The Australian bushland is an uncanny place, sometimes silent with a sense of foreboding, other times filled with rustlings and birdsong and nameless sounds. But always, especially for those of us who are mythmakers and storytellers, there is an inkling of something more – of something lurking just out of sight.
What lies hidden inside the tree trunk hollowed by lightning and the ravages of termites? What is that swift flash of light in the darkness of the undergrowth?
I have walked bushland paths, aware of something keeping pace with me, a shadow among the shadows. A tribal elder told me that it was the spirits of the ancestors, protecting me as I walked their lands. Perhaps he was right – or perhaps my writer’s imagination confected a tale of the parting of the veil. And yet … perhaps both interpretations hold a nugget of truth, for this is the oldest continent on the Earth, its indigenous people possessed of ancient knowledge we can’t begin to fathom.
Their Dreamtime stories are wonderful and speak of events from the time of creation, explaining in allegorical terms how the world and its creatures came into being.
One of these is the Bunyip – a monstrous hybrid being, reputed to live in waterholes, swamps, and lakes, preying upon women and children, its howl echoing through the night to terrify all who hear it.
The bones of strange creatures of have been found since the British came to these shores, and some insist they are the bones of Bunyips. Others maintain that the bones are the remains of Diprotodons, a grazing marsupial that lived in Australia until about 10,000 years ago. Regardless of the facts, such stories endure in the Australian psyche, both native and immigrant, much as Big Foot and the Yeti inhabit the myths and legends of North America and Asia.
So it was, a few days ago, that I walked the wilderness paths near my home and came upon a scene which brought this legend to mind.
Seasons of endless rain have filled lakes and rivers, creating waterholes where none previously existed. The bushland is steeped in water – brown, brackish ponds, stained by mud and the tannin exuded by fallen leaves, and beneath the still, dead surface, the submerged world teems with life: mosquitoes, yabbies, frogs, and tiny fish.
I happened upon a series of these pools as I wandered in the hush of late afternoon, taking photographs of this strange, drowned landscape.
The silence of the bushland was almost tangible, and as I marvelled at the colours of the water illuminated by shafts of sunlight, that uncanny feeling began to grow in my mind. I felt the power of this ancient landscape, and my inner storyteller began to weave a fantasy in which a Bunyip, awoken from its Dreamtime existence by the incessant beating of the rain, emerged to haunt the creeks and waterholes of my coastland home.
Perhaps he rested in the mud at the edge of a pond, indistinguishable from his surroundings with his dark brown coat.
Or, perhaps, he dwelt in the lake with its fringe of waterlilies, waiting for nightfall to prowl the bushland pathways in search of prey.
I emerged from my walk unscathed and made my way past local houses until I reached the road that led back home. Cars sped past, and planes flew overhead. The fantasy faded and reality reasserted itself, banal and safe, with a promise of afternoon tea.
Such is the world of the writer: an imaginary realm in which all things are possible – a world of bizarre fantasies and wondrous tales. It exists, side-by-side, with the everyday world, and they frequently merge in fanciful ways.
For, as my masthead reads:
‘… I, too, am a mythmaker, a weaver of nightmares and dreams…’