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.