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The Koala and the Bunyip (folklore)

Long, long ago, a koala lived on the top of a mountain. Every night she came down to a waterhole in the Wollondilly to drink. There she met the Bunyip who lived in the deepest, darkest part of the swamp. Koala was not afraid of the Bunyip and they would talk all through the night about ancient times. The Bunyip was feared and hated by the people of the area, but koalas were loved for their gentleness and their plaintive cry that reached the hearts of all who heard it. All koalas were safe, because their flesh was never eaten.

The other koalas were afraid that the people would hear of the friendship between Koala and the Bunyip and be angry with them. ‘Man hunts wallabies and kangaroo and lizards and he eats them,’ they said. ‘If he did not love the koalas, he would eat us too.’ They pleaded with Koala but she would not listen to their advice. Every night she left her baby alone while she and the Bunyip talked until the eastern sky paled and the sun began to rise.

The older koalas met and discussed what to do about Koala and the Bunyip. They had seen the clay markings of the featherfoot (sorcerer) as he danced and spoke to the Spirits. ‘The magic is in the markings on his body,’ one of them said to the others. ‘You must help me put clay on my body in the same pattern and then the featherfoot’s magic will come to our aid.’

Before dusk the older koala painted himself with clay. He listened to the Bunyip crashing up the steep mountainside. Trees snapped under his heavy tread and large boulders crashed through the scrub. The painted koala found the baby koala waiting for its mother and he held it in his arms until he heard Koala and Bunyip getting closer. As soon as Koala appeared he placed the baby firmly on its mother’s back and whispered, ‘Hang on tight, and never let go.’

The magic in the markings was so strong that the baby clung tightly to its mother. Every effort she made to dislodge it failed. Bunyip got tired of waiting for Koala to get rid of her baby so he made his way back to the swamp. The painted koala said, ‘You will not so easily get rid of your baby. To show how important this lesson really is, the marks painted on me will always remain on the faces of our people.’

The marks on the face of the koala today are a reminder to every generation that if they value their lives they must not associate with the Bunyip.

Adapted from C W Peck, Australian Legends (Melbourne: Lothian Publishing Co., 1933)
The National Library of Australia acknowledges the kind assistance of the Illawarra Aboriginal nations.

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