Impish Aboriginal prank or beastly reality? Mel Campbell probes the enduring mystery of the bunyip.
THE mythological creatures that fill today's horror literature and movies hail from faraway lands. Zombie tales originated in the Caribbean, while European folk tales gave us vampires and werewolves. But a vastly more terrifying creature lurks much closer to home: one that has haunted the dreams of Australian children and the imaginations of adults: the bunyip.
Bunyips are not at all funny, although recent children's books, plays and TV have made them seem that way. Rather, the bunyip is a fascinating emblem of cross-cultural contact in colonial Australia: an indigenous bogeyman that came to terrify European settlers.
The bunyip is that breath of cold air on the back of your neck in a closed room. It's that person staring at you in a crowded party, whose face you can't place. It's an anxious mystery that makes us doubt ourselves . . . which is why Australians have tried to laugh it off.