The bunyip is a mythical creature or a malevolent spirit from Australian mythology. Various accounts and explanations of bunyips have been given across Australia since the early days of the colonies.
Usually translated as "devil" or "spirit". The word "bunyip" has also taken on the meaning of "imposter" in Australian English.
Aboriginal tribes do not all give the same visual description of the creature. Some say the bunyip looks like a huge snake with a beard and a mane; others say it looks like a huge furry half-human beast with a long neck and a head like a bird. Common features in Aboriginal drawings include a horse-like tail, flippers, and walrus-like tusks or horns. The Aborigine's fear of Bunyip can probably be traced back to a known aquatic man-killer, the saltwater crocodile. The bunyip has a loud bellowing cry terrifies the aborigines.
The settler's view of the Bunyip varies greatly from that of the Aborigines but they also reported different set of creatures. 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. Recently, the bunyip is shown as a peaceful vegetarian grazing hippo-like creature.
Like other beasts in Dreamtime, the Bunyip was malevolent towards human beings. 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.
According to legend, they are said to lurk in swamps, billabongs, creeks, riverbeds, and waterholes. At night their blood-curdling cries can be heard as they devour any animal that ventures near their abodes.
- The Greta Bunyip was a bunyip which was believed to have lived in the swamps of the Greta area, in Victoria, 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, whilst others believed it had died once its habitat was gone.
- In 1846 a peculiar skull was taken from the banks of Murrumbidgee River in New South Wales. In the first flush of excitement, several experts 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 Museum (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.
- As European exploration of Australia proceeded, the bunyip increasingly began to be regarded as not existing. The mysterious skull was later identified as that of a disfigured horse or calf. The idiom 'why search for the bunyip?' emerged from repeated attempts by Australian adventurers to capture or sight the bunyip, the phrase indicating that a proposed course of action is fruitless or impossible.
- 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 1852 a Dog-faced Bunyip was observed in Lake Tiberias, Tasmania. It was described as being 4 to 4½ feet long, with a head like a bulldog and black shaggy fur. While rowing across Great Lake, Tasmania, Charles Headlam and a friend almost bumped into a Dog-faced Bunyip. They described it as being about the size of a fully-grown sheepdog, and having two small wing-like flippers. The Bunyip stayed at the top of the water until it swam out of view.
- 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
- There are several noted disappearances of persons from Lake Modewarre, which many say were the work of the Bunyip.
- Aboriginal stories about the bunyip may reflect oral traditions of the diprotodon, a rhinosceros-sized herbivore. Diprotodon was the largest marsupial ever to have existed. Diprotodon is believed to have become extinct between 15 and 20 000 years ago. 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.
- Another theory is that Bunyips are seals that were trapped by the flood, or crocodiles.
- A third explanation is that the sightings 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.
- The cries of the possum or koala could likely be mistaken for the bunyip, as most people are surprised to find koalas or possums are capable of such loud roars. The Barking Owl, a nocturnal bird that lives around swamps and billabongs in the Bush is sometimes credited for making the sounds of the bunyip. The bird is known to make a call that can easily be mistaken for the cries of a woman or child. Other species of birds, such as bitterns and bush-stone curlews emit blood curdling sounds that were sometimes attributed to bunyips.
- A popular New Zealand reggae band was named 'Bunyip', with a career that spanned from 1998 to 2003. During this time they released the hit singles and toured NZ extensively.
- The american TV series, Charmed, the Bunyip is one of many demonic creatures and is depicted in the Book of Shadows. The Bunyips are monsters named in the Doctor Who audio drama, "Dreamtime." The story also features references to other Indigenous Australian mythology, such as Uluru.
- Depictions of bunyips outside of Australia are often unrelated to the various earlier depictions and fictional accounts. The name is given to monsters in videogames such as Ty The Tasmanian Tiger, in the PlayStation and Playstation 2 games Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy X and Culdcept. In a version of The Sims 2 and other game references, Animal Crossing, and the Nintendo DS follow-up Animal Crossing: Wild World, it is depicted as a large rabbit, as it is in animated series, Mona the Vampire. The pen-and-paper RPG Werewolf: The Apocalypse defines them as a type of werewolf present in Australia. On the Australian children's show, Hi-5, Kellie Hoggart took a journey to 'Bunyip Island'. Jennifer Peterson-Hind also visited 'Bunyip Island' on the American version of the show.