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Bunyip

Bunyip

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Published by draculavanhelsing
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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: draculavanhelsing on Sep 16, 2011
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09/16/2011

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 , Wonderfol Large Man, or MonstrousGiant, Brought from Botany-Bay' 
Reproduced from abroadsheet c.1790
Courtesy of MitchellLibrary
A New Exhibition,
Bun yips,
opensat The National Library
Robert Holden exploresAustralia's fascinatingfolklore of fear
I
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.
 Bunyips
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 oAustralia 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,
Bunyips
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,
Bunyips
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.
 
Any intrepid traveller using thesemaps was thus confronted at everystep with the visible threat of meetingwith a nightmare, a total inversion of the natural order. However, when thegreat voyages of the eighteen thcentury daringly brought exoticforeign flora, fauna and even livingnatives bac
to
Europe, fact oftenproved as strange as any fiction.For example, at the very end of theseventeenth century, Dutch voyagersto the west coast of Australiadiscovered an exotic anomaly-theblack swan. This was a classic exampleof something which, from the time of Ovid, was believed could not exist -all swans had to be white. Yet on7 January 1697, Willem deVlamingh's men caught black swanson the Swan River. Three specimenswere taken back to Batavia and weresurely the first Australian wildlife tobe exported.Understandably, two years later,William Dampier expected
to
seewonders in the same area andimagined he found the head andbones of a hippopotamus in the mawof a shark! (What he found wasactually a dugong.) Similarexperiences that combined increasingrationalism with exaggerationcontinued to circulate. Some werepublished and reached well beyondthe small coterie of a reading publicto enter oral culture.
(left)
Typus Orbis Terrarum
A.
Ortelius 1570?hand-coloured map
Map Collection
Early maps showedterrifYing monstersinhabiting the seas near theunexplored 'great Southland'(below)
J .
Macfarlane
The Bunyip
Reproduced from the
 Illustrated Australian News,
1 October, 1890(Melbourne: David Syme
&
Co., 1890)
PictOrial Collection
 
Of course, live natives from theSouth Seas could prove as novel asany imagined wonder. Imagine thereception in 1705 when a ship fromthe Dutch East India Companycaptured four natives from NewGuinea and sent three of these'exotics' back to Amsterdam.Thus, by the time the First Fleetsailed, centuries of folklore,speculation and tall tales had sowedthe seeds of fear and wonder, so thatTerra Australis loomed large andforbidding in the imagination of many Englishmen.One of the earliest graphicfantasies, specifically sited where theFirst Fleet would make its initialAustralian landing, was the'wonderful large wild man, ormonstrous giant, brought fromBotany-Bay'. A bizarre attractionwas advertised in these very wordsand exhibited in England around1790 when public fears for the fateof the First Fleeters were at theirmost extreme.No one knows, of course, just whenEuropeans first heard stories of thebunyip. Because Aboriginal peoplerelied on an oral transmission of theirfolklore and legend we first hear of the bunyip and other such nightmaresthrough the words of whitecommentators. One such earlynineteenth-century account was
Sheet music coverReproduced from
The Bunyip, Characteristic Australian Novelty
by HerbertDaynes Wood(London: Opus Music,c.1911)
Music Collection
gathered from a tribe in the PortPhillip area:
The natives here have a tradition that abig black fellow, far higher than theordinary size, walks about duting thenight, his object being
to
destroy goodblack fellowsand their children ... andthey will sometimes show a footprint,in size about three times as large as anordinary foot, and in a shaperesembling the print of a man's step.
In the opinion of this colonialreporter trying
to
cross a culturalbarrier, it seemed that this fearsomebeing was 'identical with the bunyipof the Port Phillip district'.

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