MV Blog


Cryptozoology – imagination, science or folklore?

by Wayne
Publish date
4 September 2014
Comments (3)

Where I grew up as a child, in Victoria's Wimmera-Mallee, there were persistent tales of strange animal sightings that fell outside the realm of science. Stories of Pumas, Cougars (which are actually the same thing) or other "Big Cats" living in the Grampians, for example, often seeped into school ground conversations. As a proto-scientist at this stage of my life (reared on Attenborough, How-and-Why books and old issues of National Geographic) I had developed a degree of scepticism to such stories – I knew to keep my 'bulldust detector' switched on but also kept my mouth shut - after all, everybody loves a good campfire story.

Jaguar A Jaguar Panthera onca. Just one of the numerous species of big cats probably not found in the Grampians.
Image: Benamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
My teenaged mind would sometimes wander - so what if, just supposing for a moment, there really were large felines prowling the forests near Wartook in the Grampians, just an hours drive away? On nearly every occasion, the story-teller swore that their tale was true – to cast doubt on the validity was regarded as an insult to the story-teller's family, as inevitably they were retelling something a family member had seen. Hence, keeping the mouth shut was a wise option– it was a small town, after all.

In later years, I had need to move a little over a hundred kilometres to the west and found that a similar local story existed near Mt Arapiles – the stalking ground of the infamous "Ozenkadnook Tiger". By this stage of my life, my bulldust detector was more finely calibrated, and it pinged incessantly in my head when I heard stories on this animal – but was it really a myth? Everyone who spoke of it swore it was true....but empirical scientific evidence – in the form of clear photographs, verified footprints, samples of fur or other remains - were uniformly thin on the ground, so to speak (although a photograph of an indistinct animal did make its way to the front of the local newspaper in the 1960s, and is analysed in some detail here)

Thylacine A Thylacine Thylacinus cyanocephalus. Might this be a relative of the Ozenkadnook Tiger? Probably not.
Image: Heath Warwick
Source: Museum Victoria

As it transpires, almost every region of rural Australia has their own tales of strange animals, complete with oral accounts, familial anecdotes and rich folkloric traditions, from bunyips to big cats to presumed late-surviving megafauna. Whilst great fun, these stories are the realm of cryptozoology – a mix of folklore, imagination and pseudoscience – defined as the study of animals whose existence has not been proven. As I'm now a fully-realised scientist, my attitude to cryptozoology is uniform – whether it's Nessie, Bigfoot or the Ozenkadnook Tiger, hard evidence is the cornerstone of the scientific process – without empirical evidence, this is sadly pseudoscience.

So, whilst my bulldust detector remains active and fully charged, nobody would be happier than I to be presented with definitive, empirical evidence of these animals. Sightings, family stories and other anecdotal evidence are simply not enough. In the spirit of true science, we remain unmoved until provided with empirical evidence.

In the meantime, sightings and the like can be lodged via the Australian Rare Fauna Research Association. But not us!

30th anniversary of Play and Folklore

by Kate C
Publish date
14 May 2011
Comments (0)

I loved the Far Out, Brussel Sprout books when I was a kid. Do you remember them? They stood from the other children’s books because they were filled with all the cheeky rhymes and sayings that kids actually used in the playground, rather than the sterilised stuff that teachers and parents wanted us to read. These books were compiled by Dr June Factor, writer and folklorist, and founding editor of the journal Play and Folklore.

Play and Folklore is devoted to recording and discussing what children do when largely free of adult direction or control—their colloquial speech, songs, games, rhymes, riddles, jokes, insults and secret languages. Established in 1981, it has been published online by Museum Victoria since 2001 and the April issue just released celebrates the journal’s 30th anniversary.

newspaper football Paper football made from newspaper was constructed at Carlton North Primary School in the mid-1980s. Footballer Peter McKenna describes playing with a newspaper footy as a child in the 1950s in the April 2011 Play and Folklore.
Image: Jennifer McNair
Source: Museum Victoria

Dr June Factor and Dr Gwenda Davey began publishing the then-titled Australian Children’s Folklore Newsletter out of the Institute of Early Childhood Development that later became part of the University of Melbourne. Keen observers of children, Dr Factor and Dr Davey began collecting and preserving their folklore in the 1970s. This became the Australian Children’s Folklore Collection (ACFC) which they donated to Museum Victoria in 1999. In 2004, it became the first MV collection to be placed in on the prestigious UNESCO Australian Memory of the World register.

Slingshot Slingshot made from a tree branch, circa 1980-1983. Found on the steps of the Institute of Early Childhood Development, Kew, by Dr June Factor. It had been left there by children who often used the empty car park as a playground at weekends. In the background are index cards used by Dr Factor to record children's rhymes.
Image: Michelle McFarlane
Source: Museum Victoria

Deborah Tout-Smith, Senior Curator of Cultural Diversity, is the curator for the ACFC and oversees the production of Play and Folklore. “Children’s folklore is amazing repository of cultural information. In the past a lot of study into children has been adults looking at children [whereas] children’s folklore is a cultural world children themselves preserve and articulate,” said Deborah. “June Factor pointed out that information is handed on between children and never enters the adult world. Sometimes we see remnants of old ideas and practices that have disappeared in the adult world but still continue in children’s folklore.”

The study of children’s folklore has been important while researching the newly-opened exhibition at the Immigration Museum, Identity: yours, mine, ours. “We find the roots of prejudice in the ways children start to notice difference,” explained Deb. “There are distinct phases of understanding that can end up hardening into prejudice, or can become part of embracing difference.” Both the ACFC and Play and Folklore capture children’s culture from around the world and while they have a distinctly Australian flavour, they include the layers of influence from migrant children over the decades.


Play and Folklore archive (1981-current)

Collections Online: Australian Children's Folklore Collection

Infosheet: Australian Children's Folklore Collection

About this blog

Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.