Once in a blue moon, I had an uncle. An uncle who swept in with a bushy, carrot beard, smelling of dirt and sweat, mixed with oranges and lemons. A smell that derived from his habit of eating said fruits whilst out and about in the bush, searching for the ever elusive Australian Bunyip. He would throw his hands in the air as his chair teetered precariously to falling over, whilst he mimicked the birds and frogs that lay in wait around his house in the bush, waiting for the opportunity to ravage his stores hidden for winter. For a city slicker, his life of Hakuna Matata, seemed a dream come true. With his true blue kelpie Custard by his side, snuggled up on his chest every night, my uncle could have been a modern bush-ranger to rival the infamous Ned Kelly.
My grandparents despaired at him sometimes, wringing their hands in frustration that my uncle seemed to always be chasing the elusive dream of being able to prove the existence of a creature that couldn’t possibly exist. They should know, after all, they were experts of the bush themselves. But somehow, deep down, I wanted to believe him more than anything in the world. And who wouldn’t? He was a man who told you the best stories of times he had been lost in the bush for days on end and the spine-chilling encounters he’d had with the various wildlife to be had. But my grandparents, who had pretty much grown up as a part of the bushland themselves, always poked holes in his stories, complaining of sensationalism. I just liked a really good story.
I couldn’t believe Custard enjoyed flying. My uncle regularly strapped her to his chest while flying his paraglider, videoing everything below. My uncle was convinced that Custard would have better luck sniffing out the bunyip if she was up in the clouds and away from all the other animals. Truthfully, the success rate seemed to plummet more than ever. One time though, they did see something truly amazing. A duck. No ordinary duck mind you, in so far as to what happened next. An average woodland duck suddenly zoomed past the paraglider at a terrific speed. When we checked it later, my uncle guesstimated that the duck was travelling around 35-40 kilometres per hour! It went so fast, my uncle’s beard was blown apart so that it stuck up in all different directions! But still no bunyip.
And so reader, I leave you to contemplate my uncle’s eccentricities, whilst I set the scene for the moment my uncle will never be remembered for, at least not in the foreseeable future.
One other odd trait of my uncle’s was his love of drinking slugs. You read me right. The slugs liked climbing into my uncle’s glasses of cold beer, especially during the hot summer time, and my uncle, for better or worse, had accidentally swallowed some of the slimy critters whilst gulping down said drink after another fruitless search for the bunyip. Most sane people would have spat out the contents, or at least ensured that it never happened again. Not my uncle. He insisted on letting the slugs get drunk silly, so that he could slurp them down like a refreshing smoothie.
It was summer, high bush fire season but somehow I was in the bush with my uncle and Custard, all wired up to find the elusive bunyip. At approximately 35 degrees in the shade, it wasn’t exactly ideal conditions to be stomping about fully clothed, hoping to scare away the poisonous snakes lurking in the undergrowth. As we stomped and sweated, Custard darted from shrub to tree, excitement plus speeding her through ahead of us so much, she was doing loops to ensure she didn’t lose her class like a school teacher hurrying the stragglers. My uncle in his usual way, was looking like a completely mad professor with all the wires and recording instruments hanging off of him, but at least he was all smiles. And in true Uncle style, he had decided to go old school, with a Kodak camera that needed to be processed at an old-school camera shop. He said it was so no one could accuse him of doctoring the photos, but I think that he was just doing it to remember his childhood.
The sun slanted through the blue gums and eucalypts, dancing around the undergrowth and lighting up the variety of communities that dashed about us. A koala yawned above us, a kookaburra laughed behind somewhere unintelligible and a numbat and bilby fought over slugs and bugs along the pathway, forcing us to step over them whilst trying not to tangle ourselves in all of the impossible wires. Custard hunted down a blue tongue lizard initially, until she was confronted with its cousin the frill-necked lizard, its display more than enough to make her turn tail back towards us. As my uncle read a series of indescribable numbers on his screen, I once again reveled in the relative quiet of the bushland, a serenity that one didn’t get anywhere else. Until we stumbled upon it. There was no break from the usual, until Custard reared up short in front of me, causing me to trip over her and splat onto my face. As I crossly knelt to dust myself off, I paused as a shadow blocked the sunlight. Behind me I heard my uncle let out a soft whistle of excitement, his footsteps crunching to a halt.
What we saw was something incredible, something that couldn’t possibly exist. It was huge, much bigger than even my towering uncle who had always eaten his greens. Two curly horns not unlike a nanny goat’s protruded from the top of its head, which only drew attention to the strange, dog-like face that peered back at us. Breaking its gaze only served to swivel my gaze to the horse-like tail that swished almost impatiently, while its back legs with their long claws scratched the dirt, long, deep cuts in the iron ground. The fur in itself was neither brown, nor black but a colour that seemed to at once be both and yet a completely indescribable shade that blended in with the surrounding foliage. I heard a click, then a whir. I half turned to see my uncle’s features slowly being revealed from behind the camera, his face in complete awe.
He raised the camera to snap the infamous creature again, but at that moment the bunyip roared. A roar that made my teeth rattle and my hair blow back. Clearly we had photographed its bad side. My uncle gave a yelp, Custard screamed and I stood frozen in wonder. Until my uncle stepped backwards and fell on top of a half-hidden echidna, which looked mightily annoyed at my uncle. Its spines had gone through his shoe and into his foot. Of course my uncle let out a blood-curdling yell, and upon hearing the cries of such a terrifying beast that was clearly more dangerous than it, the ever-elusive bunyip turned and ran in the other direction, crashing and bashing through the bushland, to disappear into the Australian mythology once again.
With his foot bandaged up, my uncle looked depressed. Custard was clawing outside the hospital window desperate to get in. I gazed out into the bushland, with all its wonders and mysteries and in truth, I didn’t really want my uncle to discover the bunyip, to spoil that little lingering mystery when so much had already been discovered. I mean, how would you feel being hunted all these years simply because you were that good at hiding? Anyhow, my thoughts were ripped back to the dingy, sterile hospital room as my uncle cried out in pain, something equally serious to Custard not being let outside for a day. I raced back, to find the doctor slowly making her way to my uncle’s bedside. Not, she assured me, because of his pain, it was simply a routine check. Go figure. What transpired next was almost unbelievable. Quite simply, turns out echidnas are actually pretty deadly. Wish someone had told my uncle about that.
My cousin came in three days later and I wondered, what do you say to someone when their dad has died from stepping on an echidna, simply because he had a rare allergy to its spines that even the puggletologists didn’t know about? As I said, turns out echidnas are actually pretty deadly. And that photo? There was the bunyip in all its glory. Looked totally surprised to see us as well. I carefully folded it up into my pocket again. Custard was there, so she can keep it. It’s a secret I’d rather not be reminded of.
The photo still sits up in the tiles of Custard’s kennel. The bunyip will stay safe forever and although my uncle will never be rewarded, it kind of spoilt his enigma anyway.
My name is Stephanie Adamopoulos and I’m an emerging author who loves writing short stories and novels for children and young adults. An avid reader and writer across a variety of genres, I have had several short stories published and you can read them on my author page: https://www.facebook.com/foxterrier17/