Tuesday 2 December 2014

At Last, the Double-Headed Bunyip of Tuckerbil Swamp!

     Now that the National Library of Australia has digitalised a vast quantity of old newspapers and magazines under the title of Trove, I've been able to discover the originals of very old "bunyip" reports, and I published them in my post of July 2013. However, the weirdest story of all still eluded me: the "bunyip" of Tuckerbil Swamp, near Leeton, which was supposed to have been able to swim in either direction because it had a head at either end. So, at the end of that post, I asked if anybody knew of the original source.
     It turns out nobody did, but just recently I received the following e-mail from a Mr. Brian Marsden:
I grew up 2 km south west of Tuckerbill Swamp  [ 34 deg 29 min S ; 146 deg 21 min  E ] and yes remnants of  the swamp remain. Family history has it that the Bunyip in Tuckerbill Swamp was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald (?) at the time. The source of the report was supposedly attributed to my grandfather who had taken up irrigation land nearby in 1914. Within the family, the so-called Bunyip was attributed to the bellowing of a bullock stuck in the mud of Tuckerbill Swamp. If you can find the original report, I'd be most interested.
      Well, I had performed a thorough search last year before the original post, but I now gave it one more try. And this time I succeeded. Perhaps the relevant local newspaper had just been digitalised in the interim.
     It turns out the original story appeared in The Murrumbidgee Irrigator (Leeton) of Tuesday 10 February 1931 on page 4.

     A strange animal has made its appearance in Tuckerbil Swamp, a few miles from Leeton. It bears no resemblance to the Tantanoola tiger, being aquatic, it is nothing in the nature of a brontosaurus or megatherium, and has not the power of flight like a pterodactyl.
    A lot of people living in the vicinity of Tuckerbil Swamp have seen the strange creature, but nobody has been able to describe it with any degree of clarity. Some say it is like a seal, other declare that it is like a miniature hippopotamus. This age being the miniature age, there may be something in the latter description.
     Those who have seen the strange creature scorn the suggestion that it might be a platypus. Its haunt is the carbungie [bulrushes] in the middle of the swamp. It is in the habit of disporting itself in the swamp for hours, and taking sun baths on the surface of the water.
     On Saturday, members of the Saunderson family, who live in the vicinity, and who are puzzled as to the real nature of the animal, saw it chasing birds near the carbungie clump.
     This would be strange behaviour for a platypus, so it must be concluded that it is some more ferocious creature. When the "Irrigator" man called around on Sunday it was evidently not the animal's day out, for nothing more commonplace than a trio of wild ducks was to be seen, swimming calmly in and out of the timber of the swamp - perhaps little knowing the peril that lurked in the carbungi.
     It may be - on the other hand - that the Tuckerbil mystery animal doesn't care for duck.
       The following week, the edition of the same newspaper of Tuesday 17 February 1931, carried the following article on page 2.


Leeton People Looking For It
     The broadcasting of the story by the "Irrigator" about the strange animal in Tuckerbil Swamp drew a lot of people to that locality on Sunday last - but their luck was out. The mystery animal - evidently not liking crowds - stayed indoors.
     Many people are of the opinion that it is a wombat, who has wandered from his natural habitation, and took to water - possibly as a relief from the hot weather. The roaring noise which is said by those who have seen the animal to have come from him, are ascribed to the bittern crane, which bird has powerful lungs. The platypus explanation is scouted by some of those who claim to have seen the animal, who say it is about six feet in length, and can swim from either end. In other words, it can reverse without changing gears. The platypus is not ambidextrous, and his traffic is a one-way traffic, so he must be acquitted of arousing the unusual curiosity of the people who live in the vicinity of Tuckerbil Swamp.
     Finally, we have this short paragraph on page 2 of the issue of Friday 20 February 1931.
     Mr A. E. Cook is another sceptic who has been convinced that there has been a fish or an animal of freakish habits in Tuckerbil Swamp. On Tuesday evening, just before dark, Mr. Cook drove a party out to the swamp. They saw the animal, which was a very shy creature, wallowing in the water, sending splashes up about 12 feet high. It would then dive, showing its back similar to the action of a porpoise. As he could not get within 400 yards of the creature, Mr. Cook was unable to obtain [a] very accurate description.
      And so, after less than two weeks, the whole thing fizzled out. Perhaps the animal decamped. More likely, the people lost interest. What can be said about it? The newspaper obviously played it for laughs, and never attempted to obtain any concrete information. However many witnesses there were, and what they actually saw, was not recorded. And what on earth did they interpret as being able to "swim from either end"? To be fair, I note that nobody actually claimed it had a head at either end. Perhaps someone watched it back-paddle for a short distance, which any animal with fore flippers should be able to do.
     A bittern may well have been the origin of the "roaring" noise. However, its habits and size do not fit a platypus, and the idea of a water wombat is widiculous. On the limited information available, I would suggest an out-of-place seal - like most other "bunyips". All in all, it turned out to be something of a damp squib.
     It also doesn't agree with the Marsden family oral history. Nevertheless, it was Mr Marsden's e-mail which put me onto the story, so thank you, Mr Marsden.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Malcolm, I found this link and thought you'd like it. Story covers a yowie out of Batemans Bay.


    Chris @ The Anomalist