Friday, October 26, 2012

Reasons to visit Australia 2: the Bunyip

I first read about the Bunyip in Barry Humphries' first autobiography, "More, Please." Humphries costumed himself as one in an early Australian children's TV programme, in which he would recount Aboriginal legends. Part of the get-up was a large proboscis (some say the Bunyip resembles an elephant) and partway through live transmission the nose fell off. Characteristically, the future global entertainer compounded the misfortune by explaining to the watching youngsters, as he re-fixed the appendage, that he had leprosy; transmission was abruptly terminated.

Attempts have been made to explain away the Bunyip's existence, as with other marvellous and miraculous things; even, to date its first mythical appearance (1932).

On the other hand, it may be quite real and have made its way into Aboriginal folk-memory from 50,000 years ago, when the continent was first colonised by humans. When they arrived, the giant wombat or diprotodon roamed the land, a massive creature weighing nearly 8 times as much as the modern American grizzly bear:

(Pik: Wik)
Together with other giant meaty animals, it seems to have disappeared within a few thousand years of the immigrants' arrival. But like the coelocanth, believed 65 million years extinct prior to its rediscovery alive in 1938, there could be some left.

There are two reasons why we have no complete physical evidence of this creature:

1. It is rare, choosing as its habitat remote swamps and waterholes.

2. If you meet one, you will suddenly become rarer than it.

It also helped revive the Australian film industry, thanks to the 1970 movie "The Naked Bunyip" in which a naïf sex researcher conducts appropriate investigations; the maker bypassed censorship by covering the most objectionable images with Bunyip caricatures. Coincidentally, modern legend says the Bunyip (like Barry Humphries) prefers women victims, but "any port in a storm".

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