts was presented by Charles Harper and occurred in 1912 at Currockbilly Mountain in New South Wales. Harper states that one night a creature came into the outer light of his campfire. His vivid description states that "the monster stood growling, grimacing, and thumping his breast. It was as tall as a man, but of an enormous build, with long black hair on its shoulders and back, and long brownish-red hair over the rest of its body. The head and face were very small, but very human, but with fangs protruding over its lower lip, and deep, piercing eyes....the stomach hung like a sack halfway down its thigh, and the thighs were much longer than the shins."
The majority of Yowie sightings report a creature about the size of a small man or about five feet in height. However Charles Harper's account is the only one that mentions the hanging stomach and the abnormally long thighs.
The Moha-Moha or Moka-Moka.
There have been thousands of sightings of so-called sea serpents or sea monsters in the seas and islands off the Australian coast, and it would take me an entire separate hub to cover even a fraction of them. For that reason I shall only discuss one of those creatures her.
The moha-moha is Queensland's - no, Australia's - most celebrated sea serpent. and the only one that possesses an official scientific name: Chelosauria Lovelli, or Miss Lovell's tortoise-lizard.
Frazer Island today is one of Queensland's most popular tourist destinations. It is usually overrun with tourists and fishermen but not many make it to the northernmost point, Sandy Cape. If you ever do, you might pause and gaze at the beach and imagine what it may have been like in June 1890 when the moha-moha (moka-moka) appeared.
Here is a brief extract from a letter written by Miss S Lovell, the local schoolteacher, which was published in the English journal, 'Land and Water':
"We have had a visit from a monster turtle fish. I send a sketch of it. When tired of my looking at it, it put its large neck and head into the water and swept around seaward, raising its dome-shaped body about five feet out of the water, and put its twelve feet of fish-like tail over the dry land, elevating it at an angle.Then, giving its tail a half twist, it shot off like a flash of lightning, and I saw its tail in the air about a quarter of a mile off where the steamers anchor.
It has either teeth or serrated jaw-bones. Native blacks call it 'Moka, moka' and say they like to eat it, and that it has legs and fingers. I did not see its legs as they were in the water. What I saw of it was about 27 or 28 ft., but I think it must be 30 ft. in all......The jaws are about 18 in. in length; the head greenish white, with large white spots on the neck, and a band of white round a very black eye and round upper and lower jaws......."
Miss Lovell, and almost everyone else who has commented assumed the creature to be half fish and half tortoise, however Miss Lovell never mentioned a shell.
The tale caught the attention of William Saville Kent, assistant curator of the Natural History Museum in London, who obtained a more detailed account from Miss Lovell for a book he was writing, 'The Great Barrier Reef of Australia', and it was he who gave the creature its scientific name.
- Malcolm's Musings: Cryptozoology
- Gary Opit's Official Website Australian Cryptozoology Yowie Bigfoot
Gary Opit’s Official Website for the study of Australian Cryptozoology, Yowie, Bigfoot, Thylacines and Australian Wildlife Sightings.
- Strange animals | weirdaustralia
Posts about Strange animals written by weirdaustralia
The above are just some of the most well known of Australia's legendary creatures of myth and folklore. Before I conclude I feel I should warn any readers who may be contemplating visiting Australia about a couple of mythical creatures of Australian tall-tale tradition you will probably be warned by Aussies to watch out for:
Drop Bears are said to drop from trees onto unsuspecting 'tourists' below. They are often described as koalas with unusually large heads and sharp pointed teeth.
Hoop Snakes are said to form into hoops by taking the tips of their tales into their mouths and bowling themselves at intruders in the bush or desert.
Don't say I didn't warn you!
In closing I would like to give some credit to my friend Kenneth Avery who suggested I write a hub about Australia's strange legendary creatures in his funny hub "How I Would Terrorize People if I Were Bigfoot."
I hope you found this interesting and I will endeavour to write about more of these mysteries in upcoming hubs. Thank you for reading.
(source: The Guide to Australian Folklore (From Ned Kelly to Aeroplane Jelly) by Gwenda Beed Davey and Graham Seal; Bunyips and Bigfoots by Malcolm Smith (1996); World Book Encyclopedia)
© 2014 John Hansen
More by this Author
When you ask people (especially under 30s) about the most important events in rural Australia, the annual Bachelor and Spinsters Balls (or B&S Ball) would be right up at the top of the list.
"The Dreamtime" is actually the story of creation as believed and told by the Australian Aboriginals. The unlikely inspiration for this article was the name of Ursula Le Guin's "The Beginning Place"
This is a continuation of "Maureen's Story" that appeared in my hub "How to Construct a Short Story Using One Sentence as a Prompt"