Australia, Vampires in

Australia, Vampires in

(pop culture)

Vampires do not play a large part in the folklore of Australia. However, in Aboriginal cultures, there existed the yara-ma-yha-who, a vampirelike being. It was described as a little red man, approximately four feet tall, with an exceptionally large head and mouth. It had no teeth and simply swallowed its food whole. Its most distinguishing features, however, were its hands and feet. The tips of the fingers and toes were shaped like the suckers of an octopus.

The yara-ma-yha-who lived in the tops of wild fig trees. It did not hunt for food, but waited until unsuspecting victims sought shelter in the tree and then dropped on them. The story of the yara-ma-yha-who was told to young children who might wander from the tribe, and naughty children were warned that it might come and take them away.

When a person camped under a fig tree, a yara-ma-yha-who might jump down and place its hands and feet on the body. It would then drain the blood from the victim to the point that the person was left weak and helpless, but rarely enough, at least initially, to cause the victim to die. The creature would later return and consume its meal. It then drank water and took a nap. When it awoke, the undigested portion of its meal would be regurgitated. According to the story, the person regurgitated was still alive, and children were advised to offer no resistance should it be their misfortune to meet a yara-ma-yha-who. Their chances of survival were better if they let the creature swallow them.

People might be captured on several occasions. Each time, they would grow a little shorter until they were the same size as the yara-ma-yha-who. Their skin would first become very smooth and then they would begin to grow hair all over their body. Gradually they were changed into one of the mythical little furry creatures of the forest.

Australian Pop Culture: Quite separate from Aboriginal folklore, the British settlers brought the vampire to Australia in the later nineteenth century. Among the first reprints of Dracula (occurring almost simultaneously with the first edition) was the Colonial edition released by Hutchinson that circulated outside England in what were then colonies, including Australia. As Australia developed its own distinctive popular culture, the vampire was present in, for example, the 1950s novellas of Michael Waugh and the 1970s vampire comic books of Gerald R. Carr. Outside the country, most note has been taken of several Australian vampire movies, which would include Barry MacKenzie Holds His Own (1974), Thirst (1979), Outback Vampires (1987), Pandemonium (1988), Bloodlust (1992), Island of the Vampire Birds (1999), Bloodspit (2002), and Reign in Darkness (2002).

Sources:

Ryan, John. Panel by Panel: An Illustrated History of Australian Comics. North Melbourne: Cassell Australia, 1979.
Smith, W. Ramsey. Myths and Legends of the Australian Aboriginals. New York: Farrar & Rinehart. 356 pp.
Waugh, Michael. Back from the Dead. Sydney, Aust.: Cleveland, 1955.
———. Fangs of the Vampire. Sydney, Aust.: Cleveland, 1954.
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