04 August 2016

The Fabulous Creatures of Walter Henry Bone

Walter Henry Bone is one of the forgotten illustrators of Australian children’s literature, which is rather a shame. Writing around the turn of the 20th century, he was able to apply his knowledge as an expert bushman and naturalist to creating an imaginative menagerie of animal characters. His What Became of Them? stories featured an outback world populated by creatures both strange and familiar. They were ruled over by the kindly Bunyip, referred to by the rest of the animals as ‘the King’ or ‘Your Majesty’.

Bunyip and Oopidoop. (Sydney Mail, 27 December 1911)

Bone’s animals were neither European nor Aboriginal, except for the bunyip, which in these stories was clearly a land animal, as opposed to the freshwater creature of Aboriginal legend. The bunyip also had magical powers with which he could transform animals, which happens in most stories, and these transformative incidents give the tales something of an Aboriginal quality, while also recalling Kipling's 'Just So Stories'.

Being a big-game hunter, soldier of fortune, naturalist, and children’s author was perhaps an odd mix. As was the style of the time, Bone's writing was a bit wordier and more colloquial than would be used in children’s books now, and although they had a fair measure of violence and death, they also had a quaint charm that seems surprising when considering the background of the author himself.

Walter Bone, Megalong Valley, c.1900. (Blue Mountains City Library)

Born in 1863, Bone attended Sydney Grammar School before setting off to Africa for a taste of adventure. He found it, and by the age of 20 he was an expert swordsman, revolver shot, and was the officer in command of the cavalry of the Sultan of Zanzibar. Sometime around 1890 he returned to Australia and became joint editor of the Blue Mountains Express newspaper in Katoomba. He was a frequent contributor to the Sydney Mail for 35 years. Bone wrote and illustrated popular animal and bush stories for children, including, Hoppity: being the life of an albino kangaroo (1933) and What Became of Them? Australian stories for children. These books continued to be reprinted until the 1950s.

Bone had a sound knowledge of bush lore and was a member of the Royal Society, the Linnaean Society of New South Wales, and the Zoological Society, and he contributed articles to a number of journals. He inherited his father’s printing business, renaming it ‘W. H. Bone & Co.’, and died in 1934.

Walter Bone and his wife Frances camping in the Megalong Valley, NSW, c.1900. (Blue Mountains City Library)

Being very much a creature of his time, he unfortunately portrayed Aboriginal and African people as clownish caricatures (see here for an example), and more than anything else it is these illustrations and other casually racist tones that make a revival of his work unlikely.

The Bunyip

In Bone's world, the Bunyip was the King of the animals, and the central character in the What Became of Them? stories. He had some familiar features known from alleged 'bunyip sightings', such as a bird's beak or bill, horns on his head, and large eyes, but he was clearly a land animal as opposed to the aquatic nature of reported bunyips.

(Sydney Mail, 31 January 1912)

The Oopidoop 
Not so 'fabulous', perhaps, but the Oopidoop was an important character in the stories, being the 'Great Grandfather of the Frogs' and constant assistant and friend to the Bunyip. His origins are explained in this January 1906 story.

'You can dig another hole and commence business whenever you like'. (Sydney Mail, 27 December 1911)

'Of course you know as well as I do that the Oopidoop is the grandfather of all the frogs. Well, nobody who ever saw the Bunyip - who, as everyone is aware, is the King of Australian creatures - could understand how it is that he is invariably attended by the Oopidoop. As a matter of fact it was only through being on very friendly terms with most of our wild animals that I learned the reason myself. To make sure that what they told me was correct, I interviewed an old black-snake (with a shotgun), and as he said nothing to the contrary, of course the story must be true.' (Sydney Mail, 17 January 1906)
The Wongawhillilew
The Wongawhillilew was a strange pterodactyl-like bird who was not too clever and wanted to become a man after coming across an Aboriginal man in the bush one day. He appeared in this December 1902 story.

'The mischievous young animals would swing on his legs.' (Sydney Mail, 31 December 1902)
"The Wongawhillilew was discovered, when quite a little thing, sitting on a stone in the pouring rain, squawking piteously with cold and wet, and when the Bunyip found it and took it home with him he anticipated some difficulty in rearing it, but being blessed with a healthy appetite and strong digestion, it recovered from the exposure, and under the tender care which the King of the Creatures bestowed upon all his subjects, rapidly attained its full growth. It was 6ft. high, had big goggle eyes, leathern wings furnished with strong hooks at the shoulders, and its long legs terminated in hands instead of claws. In colour it was green." (Sydney Mail, 31 December 1902)
The Goanthaspike
This was a large goanna or monitor lizard with a huge spike on the end of its snout, which he liked to use to play 'policeman' among the other animals. From April 1910.

'"Here, don't you call me names," the Monitor hissed venomously.' (Sydney Mail, 6 April 1910)
‘At first the bush creatures fled in frantic haste when they saw the Goanthaspike coming, but by degrees they became accustomed to his appearance, and their natural antipathy to each other reasserted itself. Quarrels and fights arose, and then the Monitor would lumber forward, and gently quell the disturbance with a mild application of his spike.’ (Sydney Mail, 6 April 1910)
The Boomerangatang
This was a kind of flying orang-utan that would spin around wildly in mid-air, boomerang-style, causing other fascinated animals to break their necks as they tried to watch him. Dozens of animals died in this manner in this September 1911 story.

'The King commanded the Boomerangatang to alight.' (Sydney Mail, 20 September 1911)
‘The first intimation of the presence of the Boomerangatang which the Bunyip received was when he was awakened, one very wet afternoon, by a succession of maniacal shrieks and chuckles that seemed to encircle the hollow tree in which he was sleeping.’ (Sydney Mail, 20 September 1911)
The Swalleremole
This massive snake ('swallow 'em whole') with armour plating and legs featured in this November 1911 story. It was eventually transformed into a much smaller creature.

'The Bunyip struck furiously at the creature's head.' (Sydney Mail, 22 November 1911)
‘It was the Swalleremole - the black snake with the crimson motor-scales - that brought the death-juice to Australia; there were no venomous snakes in our country before that. But he was somewhat different in appearance to what he is now, before the Bunyip took the matter in hand - you'll notice that at once if you glance at his portrait.’ (Sydney Mail, 22 November 1911)
The Hlpmtl
This was some sort of a giant ant with a penchant for killing animals unfortunate enough to fall into it's hole. It was featured in this December 1911 story.

'A pair of monstrous callipers closed with terrible force around him'. (Sydney Mail, 27 December 1911)
‘With a tremendous heave the creature emerged from the loose soil in which it had embedded itself, and crouched against the opposite side of the pit. The monarch examined it critically. 'Ha,' he muttered, 'body grey, ten feet long, flat, heart-shaped; six short legs, big head, goggle eyes, huge nippers-ah. Come here. Stop! How dare you crawl backwards. What d'you mean by it?' 'I can't crawl any other way,' the Hlpmtl whimpered apologetically.’ (Sydney Mail, 27 December 1911)
The Googleoggle
An ancestor of the frogs, the Googleoggle lost his ears but gained an unwanted tail after a fierce dispute with the koala (who, in turn, lost his own tail).

'"Now, get off the earth," said the Bunyip. (Sydney Mail, 25 January 1911)
'As for you,' he continued grimly, turning to the Googleoggle, 'your malice has caused the bear to lose his beloved tail and you your ears. As a punishment you shall wear his tail, and have no ears at all. Now, get off the earth!' And with one mighty kick he sent him flying into the water.' (Sydney Mail, 25 January 1911)
The Tuniuniantipec
When Australia was still joined to south-east Asia, this 'yellow monster' used to migrate down from China to devour children (i.e. young animals). There was nothing subtle about the racism in this February 1904 story. The problem was solved after the Bunyip had the wombats dig a trench that caused Australia to physically separate from Asia.

'"I believe you've eaten him yourself," said the Tuniunianipec.' (Sydney Mail, 3 February 1904)
'Our King sought the Tuniuniantipec at the full of the moon and prevailed upon him to return to his own country on condition that 10 animals should be given up to him whenever he asked for them, provided the moon was at the full. Years passed, and the Yellow Fiend grew older, and instead of full-grown animals he demanded that they be young and tender. This was done, and, so that the loss should fall upon each in turn, he brings each time a list of those who must give up their young to be devoured. Behold, people of the bush, the moon is at the full, and to-night he comes!' (Sydney Mail, 3 February 1904)
The Triantiwollipede
This bird-headed, tentacled creature had a habit of eating other animals before he was rather horrifically killed himself in this September 1902 story.

'"No, no,", said the Wallaroo, "It's all a mistake." (Sydney Mail, 6 September 1902)
'The triantiwollipede (Scarum kiddibus) is one of those extinct Australian creatures which for some unaccountable reason find no place in the books of natural history, but as there was only one, I am not surprised at it. The only mention I can find of the beast is- 
"He's all jet black, and his big fat back
Is round as a geebung seed:
So don't go nigh when you hear the cry -
“Trianti - wolli - pede!”'
- Alexander the Great.'
(Sydney Mail, 6 September 1902)
Drought Bird 
Mentioned in a story 
about Oopidoop, the Drought Bird was held responsible for causing droughts to occur.

'That night, the Drought Bird swooped down out of the sky.' (Sydney Mail, 17 January 1906)
''You see, my friends,' he went on after a pause, 'it is all the fault of the wicked Drought Bird. As you know, the Drought Bird is a huge winged creature that flies out of the sun, and drinks up all the clouds by day and the rivers and creeks by night - that's why nobody ever sees him.'' (Sydney Mail, 17 January 1906)
The Locashell
This giant insect with a fondness for soft wood trees was eventually shrunk down to become a cicada-type creature in this story from January 1912.

'He emitted a yell that made the trees shudder.' (Sydney Mail, 31 January 1912)
'Almost asleep as he was, the Bunyip at first watched the thing with dreamy indifference, but as its bulk rose higher and higher from the earth, by degrees he became uneasily conscious of the two great eyes staring down into his. Unable to move, though now wide awake, he saw the huge claws groping for a firm hold upon the ground; his eyes widened, and his mouth gaped with astonishment, and - it must be confessed - apprehension, until the weird object, bending towards him, thrust forward a long, slender beak and touched him on the chest. Then he emitted a yell (and, mind you, I don't blame him) that made the trees shudder, and went over backwards.' (Sydney Mail, 31 January 1912)