You've Got Buckley's

The Wild White Man , F Grosse

The Wild White Man, F Grosse

William Buckley, who would at various times also be known as "The Wild White Man" and "The Anglo-Australian giant", was a man who bore little respect for convention, authority, nor the confines of society. Over the course of his life his experiences would range from fighting in the Napoleonic wars, sailing across the globe, and spending a significant part of his life living in the Australian bush, prior to the European settlement of the continent's south-east. After him, the expression "you've got Buckley's chance" has come to describe having no chance for success, or endurance. So was this incredible life a success or a failure?

The Region - Kulin Nation

Map of Victoria, with indigenous designations.  Source

Map of Victoria, with indigenous designations. Source

The original inhabitants of Australia represented countless different nations, made up of smaller tribes, grouping and family units, that would interact and exchange through trade and relationships in a way that was fluid, just as the movements of these nomadic people flowed around the landscape.

The Kulin nation was a collection of 5 tribes that lives around the Port Phillip Bay area. They shared a language base, but with some differences in dialect and also vocabulary. It is among the western branch of these people, specifically the Wathaurong, that Buckley spent his time.

Aboriginal tribes around Port Phillip –  Source

Aboriginal tribes around Port Phillip – Source


Central to indigenous belief and mythology structures, the Corroboree is a ceremonial affair. Participants paint themselves in elaborate patterns, and the groups dance, drum and sing, connecting and interacting with the dreaming - the fundamental understanding of the universe, and creation.

The word itself is an anglicisation of cariberie, the word for such ceremonies in the area of Australia around the first British settlement of New South Wales. The ceremony was common throughout the country, but each nation and language grouping had their own specific terms for them.

Buckley taking part in a corroboree  by Tommy McRae

Buckley taking part in a corroboree by Tommy McRae

Buckley's Tattoo


Native warfare

Buckley's account of life amidst the Wathaurong people is the first of a European spending extensive time in that region. He describes the nomadic life as one where fighting and violence was as central as trade and relationships. More often than not, these fights would occur over a perceived slight, and usually with a woman or women being at the centre of it all.

Aboriginal warrior from central Australia  by Herbert Basedow

Aboriginal warrior from central Australia by Herbert Basedow

Using spears and boomerangs as their main weapons, scores of people would set upon each other, and Buckley even recorded occasions where fire and smoke were used to suffocate an enemy tribe.

Yet, this fighting seems to have fit in within the whole interactive land, nature, trade system, and their propensity to arrange meetings and corroborees of different groupings, after which they would travel a time together, often breaking into fights.