, Wonderfol Large Man, or MonstrousGiant, Brought from Botany-Bay'
Reproduced from abroadsheet c.1790
Courtesy of MitchellLibrary
A New Exhibition,
opensat The National Library
Robert Holden exploresAustralia's fascinatingfolklore of fear
n 1972 there appeared achildren's book by MichaelSalmon which told of a bunyiprampaging through Canberra andwreaking havoc on the nation'scapital. The cover of
The Monster That Ate Canberra
depicted AlexanderBunyip outside one of the city's best-known landmarks, the NationalLibrary.Today that bunyip is part of a hostof other creatures, drawn fromcenturies of legend, fantasy andsuperstition, which enliven one of theLibrary's most engaging exhibitions.
celebrates the evolution of a unique Australian folklore of fear.After its launch at the Library onAustralia Day 2001, this exhibitionwill tour nationally. Throughout thefollowingyearAustralians will thus beintroduced to such colourfulcharacters as a mermaid supposedlycaught off the far north coast of Australia in the eighteenth century, a'Wild Man, or monstrous giant,brought from Botany-Bay' (1790),yowies, quinkins, hobyahs, banksiamen and, of course, numerousbunyips-a wonderfully diversemenjlgerie derived from Aboriginal aswellaswhite legend.The exhibition has been specificallydesigned to travel and requires no on-site or visiting curatorial input orstringent environmental standards forits staging. As such,
is idealfor smaller country towns andlocations, which are normally outsidethe scope of travelling exhibitions.Instead of presenting rare andvaluable books, paintings andartefacts which would require acontrolled environment and experthandling for their preservation andpresentation,
consists of 22large screens whose brief text isenlivened by a host of illustrationsdrawn from the National Library'sextensiveCollection.The exhibition opens and closeswith panels that recount Aboriginallegends of the bunyip. In this waythewhole progression from bunyips tobanksia men, from Indigenous toEuropean imaginings, is encapsulatedwithin an Aboriginal voice. Inchronological terms, the exhibitionranges from Aboriginal dreamtime tocontemporary Australia.Even before 1788, Terra Australishad been the site of imaginaryEuropean visits. Authoritative mapsfrom past centuries, like Ortelius'world map of c.1570, depicted agreatSouthland as a huge counter-balanceto the continents of the NorthernHemisphere. Ortelius and othercartographers at the time alsounleashed their imagination whenthey embellished their maps ofdistantlands with bizarre inhabitants andpictured foreign seas teeming withterrifYingmonsters.