Fancy a journey deep into Australia's history and its astonishing landscapes? Why not follow the trail of the mythical bunyip (water monster) back to its Aboriginal origins in the south-eastern territory of Victoria.
If you're searching for places to visit in Victoria, exploring attractions like the Koorie Heritage Trust and the highly recommended Bunjilaka at the Melbourne Museum, popping into Charcoal Lane for a taste of Aboriginal-influenced cuisine or taking a drive out to the Narana Cultural Centre will help you get closer to the history of Australia and the indigenous population who tell the many terrifying stories of the bunyip.
Known and feared across Australia, the very first tales of the creature called a bunyip (which means “evil spirit” in the Wemba Wemba language) originated in south-eastern Aboriginal storytelling before spreading across the country. The form of the bunyip is much debated, with some tales telling of a creature with a dog-like face, walrus tusks, a duck bill, flippers and a horse’s tail, while others describe a serpent-like creature with a mane. The Moorundi people of the Murray River are recorded as describing the bunyip's most common form as a giant starfish, while other reports paint the monster as humanoid with a long neck and bird-like face.
While the bunyip doesn't seem to have a settled form, there is plenty of agreement about bunyip behaviour. This Australian beast lives in swamps, billabongs and rivers, lurking in muddy backwaters waiting for its favourite prey – human children. Although children are the bunyip's favourite snack, this mythical beast will devour any foolhardy human as well as any livestock which ventures too close to the water's edge.
The huge diversity in bunyip descriptions, through fascinating, suggests that while danger does lurk in Australia's swamps, you're much more likely to be caught by a croc than a bunyip. Despite its huge presence in the country's storytelling repertoire, it's likely the bunyip is little more than a cautionary tale for children.
It’s possible that Bunyips are nothing more than a cautionary tale, but generations of Aborigines have told of their existence, and many European settlers also wrote about their encounters with the creatures. At Fiery Creek near Ararat in Victoria, an 1851 newspaper report told of a carving of a bunyip made in the bank, created by the Aboriginal population after a local man was killed by the creature before being speared itself.
The 1850s accounts of convict William Buckley, who spent 30 years living with the Wathaurong people, also make numerous mentions of a “very extraordinary amphibious animal, which the natives call Bunyip”. Although he never saw the whole creature, Buckley claimed to have encountered Bunyips on many occasions: "I could never see any part, except the back, which appeared to be covered with feathers of a dusky grey colour. It seemed to be about the size of a full grown calf”.
If you're on the trail of the bunyip, Melbourne is the perfect place to begin your quest in the very territory which gave rise to the legend. Hotels in Melbourne are very easy to come by, with great options for visitors with a variety of budgets and tastes.
The CBD area in downtown Melbourne is a popular spot with many visitors and home to much of the city's hotel and hostel accommodation. From this location, you can navigate to all the best areas of the city and enjoy plenty of good restaurants and bars. For something a little trendier, try exploring the Fitzroy or Collingwood neighbourhoods or, for a beach holiday vibe, opt for St Kilda.
Melbourne Airport (also known as Tullamarine Airport) is a 30-minute drive north of the city centre for visitors planning to hire a car in Melbourne . For visitors who prefer to use public transportation, express buses run from the airport directly to Melbourne every 10 minutes.
To really make the most of “bunyip” country, however, car hire is the best choice. Although tours out into the wider Victoria area are available, hopping in a car and heading out on your own adventure is the best way by far to experience this region. Make a stop at Barmah National Park on the Murray River flood plain to really get a feel for the bunyip's habitat, and to explore the history and culture of the people whose ancestors first created the myth. Make sure you take a moment to be amazed by this spectacular corner of the world's largest River Red Gum forest while you're there.