Saturday, 15 June 2019

The Great Koolunga Bunyip Hunt of 1883

They sought it with thimbles,
They sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;
They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.
 (The Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll, 1876)
Bunyip: The bogey of the bush, a mythical monster which lurks in the rivers and swamps of inland Australia, and makes Aborigines turn white with terror. Everyone has heard about the bunyip, but no-one can tell you what it looks like.
Koolunga, South Australia: population 195, the epitome of a one horse town. You'll need a really detailed map to find it, so I shall give the co-ordinates: 33½° S, 138.1° E, on the banks of the Broughton River, 33 km south of Crystal Brook, and 46 km north west of Clare.
     Yet, in early 1883 it was the centre of a colourful bunyip hunt which kept the rest of the continent amused long after it had ended with a blast. No doubt many readers in Queensland and Tasmania were asking themselves at the time: "Where the [expletive] is Koolunga?"

Monday, 10 June 2019

New Zealand's Mystery Animal

     Going through my papers, I discovered a translation I made from the German more than forty years ago on the waitoreke, an alleged native mammal of New Zealand. It's not doing much good lying on my desk, so I might as well share it with you. Once more, I have preferred accuracy of translation to elegant English. Nevertheless, some of the terms I found obscure, so I cannot guarantee absolute accuracy, but anyone who wishes to check it can find the original document here.
     The fauna of New Zealand has suffered dreadfully from human settlement, and many species have been driven to extinction. To cite just one example: in 1986 the world's largest gecko was discovered as a stuffed specimen in the Natural History of Marseilles, and was recognized as a lizard described in Maori oral tradition, which only a single person had ever claimed to have seen alive. New Zealand is a land where flightless birds take the place of mammals, for the only native land animals are two species of bats, because New Zealand has been isolated from the rest of the world since the age of dinosaurs. It even possesses a strange reptile, the tuatara, which looks like a lizard, but is really the last survivor of a group which otherwise died out with the dinosaurs. It stands to reason, therefore, that any non-flying native land mammal may well be a monotreme, like the platypus and echidna, or something more ancient and primitive. With this in mind, let us proceed to the translation.