In Sydney, a Blue-ringed octopus will make you wish for your own death. In Western Australia they have man-eating Great White Sharks. In the Northern Territory you stay clear of the water lest a croc has a hankering for European tourist. A Cassawary is able to disembowel you, and even our most beloved Red Kangaroos will try to knock you a good one if you get too close to a territorial male.
And that’s what you can see… For the most part…
What you don’t is often more likely to land you in the hospital. The catalogue of “Australian Beasties that Kill” is- Large. I won’t bore you with the list of spiders, snakes etc & so forth… Instead, I’ll just leave it to The Scared Weird Little Guys’ classic tourism number Come to Australia to give you a clue, just in case you haven’t one.
The corporeal critters are well documented. But there is one creature that is somewhat more allusive. And no, not the Drop Bear; I’m talking about the Bunyip.
There are very few Fae creatures that have leapt from the Australian Landscape and into the broader imagination of European Australia; the Yowie (sometimes conflated with the Bunyip), and the Mimi are known by a few, but everyone knows the rules about billabongs and waterholes: There be Bunyips.
Queensland historian Marion Elizabeth Diamond at Historians are Past Caring in her post ‘Bunyips‘ details some of how this creature has entered into the realm of Australian political culture, and the weird landscape of Cryptozoology. The former humours me, but the later is rather unfortunate. The Europoean penchant (of the time, and still) to address Indigenous reports of Landed-spirits with empirical research, and then diminish the mythical creature alike to Cottingley Faeries rendering them somehow more suitable for children, seems to miss the point and wisdom inherent in such myths. And speaks to the loss of the animistic mind in many a white explorer. In her post Diamond quotes Aboriginal artist Lin Onus:
‘It is not possible to grow up in any Koori community without knowing about Bunyips. I tend not to see them as the evil menacing creature that some non-Aboriginal literature suggests, but rather as slightly timid—preferring to keep out of humans’ way. Whilst generally rather shy, they are not averse to a good feed of human once in a while (I understand the ears are a particular delicacy) if someone is so foolish as to go swimming in dark or murky water or in the turbulent river holes where you may be dragged under and trapped.’ (5 March 1987)
Joke indeed, though the butt of it might not be the Bunyip. It is perhaps important to note what Australian philosopher Val Plumwood wrote after surviving a crocodile attack whilst canoeing in Kakadu. She called it, “an experience beyond words of total terror, total helplessness, total certainty, experienced with undivided mind and body, of a terrible death in the swirling depths.”
The Bunyip, like the Landscape itself, might be meandering, almost whimsical, often calm and sometimes comical, belying a sometimes terrifying depth and darkness, waiting in the stillness. Not wholly unlike Onus’ watery landscapes.
One need not cancel out the other. Like all Fae beings, or Spirits of Place and locations, I believe both are true, the shy, benign children’s character, the clawed and canine-toothed monster. Partaking of a multiplicity of forms as they interact in place and ecosystem. Including our own spirit of curiosity, fascination and fear, and the wisdom of Life and Death in one.
P.S. ‘B’ is for Bunyip! This post participates with the Pagan Blog Project!
1. ‘Eye of the crocodile’, Gregg Borschmann, ABC Radio National, ‘RN Breakfast’s’, Wednesday 12 June 2013