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By Eric Shackle

The Gawler Bunyip, the Crow's Call, the Sunshine Advocate and the Golden Mail must surely be Australia's most oddly-named newspapers - and a search of the Internet reveals great stories about how they acquired those names.

THE GAWLER BUNYIP was founded in Gawler, South Australia in 1863, as the chronicle of the Gawler Humbug Society, whose rules said "The object of this Association is the open advocacy of Humbug, in contradistinction to its secret practice in most other Societies...

"The Society shall be presided over by three officers, the chief of whom shall be entitled Arch Flamm, the second Bouncible Bam, and the third Surprising Sham....

"Any member guilty of puppyism, hawhawing, murdering the Queen's English, or any conduct unbecoming a gentleman, [shall] be summarily expelled from the Society, and as a mark of contempt be elected a member of Parliament on the first vacancy occurring."

The newspaper's first masthead, which remained essentially the same for more than 120 years, read "The Bunyip" - or Gawler Humbug Society's Chronicle, Flam! Bam! ! Sham! ! ! No.1 - Price 6d.

Why did they call it The Bunyip? "Because the Bunyip is the true type of Australian Humbug! Go where you will in Australia, the poor benighted blackfellow, if he wishes to astonish you with unheard of marvels, or strike you with supreme terror, raises before you the shadow of the mysterious Bunyip - ever near - ever promising to appear - but ever eluding sight and grasp (ed note like Vapourware!) - true type of Humbug.

"It (Bunyip) is used by the aboriginals to describe an amphibious animal, the existence of which they implicitly believe in, but which is regarded by the white man as something rather mystical. Probably it may be the old Bogey of the Blackfellow. The paleface considers it as a sort of land sea serpent.

'The only probable explanation that can be attached to the native superstition is that at some time or other a species of the alligator, or American cayman, may have inhabited some of the inland swamps, and as ignorance is very imaginative been magnified into something very dreadful as the bunyip."

Recounting the newspaper's history, The Bunyip's website says "Its columns breathed of the wit and satire of some of the members of that illustrious group, the Humbug Society. So pungent was the comment that a libel action arose out of the first issue." The publisher was fined one shilling (10 cents) for having libelled a local doctor.

The Bunyip was a monthly pamphlet until January, 1865, when it became a bi-monthly broadsheet, less satirical and more orthodox, "a sober chronicle of passing events and developing opinions." In January 1866 it became a weekly and the price was reduced to threepence (2.5 cents) a copy until January 1885, when it sold for a penny.

The Bunyip  has always taken a keen interest in odd animal stories. One hundred and twenty-five years ago, it stated that a sheep with three mouths was to be exhibited at the Old Bushman, and that a lamb had been born with a 16-inch lizard on its back. On November 7, 2001, it reported "A 39-year-old Blair Athol man was issued with an infringement notice after Two Wells police stopped and searched his car on Sunday and allegedly found he had caught a female crab with eggs."

The newspaper is unique, at least in Australia, in having been owned by the one family ever since William Barnet founded it in 1863. His great-grandson, John Barnet, took over from his father as managing editor in 1975. Today, John is managing editor, assisted by his brothers Craig (assistant editor) and Paul (photographer).

[Gawler (population17,000) is 40 km north of Adelaide and adjacent to the Barossa Valley. The Macquarie Dictioary describes a bunyip as "an imaginary creature of Aboriginal legend, said to haunt rushy swamps and billabongs."]

THE CROW'S CALL. Crow's Nest, an attractive town 179 km north-west of Brisbane, in Queensland's cattle country, is built around a large village green that has at its centre a statue of Jimmy Crow, after whom the town was named. A hollow treetrunk that he used as a "nest" stands nearby.

An inscription reads: "In the early days when teamsters visited this area Jimmy Crow, an Aboriginal named by early settlers, used a hollow tree as his gunyah [hut made of boughs and bark]. He was relied on for information and directions. This place was used as a camping place by teamsters and travellers and became known as Jimmy Crow's Nest, hence the name 'Crows Nest'."

There's another Crow's Call in the U.S. It's an online publication of the Rotary Club in San Ramon, California. And there's a third in Japan - a monthly newsletter for students of Sophia University in Ichigaya, Tokyo. St. Francis Xavier arrived in Japan in 1549. Admiring the Japanese temperament, he wrote to Rome of his wish to establish a university in the Japanese capital. That is the origin of today's Sophia University which was founded in 1913.

The Internet can even tell us what a crow's call sounds like, and how we can distinguish it from the call of a raven, which a crow resembles. The  University of Michigan's website says: "The common crow's call is a caw-caw or caa-caa sound, while the common raven's call is a varied, deep, guttural croaking, wonk-wonk. The fish crow call is also unlike that of the common crow, either a nasal kwak or a nasal two noted ah-ah."

Back in 1975, Australian TV king, Graham Kennedy, was banned from giving live shows after his version of a crow's call was considered too close to a then dreaded but now commonplace four-letter word.

THE SUNSHINE ADVOCATE in Victoria did not advocate sunshine. The story goes back to the 1880s, when H.V. McKay invented a revolutionary grain harvesting machine that he called the Sunshine Harvester and later exported world-wide.

In 1904, McKay secured 400 acres of land at Braybrook Junction which he subdivided to encourage his workers (called the Sunshine family) to settle locally. McKay provided electric lighting, parklands, recreation areas, public buildings, land for school and library, and housing for his employees. The village was renamed Sunshine in 1907, in recognition of the contribution of the harvester works to the development of the locality.

The Sunshine Advocate, founded in 1924, was named after the town of Sunshine, which is 40 minutes' drive from Melbourne. Sadly, the newspaper's colorful name was recently changed to a mundane Advocate. "The name Sunshine Advocate was alienating a lot of our readers," says editor John Sampson.

THE GOLDEN MAIL is published in Kalgoorlie (595km east of Perth). The free weekly's name is a witty variation of the mining town's famous Golden Mile. Kalgoorlie/Boulder's Golden Mile is recognised as the richest mile in the world.

The gold mines and nearby city owe their existence to Patrick Hannan, Tom Flanagan and Dan Shea's discovery of gold in the area in 1893. A $25 million Mining Hall of Fame opened as a tourist attraction, five kilometres from the city, on October 30, 2001.

And the Mining Hall of Fame publishes a magazine with a title that merits honorable mention in this review of odd names: it's called the Pick and Shovel.

Copyright 2002   Eric Shackle   Story first posted January 2002

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