March 26: Bunbury, Bunyips, and Bunjil: the family letters of Capt Richard Hanmer Bunbury of Barton Station

Professor Ian D. Clark, Federation Business School, Federation University Australia, Ballarat

Professor Ian Clark, a Western Victorian local now at Federation University Ballarat, gave us a fact-filled afternoon talk on the 1840 accounts of Capt. R. H. Bunbury of Barton Station, south of Moyston; the origins of the Bunyip as recorded by early settlers in conversation with local Aboriginal people and from Aboriginal ground drawings in Western Victoria. The Bunyip also was a key player in the story of Bunjil and in the interpretation of the painting of Bunjil in the Black Range near Stawell. Bunyips have been recorded from most areas of Victoria, and while all are associated with waterholes or rivers, the descriptions vary considerably: from a giant emu to a fur seal to an extinct Palorchestes (that died out some 40,000 years ago). The best description, however, comes not from verbal accounts but from a depiction cut into the soil by Djab Wurrung people at Challicum near Ararat. This seal- or bird-like image was recorded by artists in 1851 and again in 1867. Whether the bunyip was a real or mythical creature, or a relic of a now-extinct animal, remains speculative, but certainly the stories surrounding it point to “the ‘deep history’ we have inherited from Australia’s first peoples”.

For those who wish to learn more, Ian has permitted his papers to be placed on the FOGG website

 or they can be referenced as:

  • Clark, I.D. 2017 Bunyip, Bunjil and mother-in-law avoidance: new insights into the interpretation of Bunjils shelter, Victoria, Australia. Rock Art Research 34(2):189-192.
  • Clark, I.D. 2018 A fascination with Bunyips: Bunbury, La Trobe, Wathen, and the Djab Wurrung people of Western Victoria. Journal of the C J La Trobe Society 17(1):27-39.

Thank you Ian.

Dr Ian D. Clark has been researching and publishing in Victorian Aboriginal history since 1982, and has been the Centre Manager of the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Halls Gap, and Research Fellow in History at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra.

His book ‘We Are All of One Blood: A History of the Djabwurrung Aboriginal People of Western Victoria, 1836-1901’ was awarded the Local History Project Award in the Victorian Community History Awards 2016. Other areas of interest include the history of tourism, place names, and the music and life of Ella Jane Fitzgerald.

After Ian’s talk we invited him to join with us for dinner at the HG pub and discussion on various issues was lively.