Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Bunyip Terror of Geelong

The Geelong Advertiser has this fascinating bit of local lore in the paper this week.

Devil's Pool, the Bunyip Hole - the Barwon River precinct at Queens Park better known as Buckley Falls, for the British convict who lived with Aborigines for 32 years - has long hosted an unusual rocky cascade, water race and remnants of a long-gone industry.

That's not to mention enough snakes among its rocks to make anyone nervous on a warm summer's day. But as a picturesque riverside scene it is difficult to match the bluestone, red brickwork and craggy texture of the former paper mills that operated at Buckley Falls from 1878 to 1923.

At its height, the mill employed 200 people, making paper from not just wood pulp but rags, sacking, used paper, rope ends and other species of refuse to make some 40 different types of paper for writing, printing, wrapping, blotting and more.

It was set up by Robert Miller, at a cost of between 40,000 and 50,000, as the Barwon Paper Mill. It underwent various changes of ownership; in 1888 to Victorian paper Manufacturing Company and two years later again to H.L. Littlewood & Co.

The mill buildings lay unoccupied from 1923 to 1929 after which the Hydro Manufacturing Company ran iceworks and cool storage until the war years. More recent years have seen them utilised as factoriettes for a variety of trades pursuits.

The 3/4-mile water race to a Belfast-manufactured turbine that generated some 300 horsepower of cheap electricity to the mill was constructed by 30 men who blasted their way through solid rock, presumably oblivious to the devil or bunyip allusions of the pool. Had they been aware of local bunyip lore, however, they might have been a tad nervous. For some years earlier, in the 1840s, a bunyip scare struck fear into the fledgling Geelong settlement.

As this newspaper reported in 1845: "We have been favoured by Mr Menzies with the inspection of a petrified bone found on the shores of Lake Timboon to the westward of Lake Colac.

"The bone is apparently the head of the tibia, or lower joint of the knee. The dimensions of this fragment of bone are of the most colossal nature, measuring as it does 10 inches across the front of the knee (in diameter, not circumference)."

On being shown to an "intelligent black" it was "at once recognised ... as belonging to the bunyip". This was corroborated with several other Aborigines.

No big deal, you might have thought, but next came detailed reports of several bestial attacks on animals: a mare at Little River, a mutilated cow near Barwon Heads. Bunyip fever whipped through the area. And purported attacks further afield even led scientists of the day to study and speculate on the Timboon bone. Hysteria peaked in 1847-48 when a bunyip "skull' was found in a stream near the Murrumbidgee River.

But the scientists were never able to corroborate any bunyip. Speculation has since ranged from seals to bitterns to diprotodons but the creature has remained steadfastly untouchable - and consigned to history as much as Robert Miller's operations next to the Bunyip Pool.

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