Monday, August 25, 2008
Bunyip and Thylacine
I mentioned William Buckley the other day, escaped convict, friend o’ aboriginals and frequenter of Indented Head (and speaking of odd Australian place names, I’ve since discovered some others: Middle Intercourse Island, Chinaman’s Knob and, drum-roll please, Tittybong). One aspect of his memoir that gets people’s porkie-detector twitching is his account of going on a bunyip hunt. Reader, the bunyip does not exist. It is a mythical lake monster with flippers and tusks, much beloved of cryptozoologist types, of which there are many down under. It has been suggested that, rather than an outright hoax, the bunyip could be a folk memory among aboriginals of extinct Australian species. (The same benefit of the doubt might be extended to the multiple ‘crypto’ sightings of the thylacine or Tassie tiger, officially extinct since 1936, but whose alleged lingering presence in the bush offers the nostalgic a symbolic mandate for the ‘otherness’ of Tasmania.)
(One problem with sightings of the thylacine, by the way, not to mention the bunyip, is their frustrating tendency never to be accompanied by any scat, which is to say scat of the non-Cleo Laine variety. I mention this since a thread on the Poets on Fire discussion board the other day about odd book titles turned up a handy book about animal dung called What Shat That?)
Anyway, I was skimming through the poems of Weldon Kees in search of a poem about birds, for an anthological whim of mine, and found, not a bird but a bunyip poem. The bunyip was ‘feathered and gray’, WK says, and possessed an ‘emu’s head’ covered in fur. ‘From its back //a plume of water sprouts’, to general consternation. And more:
It crosses oceans into inland waters,
Crying sometimes, after dark, that it is not
Extinct, imaginary, or a myth –
Its feathers ruffled, and its voice
Not like a thousand drums at all,
But muffled, dwindling, hard to hear these nights
Like far-off foghorns that the wind throws back.
I think we have the effects on the young Kees of the Nebraskan bush to thank for this one.
And speaking of the thylacine, here it is, the very last one.