The Extraordinary Story of William Buckley

The Extraordinary Story of William Buckley, ABC TV documentary.

This program follows the incredible story of William Buckley, a convict who escaped the first white encampment at Port Phillip in 1803 and was eventually rescued by the local Wathaurong tribe who believed him to be a spirit of a dead relative. He lived with them for decades as part of their tribe, learning their culture, language and skills in finding food. Thirty two years later he walked out of the bush to the new Port Phillip camp and tried, unsuccessfully, to head off conflict between the whites and indigenous people. He eventually returned to England where he told his story to a journalist (the source that seems to have been relied on for this doco) and died four years later.

I really enjoyed this show, it was well produced and the dramatisations were seamlessly incorporated with the on-camera Historian (Michael Cathcart – who I always enjoy listening to). I think the decision to have him speaking in the setting (the bush) helped with this.
But, what was really impressive about this show was that the explanations – the ‘translation’ if you like – of the indigenous culture and the insight into what they were thinking came from an elder of the Wathaurong (whose name I can’t find on the ABC website). The indigenous part of this story was not told by a white Historian but by an indigenous voice, which is so refreshing.
I love the story of William Buckley – I already knew it – because it is so incredible and, I believe, single-handedly changed the settlement of Melbourne. If he had not been there to facilitate the meeting of the two cultures, the Wathaurong would have almost certainly attacked the settlers and perhaps the settlement would have been more bloody and fought-over. Maybe the wars that are so buried in our history would have been more a part of Melbourne’s story. I don’t think it would have changed the outcome at all, just perhaps the way we view this part (and perhaps more) of Australians history.
I also liked this documentary because it presented Buckley as a very introspective man who took to his new life willingly. Sure, he was driven by the desire to be free and his own survival but he was also open to this new culture and seemed to embrace their way of life. How much of this was true is, of course, debatable, but we have to think that thirty years in that life would have counted for something.
Plus, there is the interesting question of whether this Buckley or the Melbourne firm Buckley and Nunn are the origin of the common saying ‘you’ve got buckleys’ meaning a slim to no chance. An unsolvable mystery, perhaps?

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