Like so many other place names across Melbourne, Burnside has suffered from a certain amount of semantic drift. Originally, the area was named for its most notorious feature, the mummified skin of a mighty beast rumoured to have been a bunyip (pronounced, in the local dialect, with a silent ‘r’ after its ‘u’): it was called Burn’s Hide.

The Burn, as the beast became known, was a fearsome creature. Having existed since the dreaming began (according the local tribes), and killed many of their number over the years, it was one of the first things that European settlers to the region were warned about. Naturally, as men of science, they scoffed at the superstitious ravings of uneducated savages.

The scoffing continued, even as more and more of the area’s livestock went missing, only to turn up a few days later each time, rent into shreds of skin and meat, and mostly devoured. The scoffing came to an abrupt halt when Albany Calder, an eight year old who was the daughter of one of the wealthiest of the local farmers, went missing only to be found three days later, torn into a dozen pieces (all of which featured prominent teeth marks). The men of the area mounted up, and went a’hunting the Bunyip.

The creature they eventually killed appears to have been the last (and largest) member of the thylacoleo species still surviving at that time. Measuring fully 23 feet from nose to tail (twice as long as the largest tigers, for comparison). The beast was stuffed and mounted, but a poor job was done of the former, and within a few months, it was found to be the home of a colony of mice. At that point, Jonathon Calder, Albany’s father, reclaimed the beast’s remains and converted the skin (which was reasonably intact) into a large wall hanging: the Burn’s Hide. In later years, after his bankruptcy, the Calder house fell into ruin, but the animal’s hide remained, weathering the elements better than any of the wooden walls or floors.

Suburbs near Burnside:

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