Today’s journey into the world of folklore takes us to the swamps of Australia, to visit a creature even less physically consistent than our friend the Snallygaster. While the Snallygaster of Maryland (and other places) had a variety of guises, it always appeared in the manner of a winged bird-reptile thing.
No doubt the Bunyip, who has been described as anything from a giant starfish to a crocodile covered with feathers, would deem this lack of imagination terribly passe. It has been suggested that instead of describing a single beast, the term “bunyip” might simply be what one calls any number of large (usually) evil creatures who happen to live in the swamps of Australia.
Other theories include that the creature is too terrifying to allow for accurate recall, or that the bunyip was a prehistoric beast of some sort.
Now, despite how much our courts rely on them, eyewitness accounts are known to be terribly inaccurate. Still, the notion that the bunyip is so frightening that the human mind can’t process it clearly enough to remember what it looks like is, if not unlikely, then at least highly offensive to other terrifying creatures of folklore.
Many other creatures have habits (which we’ll get to in a minute) that are just as frightening as those of the bunyip, but most of them are described fairly completely. Why should the bunyip be so special? It has been suggested by some mythical beasts that this is just a cheap trick by the bunyip’s PR department, intended to boost its image without having to come up with a truly terrifying description.
The idea that the legends of the bunyip might have originated from cultural, or more recent, memories of prehistoric creatures could have some merit. It is certainly what the early European explorers hoped was the case, eager as they were (where ever they went) to find living examples of the bones they found and thus gain fame and prestige back home.
One more modern explanation is that the legend of the bunyip is derived from sightings of seals that wandered up river.
Which makes complete sense. I can totally see how you could mistake a seal for a feathered crocodile.
Now, as to the creature’s habits–which are only slightly less various than its physical description. As I’ve said, it is a swamp beast. And yes, Australia has swamps. It’s not all desert. Where do you think platypus’ live?
It is normally thought of as evil, and highly dangerous to humans. Some stories describe the bunyip killing its victims by hugging them to death.
Which might explain why no one knows what it looks like. If I was hugged to death by a giant starfish I don’t think I would remember the event clearly either.
Others paint a more nuanced view, with the bunyip as the frightening guardian of the Australian wilderness. A swamp Batman, if you will.
This disparity could easily be explained by differences in perspective. Or perhaps the bunyip is a moody creature, indiscriminately vicious one minute, and concerned about its home the next.
Either way, if you needed another reason not to visit the swamps of Australia at night, the bunyip certainly fits the bill.