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The bunyip (usually translated as "devil" or "spirit") is a mythical creature from Australian folklore. Various accounts and explanations of bunyips have been given across Australia since the early days of the colonies. It has also been identified as an animal recorded in Aboriginal mythology, similar to known extinct animals.


Descriptions of bunyips vary widely. Common features in Aboriginal descriptions include a dog-like face, dark fur, a horse-like tail, flipper, and walrus-like tusks or horns or a duck like bill. They are said to lurk in swamps, billabongs, creeks, riverbeds, and waterhole.

Early accounts

An 1882 sketch of an aborigine telling the story of the Bunyip to some children.
During the early settlement of Australia by Europeans the notion that the bunyip was an actual unknown animal that awaited discovery became common. Early European settlers, unfamiliar with the sights and sounds of the island continent's peculiar fauna, regarded the bunyip as one more strange Australian animal and sometimes attributed unfamiliar animal calls or cries to it.

One of the earliest accounts of the bunyip was in 1821 when Hamilton Hume recovered some large unusual bones from Lake Bathurstmarker in New South Walesmarker. He wrote about the monster that was very much like a hippopotamus and which he and the Philosophical Society of Australasia believed to be evidence of the existence of the Bunyip.

A large number of bunyip sightings occurred between 1840s and 1850s, particularly in the southeastern colonies of Victoriamarker, New South Walesmarker and South Australiamarker, as European settlers extended their reach.

Victorian sightings

Geelong Region

Another early written account is attributed to escaped convict William Buckley in his 1852 biography. His 1852 account records "in.. Lake Moodewarri [now Lake Modewarre] as well as in most of the others a...very extraordinary amphibious animal, which the natives call Bunyip." Buckley's account suggests he saw such a creature on several occasions. He adds "I could never see any part, except the back, which appeared to be covered with feathers of a dusky grey colour. It seemed to be about the size of a full grown calf... I could never learn from any of the natives that they had seen either the head or tail."

Greta Bunyip

The Greta Bunyip was a bunyip which was believed to have lived in the swamps of the Gretamarker area, in Victoriamarker, Australia. Locals often heard a loud booming sound which emitted mysteriously from the swamps, yet none of the frequent search parties were able to locate the source of the sound. Once the swamps were drained, the sound subsided. Some Greta locals believed that the bunyip moved on to another area, while others believed it had died once its habitat was gone.

New South Wales accounts

In 1846, a peculiar skull was taken from the banks of Murrumbidgee Rivermarker in New South Wales which initial reports concluded that it was the skull of something unknown to science. In 1847 the so-called bunyip skull was put on exhibition in the Australian Museummarker (Sydney) for two days. Visitors flocked to see it and The Sydney Morning Herald said that it prompted many people to speak out about their 'bunyip sightings'. "Almost everyone became immediately aware that he had heard 'strange sounds' from the lagoons at night, or had seen 'something black' in the water." It was eventually concluded that it was a 'freak of nature' and not a new species. The 'bunyip skull' disappeared from the museum soon afterwards, and its present location is unknown.

South Australian sightings

Between 1852 and 1895, several sightings of bunyips in South Australiamarker were recorded and documented in the South Australian Register. A "12 to 14 foot long" creature was sighted on 30 December 1852 in a Mount Gambiermarker lagoon. On 28 November 1853, a similar sighting was made at a lagoon near Melrose, South Australia quoting that the creature was "like that of a horse with thick bristly hair... Its actual length would be from 15 to 18 feet." On 20 August 1881 a similar creature was sighted in a salt water lake between Robe and Beachport, South Australiamarker. Another sighting occurred on 21 February 1883 in a Koolunga waterhole. On 19 August 1884, it was reported that Mr W.H. Cornish of Dublin, South Australiamarker had captured a bunyip. A report of a bunyip at Warra Warra Waterhole, Crystal Brookmarker by more than six people over ten days was made on 31 January 1889. The last documented report in the register was at Umpherston Cave, Mount Gambier in 1895.

In Fiction & Filmography

  • A song about the bunyip is featured in one of the animated Dot feature films.

  • In the 2004 romance thriller movie "Fascination" Scott Doherty (Adam Garcia) tells his step sister (Alice Evans) the legend of how one can be healed if they have the strength to swim out to his father's (James Naughtn) private island. He claims that those waters saved his life because of the magic of the Bunyips who inhabit it. Another example is a picture book entitled "The Bunyip of Burkley's Creek," telling the story of a bunyip that rises from a creek and does not know what it is. The facts are somewhat distorted as the bunyip has never been portrayed as harmless, confused, or a wearer of clothes as it is in the book.

  • The Bunyip is the banner of a local weekly newspaper published in the town of Gawlermarker, South Australiamarker. First published as a pamphlet by the Gawler Humbug Society in 1863, the name was chosen because, "the Bunyip is the true type of Australian Humbug!"

  • There is a coin operated Bunyip in Murray Bridge, South Australiamarker at Sturt Reserve on the town's river front.
  • The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek is a Australian children's picture book about a bunyip.

  • The title inspired the House of the Gentle Bunyip, was a community house established in the 1970s

  • Another depiction of a bunyip in the 1989 illustrated children's book A Kangaroo Court .

  • A bunyip is the name of a summoned creature in the popular MMORPG game, RuneScape.

  • Between 1956 and 1966, local TV stations in Philadelphia, Pa, USA, aired a children's television show called "Bertie the Bunyip" hosted by Australian Lee Dexter.

  • The Bunyip is a monster in AdventureQuest. This version is a magical, heavily built creature of the night that is part jackrabbit, part wolf, and part giant.

See also

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