Your Field Guide To Australia’s Local Cryptid Population

Your Field Guide To Australia’s Local Cryptid Population
Image: John Crux Photography (Getty Images)

Australia’s become known as a country of dangerous creatures, from our poisonous snakes to our deadly spiders to swole kangaroos and killer jellyfish.

But the most dangerous creatures are the ones we can’t see. The ones that lurk in the Australian outback, chowing on goat carcasses and lurking in the muddied water. The ones that roam the wilds on two feet and peer from the bushes with glowing eyes as you pass them on your drive through country roads. These are Australia’s cryptids, and they bite.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘cryptid’, let me take you on a journey.

A cryptid, according to Urban Dictionary, is an animal that is “commonly not believed to exist, but actually may.” You might not have seen one, but your uncle Larry definitely saw one steal his dungaroos off the washing line in ’86.

So, are they real? Well, put your tin foil hat on, because they just might be.

The Bunyip

Thanks to iconic children’s author Michael Salmon, a whole generation of kids grew up thinking the bunyip was a vague pink blob named Alexander who once tried to eat Canberra. Unfortunately, the real life bunyip is half as cute and twice as horrifying, depicted like a kind of deformed starfish or lumpy seal-thing. It’s also said to be accompanied by a feeling of rising dread, according to Bunyip experts Robert and Nicholas Holden.

The bunyip originated in Indigenous Australian folklore and it was believed to be a kind of water spirit that infested lakes and other bodies of water. Like many famous cryptids, the bunyip’s hobbies are said to be screaming loudly at passersby and eating people.

Sightings were most common between the 1840s and 1850s and were well documented in Victoria and South Australia. An 1845 report in the Geelong Observer described several encounters with bunyips, including one that ended in a broken arm and another that ended in death. It also contained the following description:

The Bunyip, then, is represented as uniting the characteristics of a bird and of an alligator. It has a head resembling an emu with a long bill at the extremity of which is a transverse projection on each side, with serrated edges like the bone of the stingray. Its body and legs partake of the nature of the alligator. The hind legs are remarkably thick and strong, and the fore legs are much longer, but still of great strength.


When in the water it swims like a frog, and when on shore it walks on its hind legs with its head erect, in which position it measures twelve or thirteen feet in height.

While bunyip sightings have lulled in the years since, whispers of their existence still persist in many circles, with Mysterious Universe identifying a possible recent sighting in a 2019 video that has since been pulled from the internet. Conspiracy? I think yes.

The missing video was allegedly shot in the western Australian outback and the creature supposedly ate a horse before the footage was shot. So allegedly, supposedly, the Bunyip is definitely real and probably ate a horse. It’s all on tape! Tape that is mysteriously missing, but that’s just semantics.

The Phantom Cats

DEA / BIBLIOTECA AMBROSIANA / Contributor (Getty Images)

Since the 1800s, Australians local to the Blue Mountains, Lithgow, Mudgee, Buderim and Hawkesbury areas have reported seeing large, panther-like cats prowling the edges of bushland and the inner city. In fact, there have been 560 reports of panther activity in the Hawksbury, Blue Mountains and Lithgow area since 1998, according to an ABC report.

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Alternatively known as the ‘Blue Mountains Panther’ or the ‘Lithgow Panther’, these large cat sightings caused such a stir that the Australian government launched in enquiry into their presence in 1999. This was followed by three more enquiries in 1999, 2003, 2009 and again in 2013. The 1999 report concluded that “the most likely explanation of the evidence… is the presence of a feline predator.”

Later reports denied their existence entirely, with the last dated report stating that there was, “no conclusive evidence that large cats exist in the wild in NSW,” sparking calls of a cover-up. But why would the Australian government hide the existence of a potentially dangerous predator?

On the appearance of the mysterious panther, a Mr Stewart told the ABC in 2018, “It was black. Jet black. Had piercing eyes and it had that sort of quickness as well.” The appearance of panthers in the region wouldn’t be so startling if Australia actually had a native large cat population. It does not. Yet the number of sightings, paired with various mutilated goat corpses and large paw print tracks around the Lithgow/Blue Mountains area present a fairly compelling case.

Popular theories for the phantom cat population include returning WWII soldiers bringing home exotic pets that ran wild, or that they simply escaped from a local zoo and bred in the wild. We’re unlikely to have a definitive answer any time soon.

The Yowie

RichVintage (Getty Images)

I don’t mean to alarm you, but there have been Yowie reports as recently as July 19 claiming that the creatures have been stalking the Gold Coast. So, if you live there, it might be time to move.

The Yowie, for all intents and purposes, is Australia’s version of Bigfoot or the Yeti — a large, hairy man-thing that patrols the Australian outback. Sometimes, it sits and minds its own business. Other times, you guessed it, it eats people.

Like, the bunyip, the yowie originates from Australian Indigenous folklore. It’s alternatively known as a quinkin and is more commonly sighting on Australia’s east coast. While the Yowie myth became widely spread in the 1800s, sightings of the yowie occur frequently, with several prominent incidents.

The Australian bush is a large place, so the next time you visit, watch out for giant footprints and an incredibly hairy man. It might be your neighbour Gary, or it could be something far more sinister.

The Hawkesbury River Monster

Image: shells1 (Getty Images)

New South Wales’ Hawkesbury River is home to a mythological sea snake/monster that rivals the Loch Ness Monster in size and elusivity. That’s according to one guy, at least. But we’ll count it. Rex Gilroy, cryptozoologist, claims he saw a 12m giant shadow on the surface of the iconic river in 2009, after 50 long years of searching for the beast.

Reportedly responsible for a spates of drownings and capsizings in the 1980s, Gilroy concluded that the beast he’d been hunting was a Moolyewonk , a plesiosaur-like monster that had previously been depicted in Indigenous Australian art and was known to roam the Australian river system.

Unlike Nessie, information on the Hawkesbury River Monster is rare, as are reported sightings, photographs or evidence. But that hardly discounts the theory. A man said he saw shadows on the water, damn it and I believe him.

The Hook Island Sea Monster

The Hook Island Sea Monster (Image: Robert Le Serrec, 1964)

Queensland’s Hook Island is home to an even bigger fish, or giant tadpole-like thing, according to local legend and this very convincing photograph taken by Robert Le Serrec in the 1960s. As the story goes, Serrec was out fishing in the Stonehaven Bay when his wife noticed a strange, dark shape in the water.

It was said to be at least 20 metres long and completely horrifying, looking at the photo. But still Serrec ventured out to snap a pic and presumably poke a stick at the monster. When Serrec got closer, the thing moved and tried to eat him and his companion, according to his account in Australia’s Everyone magazine.

Serrec was a professional photographer and given this was in the days before deepfakes and photoshop, the image was spread widely around the globe — and never proven to be false. And given the presence of such gigantor creatures as the giant squid, it’s not hard to stretch the imagination to accomodate a giant tadpole. If you want my advice — if you ever find yourself by the Hawkesbury, watch your feet.

These creatures may not exist. They could just be the stuff of myths and legends. But nobody has proved definitively that they’re not out there. If you ever find yourself in the Australian outback, the Australian ocean, or literally anywhere in Australia – stay safe, stay vigilant and stay calm. They might just be out there.

This article was originally published on August 1, 2019.