Written by Craig Robertson, “Buckley’s Hope” is about William Buckley, a convict from Van Dieman’s Land who escaped to the mainland, and managed to assimilate into an Aboriginal tribe, in the main because they believed he was a returned ancestor. Robertson has tried to weave history, fictive imagination and dreamtime stories into the one narrative, and frankly it’s trite and clumsy.
On the other hand, the details of Buckley’s adventure are fascinating. He married (twice) indigenous women, dressed in their clothes, hunted with them and shared their life for over 30 years. When he returned to European society, he could not speak English for a considerable period, so used was he to the dialect of the tribe he was with (the Wothoworung – Robertson’s spelling). This tribe lived in the area west of Melbourne. He rejoined the Europeans when Batman and Fawkner were vying over Port Phillip – they both wished to develop settlements there. He made considerable efforts to conciliate between the two cultures, but found that both parties ended up distrusting him. Eventually he migrated back to Van Dieman’s Land.
His story is fascinating and important as an incident of “reverse assimilation”. He seemed to find the companionship and belonging that he never found in convict society, but it’s difficult to know whether he would have been welcomed if the tribe knew his true identity.