Queer Beasts of the Bush

Posted by: Loren Coleman on March 10th, 2009

The Argus
Melbourne, Australia
August 13, 1932

Queer Beasts of the Bush: The Legend of the Bunyip
by J. C. Le Souef

Little is heard of the “bunyip” these enlightened days, but the blacks, and even the white settlers in the early days of colonisation, believed in the existence of that mysterious animal, and were afraid of meeting it in the bush at night.

It is recorded that William Buckley, the “wild white man,” saw the bunyip during his peregrinations with the blacks, in a lake or billabong not far from the Murray.

He said that it appeared to be about the size of a calf, with a covering of what looked like slaty-grey feathers, but he could not learn from the blacks whether it had a head or a tail, or what it looked like, as those who looked at it were supposed to die immediately!

Seals used frequently to go up the Murray many years ago, and enter the
billabongs and swamps in flood time. They would stay there for some time, feeding on fish, waterfowl, and occasionally a platypus.

When the floods receded they would be stranded, and it would be difficult for them to find their way back to the river.

My father, Mr. Dudley le Souef, mentioned that they usually lay up during the day time, and came out to feed at night.

Buckley’s aborigines had never seen seals so far from the sea, and it is probable that one of those animals was the “bunyip” which was regarded with so much awe. A seal was killed at Conargo (N.S.W.) in 1850. It was stuffed, and set up in the local hotel, where it stayed for many years. In November of last year one was seen near Mildura, showing that the “bunyip” continues to journey inland for more than 700 miles. There was much excitement at Docker’s Plains, near Wangaratta, last year, when a seal was seen in a swamp. It had escaped from a circus at Yackandandah some time previously, and had gone down the Ovens River. The ”bunyip” was found in the Koo-wee-rup swamp many years ago — a fact which gave the town of Bunyip its name.

The fierceness of the “bunyip” is, of course, legendary, but there are still some
terrifying animals abroad if reports may be believed. Last February a man at Myrtleford, in the Bright district, said that he was attacked by an animal at night, while on his way home. The creature tore his shirt as he was about to open his gate.

He declared that it was about 7ft. in height, with a round, hairy head, and four tusks, and that it stood on two legs and looked like an ape. Apparently it was a large kangaroo which felt that it was about to be attacked.

The Queensland Wild Cat.

There is an animal in North Queensland which has greatly frightened people in the last 60 years. It has never been seen by a naturalist, and many leading naturalists doubt its existence. But Mr. A. S. le Souef, of Taronga Park, Sydney, is satisfied that there is such an animal, and he quotes in “Wild Animals of Australia” the descriptions of the beast given by those who have seen it. He calls it a marsupial cat.

It is found in the impenetrable jungle country, where men seldom go and it lives.

Hawera & Normanby Star

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

8 Responses to “Queer Beasts of the Bush”

  1. TheBibliophile responds:

    I happen to have a copy of “The Bunyip” by Charles Barrett (published 1946) that quotes the part from “Life and Adventures of William Buckley” (John Morgan – 1852) referenced above, about the Bunyip and his experiences with it. Here is the section, verbatim, including some interesting details left out of the summarized account:

    We lived very sumptuously and in peace for many months at this place (Kironomoat) and then went to the borders of another lake called Moodewarri (Lake Modewarre); the water of which was perfectly fresh, abounding in large eels, which we caught in great abundance. In this lake, as well as in most of the others inland, and in the deep water rivers, is a very extraordinary amphibious animal, which the natives call Bunyip, of which I never could see any part but the back, which appeared covered with feathers of a dusky grey colour. It seemed to be about the size of a full-grown calf, and sometimes larger; the creatures only appear when the weather is very calm and the water smooth. I could never learn from any of the natives that they had seen either the head or the tail, so that I could not form a correct idea of their size; or what they were like…

    Here (on the Barwon River) the Bunyip – the extraordinary animal I have already mentioned – were often seen by the natives, who had a great dread of them, believing them to have some supernatural power over human beings, so as to occasion death, sickness, disease and such like misfortunes. They also have a superstitious notion that the great abundance of eels in some of the lagoons where animals resort, are ordered for the Bunyip’s provision; and they therefore seldom remain long in such neighborhoods after having seen the creature.

    They told me a story of a woman having been killed by one of them, stating that it happened in this way. A particular family one day was surprised at the great quantity of eels they caught; for as fast as the husband could carry them back to their hut, the woman pulled them out of the lagoon. This, they said, was a cunning manoeuvre of a Bunyip to lull her into security – so that in her husband’s absence he might seize her for food. However this was, after the husband had stayed away some time he returned, but his wife was gone, and she was never seen after. So great is the dread the natives have of these creatures, that on discovering one, they throw themselves flat on their face, muttering some gibberish, or flee away from the borders of the lake or river, as if pursued by a wild beast. When alone, I several times attempted to spear a Bunyip; but, had the natives seen me do so, it would have caused great displeasure. And again, if I had succeeded in killing or even wounding one, my own life would probably have paid forfeit – they considering the animal, as I have already said, something supernatural.

    It’s noted by Barrett in his book that “This is John Morgan’s language, not that of the illiterate convict, who, escaping from Lieut.-Colonel Collins’ camp at Indented Head, lived for thirty-two years among the blacks of the Geelong district.” Still, unless the section was completely invented by one of the two parties out of whole cloth, one might assume the details to be fairly free of embellishment, as there is nothing particularly dramatic or ‘tall-tale’ in feel about the account, just a description of animals unfamiliar to a man who lived for over 30 years in the wilds of Australia.

    Interesting note about the eels, could a seal or other anomalous animal unfamiliar to the Aborigines have been following a regular migration or spawning route of one of the local species? Are there any native eel species that alternate between oceanic and freshwater existence that could draw, say, an elephant seal upriver to an area where it was seen and identified as a Bunyip? Perhaps a opportunistic saltwater crocodile, although the natives were quite familiar with those and sketched them realistically in their art.

  2. mystery_man responds:

    I’m a little confused as to the layout and structure of this article, and a few things don’t make sense to me.

    It starts out with a report of an animal that

    appeared to be about the size of a calf, with a covering of what looked like slaty-grey feathers

    But then it says in the same sentence-

    ..he could not learn from the blacks whether it had a head or a tail, or what it looked like

    This is weird to me since didn’t the man see it himself and knew what it looked like? Am I just misreading this?

    Then the article goes on to seals trapped inland, which seems to have little to do with an animal with no apparent head and tail that is seemingly covered in feathers. It also just sort of throws in a story of an escaped circus seal.

    After that, the article goes from feather covered creatures and seals to 7 foot tall animals with four tusks without seemingly any logical transition at all. On top of that, the attack is described as being mysterious and of a 7 foot tall creature with four tusks, yet it then states that it was just a large kangaroo. With four tusks? I’m not sure what is going on with that one.

    It is an interesting article, but disjointed and I’m not sure what the author really wants to say. Is he saying the bunyip is a feather covered creature that kills you if you look at it, a wild seal, circus seals, or a tusked 7 foot tall animal? It’s almost like a stream of consciousness on bunyip ideas.

    I can’t figure our if my perceptions here are stemming from me misreading this thing, poor writing skill on the part of the reporter, or just the conventions and way these reports were written back then in 1932.

    The Queensland Wild Cat piece at the bottom is very interesting.

  3. TheBibliophile responds:

    The original article posted is apparently a newspaperman’s attempt at a ‘kooky folklore’ piece, rehashing some of the commonly repeated stories about the Bunyip including one by William Buckley that had originally been related in John Morgan’s 1852 book on his life.

    It’s very likely no real research was done by Mr. J. C. Le Souef beyond a quick trip to a friend to borrow a disintegrating copy of the book and a round or two for the boys down at the pub to get them all talking about Bunyip stories they had heard.

  4. youcantryreachingme responds:

    You’re reading it right, mystery_man – it’s disjoint. In a nutshell the bunyip is said to be some sort of creature that inhabits billabongs, lakes and other freshwater systems, inland. There’s a myth – don’t let your kids go down to the water at night, lest the bunyip get them. That generally keeps kids close to hand.

    However, there are reports, as described above, of bunyip-like creatures described by the indigenous Aboriginals and also a few early white settlers. I believe there were two basic body forms – one that seemed to be hairy (i.e. the slate-gray feathers), the other with a long neck and small head.

    I guess it makes sense if he saw an indistinct animal shape covered in gray shaggy hair-like or feather-like material, quickly move off into the water, and if in fact it was a seal, he couldn’t distinguish the head or tail at a distance. The author goes on to say that the Aboriginals couldn’t help him with that question because they believed that to look at it was to die.

    The author then speculates that one possible explanation for such a creature would be seals – because they have in fact (at least in the early 1800s) been recorded that far inland and supposedly because local Aboriginals would not have been familiar with the animal (hence it becomes a mythical creature that appears only once during each period of many years).

    The four-tusked creature sounded more like a yowie – Australia’s bigfoot – until the tusks were mentioned. I’m reading it that the author supposes the real explanation is a kangaroo. Kangaroos can grow to 7 foot tall and can kick with their hind feet (which have massive claws) while balancing on their tail. If you got done by a roo that size, you’d sure know about it. They easily disembowel pig dogs in this way. Perhaps he didn’t fully see the animal in low light, but came away with 4 clear cuts from the kicks?

    Finally the Queensland cat. If you look up Paul Clachers website on big cats you’ll find maps drawn before European settlement of Australia showing large cat-like animals illustrated for Queensland. Following colonisation, as described, there were reports of a large cat-like animal which some people now suspect might have been thylacoleo carnifex. Others argue that species has been extinct for several tens of thousands of years.

    Another explanation might be a hitherto unknown “giant quoll”. Environmental scientist Gary Opit has published a list of 50 unusual animal sightings from northern NSW (near the Qld border) which can be divided into two kinds: those resembling thylacines (Tasmanian tigers) and those resembling an unknown giant quoll species.

    Of course, then there is the theory that there were at that time still thylacines present in Queensland. There is a small booklet available about Tasmanian tiger sightings in the far north of Queensland spanning from European settlement to the present. There are also reports of thylacine sightings in Irian Jaya, Indonesia, to the north of Queensland from the late 1990s. Fossil material of the thylacine has been found in New Guinea (the eastern half of that island) but not the Indonesian (western) half.

  5. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    Hey Mystery_Man – From what I could ascertain from the article the man did in fact see it for himself, but from what I gather he must have viewed it from a distance, or it was somewhat obscured, because it is evident from the article he didn’t get a very good look at it. And it seems to be saying that his curiousity was aroused enough to try to get more info, so he went to ask the blacks for a detailed description, but failed to get a good description because apparently the blacks were scared to death of this thing and thought they would die if they gazed upon it, so it sounds like they avoided this creature at all costs.

    Then the article seems to be entertaining the idea that the “bunyip” is simply a seal, and he explains several different reasons as to how it would have arrived there. Then it does seem to kind of go off on a tangent with the 7′ tall tusked ceature. But what I think the author was trying to illustrate with that piece is how occurrences with known animals can easily be exaggerated or confused and turned into “tall tales”. That was the impression I got from the article anyway.

    It is kinda confusing though in some respects, especially with the description of the gray, slaty feathers, which to me doesn’t sound like a seal at all. I’m no seal expert, but “feathered” is nothing that comes to mind when I think of a seal. But as for the description of no head or tail, well now that does kinda sound like a seal. If you weren’t very familiar with seals and saw one from a distance, maybe it would appear to have no head. Just depends on it’s posture at the time, but if the seal was looking up, or it’s head aligned with the rest of its body, since the head just kinda tapers to a point to the nose, maybe the head wouldn’t be very distinguished, nor the tail. So maybe I can see the authors point on that one, but he really makes a huge jump calling a reported 7′ tall bipedal ape-like creature with 4 tusks a kangaroo.

    BTW – Loren, nice title, lol, I had a good laugh when I opened cryptomundo this morning and saw that.

  6. youcantryreachingme responds:

    Just a few more notes – don’t miss the fact the source article was from 1932. Also, historically Australia did have carnivorous kangaroos with tusks – not that Le Seouf is necessarily suggesting this was the animal which jumped the man.

    However this article has great timing. There is a video in Australian news at the moment of a “ninja” kangaroo which got into a family home and basically wrecked it. Warning – you will see blood-smeared walls. To be fair, the roo was attacked by the family dog and then crashed through a glass window.

    Also, just after writing my first comment, I received another report in my inbox, of a Tasmanian tiger in Queensland, 10 years ago.

  7. TheBibliophile responds:

    Did no one read the transcribed comments before posting? I was quite interested to hear what any of you had to say about the eels and possible connection to an out-of-place animal.

  8. mystery_man responds:

    youcantryreachingme, cliffhanger- Thanks for giving me your takes on the wording and structure of the article. That makes sense.

    youcantryreachingme- Also, thank you for all of that excellent information! It is much appreciated.

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