Friday 13 October 2017

The Monsters of the Murray - and the Macquarie

     "Bunyip" is the name usually given to mysterious water monsters in the the outback of Australia, so it is not surprising it turned up in these newspaper accounts. They do not appear to have been discovered by any other researchers.  The first one occurred in the River Murray, which is the second longest river on the continent, and it forms the border of New South Wales and Victoria. The location, however, was just across the border in South Australia, Berri being situated at 34° 17' S, 140° 36' E, not far from Renmark. The article is from page 4 of the Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record (Renmark) of Friday 1st January 1932.
River Monster with Eyes Like Apricots


Six to seven feet long [1.8 to 2.1 metres] long, with two side flippers, fur like a 'possum and eyes like apricots, summarizes the vivid description, as related to a representative of "The Pioneer," of a Murray monster seen cruising in the river between Bookpurnong and Berri.
     From time to time many strange things have been observed in and about the Murray. But as far as we are aware, not even in the earlier and palmier days of these settlements, has anybody claimed to have seen the Bunyip or even the sea serpent, though vivid and multi-coloured frogs and snakes are reported to have revealed themselves to some privileged souls on occasions. It is the popular impression, however, that the appearance of those kaleidoscopic reptiles has in most cases been influenced by factors other, and more potent than, the mere gift of observation. It has remained for Mr. Gene Becke to see, unaided by any such artificial influence, a something which, from his own lucid description, might have been any one of those things or a mixture of all of them.
     Mr. Becke is master of the well known motor launch "Genebe," and this is what he says he saw:
     "We were travelling up-stream from Bookpurnong to Berri, making for our home port at Irrigation Bay - the first mate (Mr. Jock Munro), Mr. Joe Avery, and myself - when we all saw what we took to be a floating log. It was on the port side. On observing the approaching boat, it appeared to be very disturbed and immediately dived, coming to the surface again about 100 yards away. We turned and pursued it for about a quarter of a mile but, diving several times, it kept well away. It made downstream."
     The journal did not attempt to locate any naturalist or zoologist who might have been able to clarify the issue. However, based on my broad knowledge of the Australian fauna, I can confidently assert that it was not a walrus, hippopotamus, or whale. It was, in fact, a sea lion or seal. There have been many confirmed sightings in the waterways of the interior. Indeed, it is the most common interpretation of "bunyip" reports.

     The next incident allegedly happened more than six decades before, on the Macquarie River near the town of Dubbo (32° 20' S, 148° 37' E). It appears to have been originally reported in the Manaroo Mercury, but the issues for that year have not be digitalised. I am therefore citing the Border Watch (Mt Gambier, SA) of Wed. 6 July 1870, page 4, and the Wagga Wagga Advertiser and Riverina Reporter of Sat. 2 July 1870, also on page 4.
     The Australian bunyip, like the American sea serpent, is always obliging enough to make an appearance when things are rather dull and current topics somewhat scanty and uninteresting, and also, and that is a peculiar piece of consideration, when the season of the year does not afford the snake incidents which journalists so love to chronicle. The monster's last appearance was in the neighbourhood of Dubbo, and is faithfully and minutely recorded in the Manaroo Mercury. It seems that two residents had to leave their places by the river and go to a hut on higher ground to avoid the encroaching flood. While sitting by a log fire they heard a crash, "like rumbling thunder," in the direction of the river. Says one, "Ah me! there's at least half an acre of my ground tumbled into the river." The sound being repeated, the two men, in whom it is agreeable to read the writer has "the fullest confidence," went to the hut door and looked "through the darkness" towards the river. They state that they saw "a huge monster clinging to a very tall and stout tree of the eucalypti species," in fact, a gum tree. "Its head was like an elephant's, only the two tusks projected - one from between its eyes, the other, smaller, a little about the nostrils. The only eye they could see was like a ball of fire. The body was scaly, like the crocodile's; the fore limbs long, the talons about 10 times as large as a Bengal tiger's." All this they saw very minutely "through the darkness" the light being probably supplied by the "eye-ball of fire." As "the river continued to rise, the bunyip held more tenaciously to the tree, and grinned his teeth occasionally, as if in fear or anger. Once he lashed his tail, and on striking the water the noise was like a diminutive sound of Niagara. The river still rose, but a limb in the tree prevented the monster from crawling up further. There was a struggle to get higher, but this effort brought down the tree which he was clasping right over him, and both seemed to float quietly down the Macquarie." And, like Dogberry, they no doubt "thanked heaven that they were well rid of a knave" It would appear from the above reliable narrative that the bunyip has got considerably bigger since his former appearance. - Argus
     Addendum: I have since the located the original source, which was the Empire (Sydney) of Thurs 26 May 1870, page 3. The above is a synopsis of the story. The date of the occurrence  was given as 24 April at 11 pm.
     I think I can identify this specimen too. It was a figment of two jokers' fertile imaginations.

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