Bunyips are legendary spirits or creatures of the Australian Aborigine. Bunyips haunt rivers, swamps, creeks and billabongs. Their main goal in life is to cause nocturnal terror by eating people or animals in their vicinity. They are renowned for their terrifying bellowing cries in the night and have been known to frighten Aborigines to the point where they would not approach any water source where a bunyip might be waiting to devour them.
There are many reports by white settlers who have witnessed bunyips, so cryptozoologists may still be searching for these creatures. They may have some difficulty in locating their prey, though, since 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. However, most Australians now consider the existence of the bunyip to be mythical. Some scientists believe the bunyip was a real animal, the diprotodon, extinct for some 20,000 years, which terrified the earliest settlers of Australia.
According to Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) in Stradbroke Dreamtime, the bunyip is an evil or punishing spirit from the Aboriginal Dreamtime. Today the bunyip mainly appears in Australian literature for children and makes an occasional appearance on television.
Greg Keogh of the Australian Skeptics in Melbourne recalls the following TV skit:
We see a busload of Japanese tourists swarming out of a bus into some beautiful and spare bushland. They are talking madly amongst themselves and taking endless photos. Suddenly they all turn and gasp and start taking frantic pictures of this weird hairy shape that seems to be moving in the distant bush. Suddenly, it's gone. The tourists happily cram back onto the bus all chatting in animated fashion about the mysterious "bun-i-a-yip" (said with Japanese accent) that they just saw.
[cut] We see two bored but happy fellows sitting down for a lunch break and taking off part of their huge "bunyip" suit, one says to the other something like "Phew! that's the 4th busload today".
So, one theory of the bunyip is that it began as an animal which used to frighten the original natives of Australia some 25,000 years ago before it became extinct. Even after physical extinction, bunyips were still seen and heard around water holes, and feared by natives for thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans. The bunyips then evolved into spirits in the Dreamtime of the Australian Aborigines while continuing to also be a terrifying creature of the earth, especially fond of watery haunts, and visible now to many white settlers. The bunyip's evolution continued into the realm of the imagination of storytellers especially fond of terrifying children. Finally, the bunyip evolved to its current state of perfection as a television caricature. The beast has been slain. No need to fear. We can all sleep better tonight.
"Ethereal or Earthly? Friend or Foe?: Bunyips in Australian Children's Literature" from The State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
Bunyips from the Bunyip's Beat
Noonuccal, Oodgeroo, Stradbroke dreamtime (Pymble, N.S.W. : Angus & Robertson, 1972)..