He’s been called the Wild White Man.
A number of convicts had escaped from the Sullivan’s Bay settlement in the south, just 15 years after the first convicts arrived to establish the first settlement at Sydney Harbour in 1788.
All but one had either been killed, disappeared or returned in desperation to give themselves up.
The one surviving escapee, William Buckley, has been written into the local folklore and the Australian vernacular. To have ‘Buckley’s hope’ – or just ‘Buckley’s’ – has come to mean to have little hope.
This extraordinary story of survival in a natural and hostile environment is told in my book ‘Back to the Wall’.
He was found by a group of aborigines whose leader had only just died and, since Buckley was over six feet tall and the first white man they’d ever seen, they believed him to be the returned spirit of their deceased leader.
The Wathaurong aborigines cared for him and taught him their social order and ways of survival in the bush.
They even gave him a wife.
For 32 years the ‘wild white man’ Buckley lived with these original inhabitants on a peninsula south-west of present-day Melbourne and across the bay from Sullivan’s Cove.
As a young boy I’d come with my family for our annual holidays to this very spot. I recall standing in awe at the entrance to Buckley’s Cave beneath the lighthouse where he is said to have lived.
I would imagine this huge man with a wild beard and long unkempt hair residing inside in the darkness watching me standing there on the sand outside.
He truly captured my imagination as a boy even though, at the time, I knew only vaguely of him as an Aussie version of Robinson Crusoe.
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Fast forward 32 years to John Batman’s famous landing party sailing from the new settlement in Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), with the intention of claiming the site on which Melbourne now stands.
John Batman was the son of a convict mother and convict father and was married to a convict woman.
He set out from Van Diemen’s Land in 1835 with a party of three European servants and seven aborigines.
They sailed up the river known by the aborigines as Yarra Yarra (meaning ‘flowing water’), declaring this to be “the place for a village”.
A short distance upstream he negotiated the purchase of the land on which Melbourne now stands with the local aboriginal tribe at a spot right behind the playing fields of my old high school.
He purchased a hundred thousand acres of land in exchange for flour, blankets, scissors, tomahawks, looking-glasses, various items of clothing and alcohol.
His party then returned to Van Diemen’s Land.
A few months later an advance party returned to settle permanently on their new land which, unknown to them, was illegal without the approval of the Crown (which they didn’t have).
On landing at Indented Head inside Port Phillip Bay not far from Buckley’s Cave they ran into a wild white man dressed the same as the natives.
It was William Buckley the convict who had escaped 32 years earlier. He had forgotten how to speak English, speaking instead the language of his aboriginal tribe.
He was persuaded to go with the party of settlers and was eventually granted a pardon after agreeing to work between the two races to help relationships between them.
So how does this strange story of the ‘wild white man’ fit in with the mystery in the book?
What other fascinating true stories are told in my book?
Find out HERE.