7 fantastic Australian mythological beasts and where to find them

Man and Big Foot

Jessica Taylor Yates

Posted March 11, 2022


From the Otways Panther to the Australian Bunyip, is there any truth to these urban legends? And where can you supposedly find them?

From the Loch Ness monster to Big Foot, anecdotal tales of cryptids - animals that many believe exist in the wild contrary to mainstream science – are very much alive and well in Australian folklore.

While international mythical creatures may have more notoriety, like the Abominable Snowman, Bigfoot, or the Loch Ness Monster, Australia is rumoured to be home to a plethora of bizarre, strange, and at times, terrifying creatures.

Whether you’re a true believer or just interested in a bit of fun searching for urban legends, spend your next weekend away scouting for these cryptids from folklore – you may just be the one to turn the legend into reality. 

Australian mythical creatures on this page:


7 legendary Australian creatures from myth and folklore

1. The Australian Bunyip – Wemba-Wemba region, Victoria

First acknowledged by the Aboriginal peoples in stories of the Dreamtime tens of thousands of years ago, ‘sightings’ of the Bunyip were also documented by English settlers in the 1800s. Over time, descriptions of the legendary Bunyip have taken many forms, from a mythical beast, to a nocturnal amphibian that lurks in swamps, billabongs and riverbeds.

According to Australian Aboriginal religion and mythology, the word ‘Bunyip,’ was originated by the Wemba-Wemba people of Victoria, and is roughly translated to ‘scary monster’ or an ‘evil spirit.’ The water-dwelling creature is allegedly a sea monster that feasts on humans, whose cries can be heard in the Outback waters come nightfall.

Nowadays, scientists and investigators believe that the Bunyip could be a now-extinct giant wombat known as the ‘diprotodon’ that lurked the inland waters 20,000 years ago, and the haunting sounds perhaps coming from bittern marsh birds. Others believe it may just be a case of mistaken identity from European settlers who, at the time, also found kangaroos to be quite mystical in their own right.

While the debate rages on, the mystery of the creature from the dark lagoon has become a central part of Australian culture, featuring in art, music, film and television, books, and tours.

Where to find the Bunyip: The Wemba-Wemba region lies between Swan Hill and Echuca, just an hour from the RACV Cobram Resort.

 

The Australian Bunyip. Image: Alamy.

The Australian Bunyip may have to be seen to be believed... Image: Alamy. 


 

2. Otways Panther – Lorne, Victoria

The jury is still out on the existence of the famed Otways Panther. There have been alleged sightings of the elusive 'big cat', scurrying its way through the Otway Ranges where the bush meets the beach off Victoria’s Great Ocean Road.

Supposed sightings of black panthers in the bush have been documented since the 1830s, ranging from rumours of ‘big cats’ in the bush by new Eastern migrants, to sworn testimonies and videos taken in recent years. All have given the legendary creature a similar description - that of a large, black, four-legged creature – similar to a panther.

Some explanations have been historical exotic animal trades, or an evolutionary trail of feral cats in the area, while others have suggested that they may have come from travelling circuses or visiting soldiers years ago.

Similar sightings have also been reported in other states, including the Blue Mountains (known as the Lithgow Panther and Tantanoola Tiger), as well as those in other Victorian regions, such as the Grampians Puma and the Gippsland Phantom Cat.

Where to find the Otways Panther: The Great Otways National Park is almost three hours southwest of Melbourne, past the RACV Torquay Resort near Apollo Bay. 

 

Otways Panther

There have been many alleged sightings of the Otways Panther over the years. So, do big cats really roam the Australian bush? Image: Getty. 


 

3. Hawkesbury River Monster, New South Wales

Monstrously tall eels? You may have to see it to believe it, but this is exactly what believers of the Hawkesbury River Monster claim to have seen. Also known as the Mooney Mooney Monster, anecdotal sightings of the mystic cryptid creature were reported in the 1800s, although Aboriginal rock art in the region, describing a similar creature known as ‘Moolyewonk,’ dates back more than 3000 years.

Most accounts refer to the sea monster as grey, with a large eel-like body, elongated head, four flippers, and a thick tail. Allegedly, the water serpent may have been floating around Australia’s shores since the Jurassic era.

While modern legend hunters have not yet provided evidence of the existence of Australia's own Loch Ness Monster, research has found that the creature may have been a large crocodile, catfish, eel, or swimming goanna.

Where to find Moolyewonk: Hunt for the riverside renegade in Hawkesbury, northwest of Sydney.

 

Loch Ness monster like the Hawksbury River Monster

Could the Hawksbury River be home to our very own Loch Ness Monster? Image: Getty. 


 

4. Yara-ma-yha-who, Australian Outback

Vampire goblin, frog mutant or mini-monkey man?

A cryptid creature also known as ‘The Outback Vampire’ has been told in Australian Aboriginal mythology since the Dreamtime. The Yara-ma-yha-who is said to be a tiny red man with a large head and no teeth, resembling that of a small monkey-man or mini monster that drops from fig trees and uses suckers on the ends of its hands to devour human flesh.

Though the idea may frighten tourists, in the land of giant spiders and poisonous snakes, locals are much less concerned.

While the tale of The Outback Vampire may have been used as an Australian bush urban legend rather than proven sightings, the mythical monster has been likened to the Southeast Asian tarsier primate – although these are not known to exist in the Australian Outback.

Where to find Yara-ma-yha-who: Take a trip to the Red Centre Way.

 

Yara ma yha who

We can't say that Yara-ma-yha-who looks like it would be overly friendly. Would you want to come face-to-face with the alleged Outback Vampire? Image: Alamy. 


 

5. Yowie, New South Wales and Queensland

No, not the chocolate kind. The Yowie, first realised in Aboriginal Australian mythology and sometimes referred to as the Yahoo, Hairyman or Pangkarlangu, is Australia’s answer to Big Foot – perhaps a long-lost cousin?

The creature has had alleged sightings since the 1700s, which all describe the same sort of beast – a cross between a gorilla and human, an overly tall, muscular man covered in hair like that of an ape. Similar sightings are alleged around the world, from Bigfoot (or Sasquatch) in North America to the Abominable Snowman (Yeti) in the Himalayas, or the Yeren in China.

While there have been sworn sightings, and the creature itself even lending its name to confectionery and films, dedicated ‘Yowie Hunters’ are stil on the search for definitive proof of this urban legend's existence. The Yowie has even been honoured with its own statue in the state of Queensland, despite no scientific acknowledgment of the Byron Big Foot beast.

With dedicated sites and tours to record Yowie sightings, maybe the legendary Hairyman will finally stop hiding.

Where to find Yowie: Head on a Yowie Tour from your base in Byron Bay.

 

Yowie Big Foot

It's said that the Yowie is a Bigfoot-type creature that haunts our sunshine states. So what do you think - fact or fiction? Image: Getty. 


 

6. Burrunjor, Australian Outback

Giant lizard, small dinosaur or feathered reptile?

There have been conflicting descriptions of this giant reptilian Indigenous cryptid, but documented sightings from the 1950s to the late 1980s describe the creature as walking on two legs – akin to a 20th-century tyrannosaurus rex.

Local legend depicts Burrunjor, nicknamed by the Aboriginal peoples as ‘Old Three Toes,’ as a nocturnal reptile that feasts on native animals like cattle and kangaroos, leaving monstrous footpaths and missing livestock in its wake.

More recent investigations have led to the belief that the lower Outback, between South Australia and the Northern Territory, is home to a large lizard, the ‘perentie’, which can grow up to three metres in length and devour animals as large as goats.

In terms of good Old Three Toes, no sightings have been documented in almost 40 years. Has the Burrunjor gone extinct, if it ever existed? Or is this just one of many dinosaurs said to have been found amongst Australia’s fossil footprints?

Where to find Burrunjor: The Ghan takes you on an exploratory journey from Darwin to Adelaide – BYO paleontology kit. 

 

Burrunjor

Is it possible that dinosaurs like the burrunjor were still roaming the Outback in the 20th century? Image: Genesis Park.


 

7. Drop Bear, across Australia

Said only to attack foreigners, the Australian Drop Bear is a well-known mythical creature amongst the Australian people, who have seemingly taken a collective responsibility to inform all international visitors of the koala-like predator.

An urban legend in their own right, Drop Bears are known to ambush those standing below native Australian trees, falling from the branches and latching onto the necks of those below. Also referred to as the ‘Thylarctos Plummetus,’ the Drop Bear has appeared in Australian folklore for over 50 years. Common remedies include putting vegemite behind the ears, or wearing forks in one’s hair.

Australians should know that like the ‘Hoop Snake’, the Drop Bear is a tale in jest – although the colloquial Aussie hoax may have been based on a marsupial lion, or ‘Thylacoleo,’ which existed around four million years ago.

Whether a joke based on fact or somewhere in the middle, the Drop Bear is at least one mythical creature all Aussies can most definitely agree exists.

Where to find Drop Bears: While Drop Bears primarily live in the nightmares of tourists in Australia, you can meet a friendly koala at one of the many zoos and wildlife sanctuaries around Australia.

 

drop bear

Many Australians feel it is their civic duty to advise incoming travellers of the dangerous Drop Bear. Image: Getty. 


 


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