True story of the Lowood bunyip

Ever since the 1893 floods, rumours persisted that some strange animal had washed into the Brisbane River at Lowood. It was a bunyip. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

Several fishing parties reported being disturbed by a monster, demon, or whatever it was, which scared them so much that they quickly packed up and went home.

Others actually saw the animal come out of the river at night and attack cattle grazing on the bank. A calf had even been dragged into the water and devoured.

The creature was described as being something like a huge Newfoundland dog with a ferocious head and big tusks. Others said it had wings or large fins and moved like an alligator when on dry land. It was seen at Wivenhoe, Lowood, and Fernvale. Because of the Aboriginal stories, it was decided that it was a bunyip.

Then one night in 1898, a party of possum shooters including local businessman Carl Lindemann saw the bunyip floating in the river. They fired ten shots which caused the monster to race away up-river to the long waterhole opposite Lindemann’s paddock.

Lindemann’s business at Lowood

The home of the monster was now discovered, and so it decided that a larger shooting party be assembled the following night. A Vigilance Committee was formed and they met at the Lowood School of Arts at 5pm on Friday the 26th of August 1898.

Marksmen came from as far away as Marburg and a special train from Ipswich was organised. The local drill hall was raided for rifles and ammunition. Ten members of the Moreton Regiment (photo at top of page) arrived with forty rounds of ball cartridges, and there were about twenty local residents each armed with their own guns. Together with the local constable, most of the town followed to see the kill.

They went to the bottom of Lindemann’s paddock on the riverbank, and after they’d walked for about half an hour, one of the scouts reported seeing a dark moving object on the other side of the river, sitting on a large log.

The thing had scarcely been seen when it jumped off the log with considerable noise and splashing and rushed towards the party. Some of the onlookers fainted, others fled in terror. Many wanted to start shooting straight away to scare the monster off, but Lindemann advised them to hold fire until it got closer.

Finally, the order was given, and a volley was fired. Another volley was poured in, and then random shots continued until the advance of the bunyip was stopped and the body seemed to float away up stream.

The firing brought the rest of the town down to the river, and a boat was soon launched to retrieve the carcase. The party in the boat, as they got close, fired again. One man used an oar to poke the body. It was riddled with bullets was dragged ashore.

The bunyip was put on display at the Lowood train station and people from miles around came to see – it was the talk of the whole district.

Lowood train station

Some said that John Roulston, who was the biggest landowner in the district and whose calves had been taken by the bunyip, had offered £40 for its capture. It was also believed that the government was willing to pay £200 for the monster to go to the museum. There were several disputes as to how these rewards were to be shared between the armed and unarmed hunters from that night.

The bunyip was of course a clever hoax. It was a box covered with wallaby hide, with swansdown ears, and a boot sole nose. It had been made by the local bootmaker Fred Smythe and was worked by pulleys and wire.

It was the idea of Carl Lindemann the businessman. Lindemann clearly had a creative mind because he invented the first corn sheller and husker in the district. He also owned the first motor car and tractor engine. It was his sister-in-law who a few years later became the last woman sentenced to death in Queensland.

Carl Lindemann (right) the entrepreneur and his car

The wires of the bunyip were worked by Smythe and Lindemann’s brother Jack. Constable Edward Fagg was let in on the joke to prevent the special train leaving Ipswich. Back during the 1893 flood that gave rise to the bunyip stories, it was thought for some time that Fagg had drowned. Musketry champion lance corporal Arthur Nunn of the Moreton Regiment also knew about the hoax because it was his job to convince his commander, captain Henry Lawson, to distribute the guns and ammunition.

Captain Lawson was also the first head teacher at Lowood State School, and to this very day, the school’s mascot is a bunyip.


Photo credits:
Queensland Moreton Regiment in camp at Lytton c1890 – State Library of Queensland
Lindemann’s store Lowood 1912 – State Library of Queensland
Lowood train station 2019 – my own
Lindemann family and their car, Lowood 1912 – State Library of Queensland

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