Author Archives: Theo Hallal

The Bunyip

Text: “When Europeans first came to Australia they were worried about the native people–they did not really understand that it was a foreign place. There was a thing according to native Australians that would hang out in watering holes and billabongs called the Bunyip, and apparently it was some kind of water monster. There is no consensus description of it–some people say it looks like an ape, others say hippo or octopus, there’s a lot of variety. It’s mainly a thing in the northeast, because that’s where a lot of rivers and watering holes are. You don’t hear as much about it in Western Australia, but people still know what it is. The idea is if you go in the water, it will drown you or kill and eat you. I first heard it when I was very little from my parents–I mean there’s books about it and stuff too.”

Context: My informant, TC, communicated the legend of the Drop Bears with me and our other two roommates as we cooked a feast on a Saturday afternoon. This is a common setting for storytelling in our apartment. He first heard this story from his parents at a young age. TC’s relationship to the legend is closely intertwined with his age and maturity–as a very young boy, he believed in and feared the Bunyip, but as he aged he overcame this fear and has come of the age that is responsible for passing the legend down to younger generations. He interprets the legend as a regional cautionary story and as an entertainment piece for believers in the obscure. 

Analysis: In my interpretation, the legend of the Bunyip offers insights into both the Australian outlook on reality and into the historical attitude of aboriginals about Europeans. Nature in Australia can be particularly fatal to unprepared individuals, so it was no surprise that children are often the target audience when the legend of the Bunyip is told. Its aboriginal origin, however, does leave some room for interpretation–to me, it is unclear whether natives simply told Europeans about the Bunyip just to share culture, or if they were looking to play a joke or ward off unwelcome settlers. That being said, similar to Oring’s estimation of in-group folklore, I interpret this legend as a show of local knowledge relative to outsider ignorance–to an unfamiliar European, after seeing some of Australia’s unique wildlife, it would not be outrageous to believe a local explaining the legend of the Bunyip. This legend also highlights the Australian attachment to nature as the Bunyip inhabits watering holes, which historically have been crucial to survival for groups living in drier areas; the dangers of the legend indicate a great respect for the natural world and its power over humans. 

The Drop Bears

Text: “The Drop Bears are essentially mutated Koalas that have developed a taste for flesh, so instead of eucalyptus leaves, they eat animals. So they climb up into the biggest trees in the forest, so you never go walking in the bush alone because otherwise the drop bears will get you. They essentially drop down from the heights and land on you and knock you out and then eat you. It’s like a mutated Koala. I think the whole point of it is to prevent people from walking alone in the bush because it’s so dangerous. There’s like snakes, spiders, you name it. It was created as a myth to scare tourists, which is the funniest bit about it. It’s not like a major regional thing or a time thing, it’s just kind of like clowning people who are not that familiar with the notion. If someone was gonna go to Australia, and an Australian asked where they were gonna go, after the person replies the Australian would warn the tourist about the drop bears. It’s basically a giant joke that all the Australians are in on and everyone else is out on. I first heard it when I was young, one of my first times seeing a Koala.”

Context: My informant, TC, communicated the legend of the Drop Bears with me and our other two roommates as we cooked a feast on a Saturday afternoon. This is a common setting for storytelling in our apartment. TC first heard the legend from his parents at a young age, on one of his earliest Koala sightings, which he cannot clearly remember but guesses was on a safari. As an Australian, TC is in on the joke and is aware that Drop Bears are not real creatures, so he might be an active bearer who re-tells the legend to unsuspecting tourists or youth in Australia. My informant interprets the legend as both a caution to people considering going into nature alone and a joke to be played by Australians on non-Australian tourists. 

Analysis: I interpret this legend pretty closely to how TC interprets it. It was immediately clear to me that this story could be used in a cautionary sense to prevent children (essentially the believer population) from wandering off alone into the wild, which, with or without Drop Bears, can be very dangerous, especially in Australia. The implication of nature as a dangerous place highlights a cultural respect for nature, and the recommendation of traveling with at least one other person suggests an appreciation for companionship, whether out of amusement or out of necessity. The practical joke aspect of the legend, however, certainly caught me by surprise and added some interesting depth to the folklore–the Drop Bears are essentially leveraged by locals to display the ignorance of tourists, similar to examples from class like anchor watch in the Navy or the left-handed screwdriver. Tourists are arguably in a liminal space and definitely in a foreign space, so, in the same vein as van Gennep’s take on rites of passage, the opportunity for practical jokes as a ritual is ripe. Once the tourists have been joked on and understand the reality, they too can be initiated and tell jokes. I believe this legend gives insights to the Australian outlook on reality; I estimate that its functions come from a strong sense of national identity, pride, and humor in Australia, particularly to do with its famous wildlife and nature which can be difficult to navigate for outsiders. 

Superstition: Knock on Wood


“Oh yeah, I always knock on wood whenever someone says they’ve never had something bad happen to them. It’s just a little precaution, you know? Like, I don’t want to jinx anything by tempting fate. Plus, it’s a habit that I’ve had for so long that it’s just become second nature at this point.”


My informant, who is white and from San Francisco, picked this superstition up from his parents as a child, and is a reluctant believer in it today. He interprets it as a method of negating the potential bad luck that could come with a jinx. 


My informant’s superstition is an example of conversion superstition, as he takes action to negate a curse. Essentially, the jinx, for example something like “I have never broken a bone” curses an individual to break a bone, but knocking on wood can negate that outcome. The curse aspect of this superstition shares some similarities with the Evil Eye, where direct compliments actually function as curses, similar to how my informant’s statements of positive wellbeing can doom one to negative outcomes. This belief could be a derivative of historical pagan beliefs in the sacredness of trees and forests, where knocking on wood provided a method through which people could communicate with deities. 

My informant’s reluctance in believing this superstition suggests his desire to depart from his commitment to the belief, perhaps a symptom of his maturing process. This in turn suggests that he views this superstition as a child’s belief. However, one might add that this superstition provides a method by which one can keep his or her self-positive thoughts in check and avoid resting on laurels or boasting. 

Superstition: Talking to the Goalposts


“Yeah, I’ve always talked to the goalposts, ever since I was a kid playing in the backyard. I just feel like they’re my teammates back there, you know? They’ve helped me out more times than I can count. As far as what I say to the posts, that varies, but it’s usually something along the lines of helping me keep pucks out of the net. I think it comes from my early days as a fan. I used to be a big fan of Patrick Roy, and he was really superstitious, so I kind of took after him with all the superstition, talking to the posts is a big one. It’s basically my way of giving 110%, I’m asking for the posts to be an extension of my game and not bank shots in behind me.”


My informant, who is white and from New Hampshire, has been practicing this superstition since his early days as a goalie, and learned it from French-Canadian goaltender Patrick Roy. He interprets it as a necessary part of his game, though he also understands how crazy the whole thing sounds. 


My informant hails from New Hampshire, a state in which hockey is very popular. The folk group that this superstition is relevant to, however, is the hockey community, in which superstition is common especially among goaltenders. By extension, this is a category of sports superstition. 

My informant’s superstition is a form of magic superstition, in which one takes action to ensure a certain outcome. While it does not neatly fit into a category of Frazer’s sympathetic magic, there are elements of contagious magic, as my informant views the net as an extension of himself and wishes to manipulate it even when separated from it. Or, perhaps, one could argue that it is similar to homeopathic magic, as my informant imitates the act of allying with a sentient force with the hope that such a bond will both be formed and be productive. This is also imitative as my informant emulates Patrick Roy in an effort to attain his great abilities. Either way, my informant’s practice strongly adheres to the idea that people engage in superstition to gain control or greater understanding of the uncontrollable world around them. 

Beyond Patrick Roy, the origins of this superstition are unclear, though, mostly due to Roy’s greatness, the superstition has certainly become canonized among goalies. 


Text: (the drinking game known as “quarters”).

Context: My informant learned the game “quarters” from the older members of his fraternity at UCI about 30 years ago. He and his fellow pledges played the game very often before social gatherings. In the game, players try to bounce a quarter off of a table and into a short glass of hard liquor; if a player succeeds, the next player must drink the contents of the glass. My informant now has passed the game onto younger generations of drinkers.

Analysis: The game of quarters hails from the ancient Greek game of “Kottabos,” in which players would toss sediment remaining in their wine glasses onto a plate in order to make other players drink. After years of evolution in European pubs, my informant played the modern game. The game stems from a tradition of drinking, which is also prevalent in the Greek Life system at universities in America. I interpret the game as a method by which one gets drunk quickly in a social setting, and it is more typical in pregames than in the main social event or afterparties.