A creature believed by many to have supernatural origins, the Bunyip is a monster that lurks within the creeks and swamps of Australia, and which has been known to the Aboriginal people for centuries. Maybe even longer. As for its appearance, in 1845 the Geelong Advertiser told its readers: “The Bunyip, then, is represented as uniting the characteristics of a bird and of an alligator. It has a head resembling an emu, with a long bill, at the extremity of which is a transverse projection on each side, with serrated edges like the bone of the stingray. Its body and legs partake of the nature of the alligator. The hind legs are remarkably thick and strong, and the fore legs are much longer, but still of great strength. The extremities are furnished with long claws, but the blacks say its usual method of killing its prey is by hugging it to death. When in the water it swims like a frog, and when on shore it walks on its hind legs with its head erect, in which position it measures twelve or thirteen feet in height.”
One of the most fascinating reports of an encounter with a Bunyip came from a man who has taken on near-legendary status in Australia. His name was William Buckley. Born in Cheshire, England in 1780, Buckley was an unforgettable and imposing figure, who stood at around six feet eight inches and had a head of wild, long, black hair. He enlisted in the King’s Foot Regiment and fought against the army of none other than Napoleon Bonaparte. In what was certainly a miscarriage of justice, Buckley was found guilty of theft, and given a sentence of fourteen years. Buckley was shipped off to Australia to serve his time in jail. But not for long. In December 1803, Buckley managed to escape and, as a result, spent an incredible thirty years living with the Wathaurung Aborigines and, in doing so, took two wives. In July 1835, Buckley finally came out of hiding and was soon thereafter pardoned for the crime that never was.
Then, in 1852, a man named John Morgan wrote a celebrated and highly entertaining book on Buckley. The very appropriate title was The life and Adventures of William Buckley. One of the highlights of the book was Buckley’s claim to Morgan that while living in the wilds of Australia, he encountered a Bunyip. Buckley told his chronicler: “We next went about forty miles, I should think, to a place they call Kironamaat; there is near to it a lake about ten miles in circumference. It took us several days to accomplish this march, as we hunted all the way; we halted near a well of fresh water, the lake being brackish, and there was a great plain near us. We here made nets with strips of bark, and caught with them great quantities of shrimps. We lived very sumptuously and in peace for many months at this place, and then went to the borders of another lake, called Moodewarri: the water of which was perfectly fresh, abounding in large eels, which we caught in great abundance.
“In this lake, as well as in most of the others inland, and in the deep water rivers, is a very extraordinary amphibious animal, which the natives call Bunyip, of which I could never see any part, except the back, which appeared to be covered with feathers of a dusky grey color. It seemed to be about the size of a full grown calf, and sometimes larger; the creatures only appear when the weather is very calm, and the water smooth. I could never learn from any of the natives that they had seen either the head or tail, so that I could not form a correct idea of their size; or what they were like.”
Buckley continued: “Here, the Bunyip – the extraordinary animals I have already mentioned – were often seen by the natives, who had a great dread of them, believing them to have some supernatural power over human beings, so as to occasion death, sickness, disease, and such like misfortunes. They have also a superstitious notion that the great abundance of eels in some of the lagoons where animals resort, are ordered for the Bunyip’s provision; and they therefore seldom remain long in such neighborhoods after having seen the creature.
“When alone, I several times attempted to spear a Bunyip; but, had the natives seen me do so, it would have caused great displeasure. And again, if I had succeeded in killing or even wounding one, my own life would probably have paid forfeit – they considering the animal, as I have already said, something supernatural.”
The Australian office of the Center for Fortean Zoology notes the following, on this very unusual animal: “In many 19th-century newspaper accounts the bunyip was variously attributed a dog-like face, dark fur, a horse-like tail, flippers, and walrus-like tusks or horns or a duck-like bill. Many modern-day researchers now believe the descriptions may have referred to seals or walruses, or even a cultural memory of megafauna such as the diprotodon.”
Whatever the truth of the Bunyip – unknown animal, supernatural entity or something else – the legend and lore that surrounds it still persists.