Australian folklore

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Australian folklore refers to the folklore and urban legends of Australia.

Australian Aboriginal mythology[edit]

  • Bunyip – According to legend, they are said to lurk in swamps, billabongs, creeks, riverbeds, and waterholes.
  • Rainbow Serpent – It is the sometimes unpredictable Rainbow Serpent, who vies with the ever-reliable Sun, that replenishes the stores of water, forming gullies and deep channels as he slithered across the landscape, allowing for the collection and distribution of water.


  • Drop bear – Stories of drop bears are frequently related to visiting tourists as a joke. (see also the Queensland tiger)
  • Gippsland phantom cat – an urban legend centered on the idea that United States soldiers based in Victoria, in the swamps of the Greta area, in Victoria, Australia.
  • Lyrebird – The lyrebird is said to mimic a wide variety of sounds. They have been said to be able to mimic chainsaws and cars [1], alarms, horns, and even trains. [2]. There is a story about a lyrebird that used to halt 19th-century logging operations by mimicking the fire siren.
  • Megalania – a giant goanna (lizard), generally believed to be extinct. However, there have been numerous reports and rumors of living Megalania in Australia, and occasionally New Guinea, but the only physical evidence that Megalania might still be alive today are plaster casts of possible Megalania footprints made in 1979.
  • Tasmanian tiger – despite the widely held view that the thylacine (or Tasmanian tiger) became extinct during the 1930s, accounts of sightings in eastern Victoria and parts of Tasmania have persisted to the present day.
  • Yowie (cryptid) – In the modern context, the Yowie is the generic (and somewhat affectionate) term for an unidentified hominid reputed to lurk in the Australian wilderness, analogous to the Himalayan Yeti and the North American Bigfoot. See above for the Yowie of Aboriginal mythology.
  • The Dog on the Tuckerbox - an allegorical bullock driver's dog that loyally guarded the man's tuckerbox until its death. It has been immortalized in both a poem and a statue at Gundagai in southern NSW. By way of explanation - tucker means food - so a tuckerbox is a (food) lunch box.


  • Don Bradman – perhaps the greatest cricketer ever, the fact that he needed only 4 runs in his last innings in order to retire with a test average of 100 but was uncharacteristically bowled for a duck (leaving him stranded on an average of 99.94) has become a part of Australian folklore and added greatly to his mystique. (there are rumours that he has made the 4 runs in another match that was miscounted)
  • William Buckley – an Australian convict who escaped and became famous for living in an Aboriginal community for many years.
  • Azaria Chamberlain – the name of two-month-old Australian baby who disappeared on the night of 17 August 1980 on a camping trip with her family. Her parents, Lindy Chamberlain and Michael Chamberlain, reported that she had been taken from their tent by a dingo, but they were arrested, tried, and convicted of her murder in 1982. Both were later cleared, and thus the case is best remembered for what was an injustice. The Chamberlains were Seventh-day Adventists and an urban myth had developed that they were required to sacrifice a child as part of their religious beliefs and that the name Azaria meant "sacrifice". These statements are false.
  • Dawn Fraser – perhaps the greatest Australian female swimmer of all time. Known for her politically incorrect behaviour or larrikin character as much as her athletic ability, Fraser won eight Olympic medals, including four golds, and six Commonwealth Games gold medals. It was alleged that she took the flag from Emperor Hirohito's palace, while this was proved false, the incident became part of the folklore.
  • Ned Kelly – Australian 19th-century bushranger, many films, books and artworks have been made about him, possibly his exploits have been exaggerated in the public eye and become something of folklore. It especially surrounds his capture at Glenrowan where the Kelly gang tried to derail a train of Victorian police which were arriving, and where surrounded in the hotel, they had made armour from stolen iron mould boards of ploughs, and came out shooting, whereupon they were shot in the feet. The image of Ned Kelly with a helmet with just a small slit for the eyes is very much a part of this.
  • Eddie Mabo - challenged the Australian Government as to who owned the island of Mer where he was born and lived. He believed the land belonged to the Indigenous peoples of the Torres Strait Islands. He challenged the first court case to win in the High Court on 3rd June 1992 - but sadly did not live to see his victory. [1][2]
  • Dame Nellie Melba – an Australian opera soprano, the first Australian to achieve international recognition in the form. The French dessert peach Melba is named after her. Many old theatre halls in regional Australia persist with rumours that she once graced their stage, most notably, that of the gold mining town of Gulgong, New South Wales. She is also remembered in the vernacular Australian expression "more comebacks than Nellie Melba", which satirised her seemingly endless series of "retirement" tours in the 1920s.
  • Pemulwuy – an Aboriginal rebel against the British during the 18th and early 19th centuries, believed to have impossibly escaped from capture on countless occasions.
  • Harold Holt – a Prime Minister who disappeared while swimming in 1967. Popular theories include Holt being picked up by a Chinese submarine, faking his own death, suicide, and CIA involvement. An eventual inquest in 2005 determined that he drowned accidentally.
  • Squizzy Taylor – a petty criminal turned gangster from Melbourne. He is believed to have constructed a series of underground tunnels throughout the inner suburbs of Fitzroy and Collingwood.
  • Mary MacKillop – Australia's first saint, responsible for miracles such as curing a woman of leukemia after her family prayed for it.
  • Errol Flynn – the first Australian-born actor who achieved significant fame in Hollywood.
  • Johnny O'Keefe - Australia's most successful chart performer, with twenty-nine Top 40 hits to his credit in Australia between 1959 and 1974.
  • Wally Lewis – legendary rugby league player, captained the Queensland rugby league team in The State of Origin a record 30 times.
  • Bert Newton - looked upon as the most influential man in the history of Australian television.
  • Peter Lalor - an instigator Eureka Stockade


  • Finke River – "oldest river in the world", a claim that has been attributed to "scientists" by a generation of central Australian bus drivers and tour brochure writers. Parts of the Finke River are likely the oldest major river known in the world or among the oldest, as shown in scientific literature, but this does not apply to the southern part of the river. Neighboring, smaller rivers are just as old.
  • Gallipoli – the name of a peninsula in Turkey, but also the name given to the Allied campaign on that peninsula during World War I. There were around 180,000 Allied casualties and 220,000 Turkish casualties. This campaign has become a "founding myth" for both Australia and New Zealand, and Anzac Day is still commemorated as a holiday in both countries. The idea that Australian soldiers were mowed down by Turkish gunfire following stupid decisions of the British commanding officers is part of the folklore, as is the escape from Gallipoli, where the Anzacs used rifles rigged to fire by water dripped into a pan attached to the trigger to make it seem like there were still soldiers in the trenches as they were leaving. Another aspect of the ANZAC spirit is the story of Simpson and his donkey.
  • Sydney–Melbourne rivalry – there has been a long-standing rivalry, usually friendly yet sometimes heated, between the cities of Melbourne and Sydney, the two largest cities in Australia. It was this very rivalry that ultimately acted as the catalyst for the eventual founding of Canberra as the capital city of Australia.
  • Snowy River – immortalised in another Banjo Paterson poem, "The Man from Snowy River". The river has received much attention of late for now being nothing more than a trickle, and in fact has become a symbol for wider Australian interest in the health of its great rivers, particularly those in the Murray-Darling basin.
  • Sydney Harbour Bridge – Australia's most famous national landmark.
  • The Great Barrier Reef – the only landmark in Australia (or Oceania) to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
  • Parkes Observatory – landmark in New South Wales, responsible for helping NASA broadcast the moon landings to the world
  • Westall - biggest UFO sighting in Australian history, what actually was sighted remains a mystery to this day.
  • Gentle Annie - name for selected especially steep sections of bush roads, difficult to climb in wet weather. The folk term may have arisen as early as in bullock team days, whether drawing wagons or timber jinkers.

Socio-political events[edit]

  • Australian constitutional crisis of 1975 – a real political crisis that has since taken on mythic proportions and elevated the protagonists to legendary status (depending on which side of the debate one takes). A visiting American politician at the time wryly observed that he was sure he had only heard the tip of the ice cube. Gough Whitlam's speech "Well may we say God save the Queen, because nothing will save the Governor General" is replayed frequently.
  • Eureka stockade – a miners' revolt in 1854 in Victoria, Australia against the officials supervising the gold-mining region of Ballarat, in particular, the high prices of digging licenses. It is often regarded as the "Birth of Australian Democracy" and an event of equal significance to Australian history as the storming of the Bastille was to French history, but almost equally often dismissed as being of little or no consequence.
  • The Stolen Generation - From the late 1800s to the early 1970s, young Aboriginal people were forcibly removed from their families as children between the 1900s and the 1960s, to be brought up by white foster families or in institutions. In 1999 then-prime minister John Howard avoided using the word "sorry", to the families. In 2008 Kevin Rudd made an official apology to the stolen generation and their families, on behalf of the Australian government.


  • Australia II – a 12-metre class yacht that was the first successful challenger for the America's Cup after 132 years. On the morning of the victory (Australian time) the then Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, famously said that any employer who sacked any of their employees for not coming in that day was a "bum". The challenge also resulted in the popularisation of the boxing kangaroo representation.
  • Colliwobbles – The "colliwobbles" refers to the Collingwood Football Club's apparent penchant for losing grand finals over a 32-year period between 1958 and 1990. During this premiership drought, fans endured nine fruitless grand finals (1960, 1964, 1966, 1970, 1977 (drawn, then lost in a replay the following week), 1979, 1980, 1981). The term "Colliwobbles" was to enter the Victorian vocabulary to signify a choking phenomenon.
Portrayal of Phar Lap winning the 1930 Melbourne Cup, from the 1983 movie "Phar Lap"
  • Phar Lap – a thoroughbred horse who is considered by many to be the world's greatest racehorse[citation needed], and is probably subject to more conspiracy theories than any other racehorse (in relation to the cause of his death). His name entered the Australian lexicon in the expression "to have a heart bigger than Phar Lap's", referring to someone's tenacity and courage. It is part of Australian folklore that Phar Lap's heart was physically twice the size of the average horse's heart.


  • 5 o'clock wave – supposedly a large wave, several metres in height and created by the daily release of dam overflow, that is said to travel downriver at high speed, and to reach the location at which the tale is being told at 5 o'clock each afternoon.
  • Big Things – many Australian towns are known for their large structures or sculptures.
  • "Clancy of the Overflow" – a poem by Banjo Paterson
  • Geelong Keys – set of keys discovered in 1845 or 1846 by Governor Charles La Trobe at Corio Bay in Victoria, Australia
  • Lasseter's Reef – a fabulously rich gold deposit said to have been discovered – and then subsequently lost – by bushman Harold Bell Lasseter in a remote and desolate corner of central Australia towards the end of the 19th century.
  • Mahogany Ship – a supposed wrecked Portuguese caravel which is purported to lie beneath the sand approximately six miles west of Warrnambool in southwest Victoria, Australia.
  • Marree Man – A large geoglyph located near Marree in South Australia. Mystery surrounds how it was created, and who created it.
  • Min Min light – an unexplained light seen in central Australia.
  • Nullarbor Nymph – a hoax and legend in 1971 and 1972 in Australia which grew from the supposed sighting of a half naked woman on the Nullarbor Plain living amongst some kangaroos.
  • Speewah – a mythical Australian station that is the subject of many tall tales told by Australian bushmen.
  • "Waltzing Matilda" – Extensive folklore surrounds the song and the process of its creation, to the extent that the song has its own museum.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]