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Bunyip stamp

The Bunyip ("devil" or "spirit") is a creature from Australian Aboriginal mythology.


Descriptions of bunyips vary wildly. Common features in Aboriginal drawings include a horse-like tail, flippers, and walrus-like tusks. Other descriptions say that bunyips were bigger than humans, fat and ugly, with plentiful dark hair or fur. Their adaptation to water was marked by scales and webbed hands. Such bunyips were mentioned in English as early as 1848. 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 or human that ventures near their abodes. Their favourite prey is human women. They also carry diseases.


"Bunyip" is just one of the Aboriginal names for the monster, but it is the one that has become the norm in English. It comes from the Wemba language of western Victoria in the southeast of Australia. Like most Aboriginal languages on that continent, it belongs to the Pama Nyungan branch of the Australian language family. There are no speakers of Wemba left, and no other Wemba words have migrated to the English language.

Reality or myth?

During the early settlement of Australia, 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 calls or cries to it. At one point, the discovery of a strange skull in an isolated area associated with these 'bunyip calls' seemed to provide physical evidence of the bunyip's existence.

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. [1]

As European exploration of Australia proceeded, the bunyip increasingly began to be regarded as a mythical animal. It has been postulated that the mysterious skull may have been 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.


Although no documented physical evidence of bunyips has been found, it has been suggested by cryptozoologists that tales of bunyips could be Aboriginal memories of the diprotodon, or other extinct Australian megafauna which became extinct some 50,000 years ago. 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 Australian 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.


  • An unusually friendly bunyip called Alexander Bunyip is a character in the children's book The Monster That Ate Canberra by Michael Salmon. Alexander, along with his brother Bert, appeared in other books and later a television show, Alexander Bunyip's Billabong.
  • Bunyips, depicted as dangerous Australian swamp-dwellers, appear in the alternate history Temeraire series.
  • In the novel Whiskey and Water by Elizabeth Bear, the Bunyip is a ferocious seal-like creature that is a rival of the kelpie Whiskey, who has sided with humans.
  • Bunyips are summoned creatures in the popular online role-playing game RuneScape.
  • In the television show Bertie the Bunyip, the title character is described as "a cross between a bunny, a collie dog and a duck-billed platypus."

See Also

External links