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.