Tag Archives: aboriginal

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. 

Australian Bunyip Legend

Background Information: 

The informant was born and raised in Australia but has roots in Czechia. She is describing her childhood in Sydney.

Main Content: 

ME: Hey, would you mind telling me about the Bunyip? 

SP: Yeah, sooo the Bunyip is an Australian story that came from indigenous Australian people, and it was like I think a way that our parents got us to stay away from the water when we were little, to not like wander near rivers and ponds and like dams and billabongs and like drown. So if it was like if you go too close to the water the Bunyip, which is a really scary creature who lives in the bottom of the dam, will come out and grab you and you will disappear into the water forever. 

ME: So where did you find out about the Bunyip? 

SP: I think the Bunyip came from my parents… telling me not to go near the water, but all of my memories from it are from my grandparents because their farm had this really scary billabong, which is like a mini-lake, and it looked like really dark and scary and I just remember my grandma telling me not to go to close otherwise the Bunyip would get ya. 


This interview happened in-person at my apartment.  


A classic example of a legend that is trying to teach children to stay away from dangerous things. The informant told me that especially in Australia, there are a lot of waterways that kids could drown in, as well as dangerous animals that often live in the waterways. Scaring children that there is a dangerous monster that lives in the water is much more effective way to get them to stay away than actually telling them the truth. There are plenty of stories like this, such as the Inuit tale of the Qallupilluit, which talks of a monster who kidnaps children who wander out onto frozen ice in the Arctic Ocean. To learn more about this story, read here: “Inuit Stories – Qallupilluit.” Tia and Piujuq, 14 Mar. 2019, https://tiaandpiujuq.com/qalluipilluit/. For a different account of the Bunyip legend, read here: Pfeifle, Tess. “The Bunyip.” Astonishing Legends, Astonishing Legends, 15 Feb. 2018, https://www.astonishinglegends.com/astonishing-legends/2018/2/15/the-bunyip. 

The Origins of New Zealand (Maui Origin Story


The origins of new Zealand – myth (Maui)

“So, Maui is the son of Rangi (sky father) and Papa (mother). He wanted to fishing one day, but his brothers wouldn’t let him. So he made a hook out of, like, a magic jawbone or something and then he hid in a boat. I’m not sure why he hid, but his brothers were mean to him or something. Then he caught a really, really, really big fish that is the North Island. It’s so big that they fall out of the boat or something and the boat is the south island. And his brothers don’t wait to pray to someone before cutting up the fish. And that’s why there are mountains and rivers and gullies in the North Island.”

Informant & Context:

My informant for this piece is a USC student from New Zealand who lived in Auckland for 18 years. The story she is telling is a Maui origin story about how New Zealand came into existence.


This is a very relaxed approach to storytelling. The unabridged Maui origin story can be found here: http://www.newzealand.com/us/feature/the-legend-of-new-zealand/. The vast majority of the points match, but a lot of the details of the story have been removed in my informants version.  I find it incredibly interesting to hear a white person from New Zealand telling aboriginal origin stories. To me this indicates a more concrete sense of heritage in the country, and a more collective sense of identity for the country.

A Taiwanese aboriginal story about two suns

The following story was told to me by the informant while talking about the things she learned while studying abroad in Taiwan.

“An aboriginal story from Taiwan… There’s a lot of different versions of it (the aboriginal story) and actually different tribes have the same story but different versions, but the one that I heard was told by a man of the Atyal tribe, he’s probably about sixty. So, It’s the story of two suns, and in the story, they’re living a long time ago, and the tribe is having a huge problem because there’s two suns in the sky, and it gets too hot, and it’s never dark, and it’s destroying the plants, and the people can’t live because they can’t sleep and they can’t produce any food for themselves, and I think the plant that they grow is millet. And so they want to select a hero from the tribe to go and shoot one of the suns with a bow and arrow, and so they keep on choosing the strongest man, and they have him go out. But every time he goes out, by the time he gets close enough to the sun to shoot it down, he’s become an old man, and he’s no longer the strong warrior of the tribe that could do it, and so they go on for a long time and they can’t… they have no way to solve the problem, and so then one time there’s a wise man and he’s strong, but he’s not the strongest, but he’s a smart young man and he says, ‘I’m going to take a young boy from the village, and I’m going to carry him on my back with me, and I’m gonna train him, and I’m gonna take him on my quest with me to take down the sun.’ and so by the time they get close enough to the sun, the wise young man is no longer a young man; he’s an old man. But he’s brought up a new young man who’s now strong enough pull the arrow and to shoot down the sun, and so he shoots down the sun and saves the tribe, and that’s how the story of two suns goes.”

The informant learned about this story because she was studying the ancient Taiwanese aboriginal language of the Atyal tribe. Their language is almost extinct, with only about 200 remaining native speakers. However, as the informant points out, this same legend is shared by some of the other aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, in different versions. When I asked about the origins of the Atyal people and other aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, the informant said that they are indeed related to the same Polynesian peoples who also inhabited New Zealand and/or Australia (she couldn’t remember which).

By examining aboriginal cultures where they are at risk of going extinct, we can learn more about ancient culture, and perhaps draw conclusions as to how modern cultures came to be. Unfortunately, aboriginal peoples like those belonging to the Atyal tribe are dwindling and being forgotten, a pattern that shows no signs of reversal. It’s important to document legends and myths such as the above before they disappear, so they can be examined and studied and perhaps teach us something about our modern society.