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. It is usually given as a sort of lake monster. Common features in Aboriginal descriptions include a dog-like face, dark fur, a horse-like tail, flippers, and walrus-like tusks or horns. According to legend, they are said to lurk in swamps, billabongs, creeks, riverbeds, and waterholes.

Early accounts
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 written accounts is attributed to escaped convict William Buckley. His account records "in..(Lake Moodewarri) as well as in most of the others inland…is 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."

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 nonexistent. 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.

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, while others believed it had died once its habitat was gone.[


Although no documented physical evidence of bunyips has been found, it has been suggested by cryptozoologists that tales of bunyips could be Aboriginal folk memory of the Diprotodon, or other extinct Australian megafauna which became extinct some 50,000 years ago, such as the Procoptodon, a Kangaroo-like animal, that had a rounded face and could lift its arms above head height, or the Quinkana, a land-crocodile.

Cultural references

  • The Bunyip River flows into Westernport Bay in southern Victoria and the town of Bunyip, Victoria is named for the legendary creature.
  • The Bunyip is the banner of a local weekly newspaper published in the town of Gawler, South Australia. 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 Australia at Sturt Reserve on the town's river front.
  • The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek is a popular Australian children's picture book about a bunyip seeking to learn who he is by asking everyone he meets "What do bunyips look like?"
  • The title inspired the House of the Gentle Bunyip, was a community house established in the 1970s and preserved in 1997 after the longest community picket in Australian history.
  • A tale of a bunyip is included in Andrew Lang's The Brown Fairy Book (1904).
  • During the 1950s and 1960s, "Bertie the Bunyip" was a children's show in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, created by Lee Dexter, an Australian.
  • Another depiction of a bunyip in the 1989 illustrated children's book A Kangaroo Court

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