Although there are exceptions, Australian pubs generally lack imagination when it comes to naming. Many pubs have inherited their signs from the ‘Mother Country’, and few have uniquely Australian names.
While there are some pubs that have adopted Australian names, there are even fewer that have indigenous signs (with the exception, of course, of pubs named after a town derived from an Aboriginal word).
There is one pub name in Australia though that has its origins firmly in Aboriginal language – The Bunyip Hotel.
The bunyip is a large creature from Australian Aboriginal mythology, said to lurk in swamps, billabongs, creeks, riverbeds, and waterholes.
The origin of the word bunyip has been traced to the Wemba-Wemba or Wergaia language of Aboriginal people of South-Eastern Australia, and is usually translated to mean “devil” or “evil spirit”.
The folklore has led to at least two pubs being named after the mythical creatures; one in the town of the same name, about 80km east from Melbourne, and another at Cavendish, about 300kms in the opposite direction from the Victorian capital.
In this story we’re taking a look at Cavendish’s Bunyip Hotel. For the history of the other Bunyip Hotel visit the Time Gents story: Connor’s Bunyip Hotel, North Gippsland.
THE BUNYIP RETURNS
After a lengthy absence the mysterious bunyip has returned to his old abode, the swamp, opposite the Miami Hotel (Qld). Probably the flooded flats at Merrimac may have hastened the elusive bunyip’s return to his spacious summer quarters. The nightly boom of the monster is causing mild excitement in this centre.
– South Coast Bulletin July 11 1930
NATIVES SCARED OF RIVER BUNYIP
MELBOURNE, Wed. — Australian natives in the Nathalla district have refused to help local police recover the body of a man who was drowned in the Murray River near Barmah last night. The natives told police that they were frightened to swim in the river as an old bunyip lived in the waterhole nearby. The man was Robert Henn (39), barman at the Barmah Hotel. He apparently tripped In the dark and fell into the river. One native said: “Plurry big bunyip live in this river. We no swim.”
– Daily Mercury December 7 1950
Bunyip Hotel, Cavendish, Victoria
The Bunyip Hotel in the Victorian country township of Cavendish is a single storey rendered brick building.
The pub has been located on the same site from the beginnings of the township in the 1840s, and like many country inns, originally traded at a river crossing.
Sitting near the banks of the Wannon River ‘The Bunyip’ is a popular hotel with diners and has large glass windows and doors overlooking the river.
Norman and Sarah May McLeod hosted the Bunyip Hotel for over 15 years from 1935. They had the pub in 1938 when the original inn was demolished and replaced with the cuurent structure in 1938.
The McLeod family moved from Condah to the Bunyip Hotel at Cavendish in July 1935. Recalling his days growing up as a boy at the Bunyip Hotel, Ian McLeod published the following reminiscences on his website: The McLeods of Condah
“At the time it was necessary to effect the move, Mum was inconveniently in the Hamilton Base Hospital having her eleventh and last child, Little Les. So Dad and Norma were the team that first took on the daunting task of learning how to operate a country pub.
The “New” Bunyip was built not long after the McLeods moved in. The sleeping accommodation of the “Old” Bunyip, out of sight to the left of Howard Docherty (Old Doc) in the photo of the old pub, was moved to the back of the new hotel, became bedrooms for the McLeod children and was affectionately known as the Bottom End.
Old Doc, incidentally, was well liked by us children – he told enormously exaggerated tales of days gone by and called us, I guess with good reason, “snowy headed young warrigals”. He was an old pensioner who lived alone in a small tin hut on the Balmoral road. In later years he developed cancer. On his discharge from hospital he recuperated for some months as a non-paying guest at the Bunyip. At the time one of the local female mean-spirited wowsers of the village sniffed that this charity by Mrs McLeod was designed to ensure that Doc could still spend his pension on beer at the hotel.
In various stages at the Bunyip Mum had Norma, Betty or Dorothy to help with the housework. From time to time the load would be further lightened by the employment of a maid.
No account of life at the Bunyip, no matter how brief, would be complete without some mention of those redoubtable women. So there follows a Roll Call of Honour of their names, that they be remembered. Not necessarily in chronological order, they were:
Pert “Pepper” Salter, slumberous-eyed Phyllis Campbell, attractive young local girls Jean and Lorna “Topsy” Duncan, simpleminded Florrie Hall, who had the disconcerting habit of raising her skirts for no other reason than to display her voluminous starched white pantaloons and exclaim “I’m clean! I’m clean!”, generously proportioned Eve O’Donnell and cheeky Doris Dainton. My apologies to any I may have missed.
While the McLeod daughters at the Bunyip helped with household chores, the older sons helped with the bar work. Many a strange conversation occurred in the bar of the Bunyip. For instance this one, oft repeated by brother Donnie, which took place between Dad and Tommy Dark, an old bushman and father-in law to both Donnie and Betty.
Norman – “Did you ever see a snake burn in a bushfire?”
Tommy – “Uh, no.”
Norman – “Nor I, Tom, nor I.”
There are countless other stories of times at the Bunyip that have not yet been recorded. Time and space dictate that that they must remain untold, or perhaps be the subject of a separate, later book. This one has got out of control and badly needs winding down. After another two or three accounts, it will be concluded.”
- With thanks to Ian McLeod
The current (2020) publicans at the Bunyip Hote are James Campbell and Matt Nettleton, who have formed a partnership that they hope will not only deliver great food, beer and wine to the people of Cavendish, but also to be the caretakers of this iconic local watering hole. Visit their website: Bunyip Hotel Cavendish
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Categories: Victoria hotels