William Buckley: Belonging / Natalie Anderson

There is so much in William Buckley’s story but for me it is his early days on this continent that I find most fascinating. A stranger in a formidable and unfamiliar land, he is hungry & haunted by inexplicable creatures in the canopies and undergrowth of our coastal scrub. Buckley is free but living hand to mouth with whatever he can scavenge from the edge of the southern ocean and its tributaries, completely cut off from civilization as he knows it.

This series of work seeks to view the landscape through Buckley’s eyes as he looks out across our rivers, hidden amongst ancient Moonah trees, and discovers he is not alone. It is in those transitional hours around dawn and dusk that Buckley furtively watches. Melancholy settles like a blanket as he quietly observes fire in the distance – a symbol of both danger and community. Smoke spirals into the sky and Buckley knows people are eating well. It is the witching hour and Buckley yearns for certainty and purpose; for fellowship and food above all else. A depth of loneliness overwhelms him and yet he will stay hidden and hungry for now- the battle waging within him between fear of the unknown and that very primal need not just to survive but to belong. Ultimately he will find community, protection and love amongst the Wadawurrung people.

Not much has changed in some ways – we still all need to find our tribe and to belong.

  • Every bit of this story is so significant because through William Buckley we get to think about and encounter the Waddawarrung people and their story. They walked where we walk, experienced the southern ocean, gazed upon the You Yangs, watched Bunjil soar on thermals and delighted in the magpie song just as we can today……if we stop and listen. So there is this timelessness to the story that makes me feel connected. I don’t have blood ties to these people but I love this place and yearn to feel the connection to country that the first people have. In some ways this gives me that. I often say to my girls that if we just stop and listen we might hear the whispers of the Waddawurrung people that camped in and around the Dog Rocks near where I live…but thats the thing…we don’t stop and listen. This project gave me an imperative, an excuse really….to stop and listen.
  • For me the sites that really resonated were the places near my home, familiar and loved. Despite the intervening years of progress and change this devonian granite outcrop at the top of my street known as the Dog Rocks has probably barely changed since Buckley’s time – there is evidence of the foundations of a school house that would have been erected not long after Buckley’s time but the ancient rocks themselves remain impervious to human influence save for old elm trees and the few sheep that regularly fertilise the adjacent paddocks. The Moorabool River that flows through my local area was equally compelling to me in thinking about William Buckley and his story I think for very similar reasons. Both the rocks and the river are still here just as they were then, connecting me to another time, in fact to all time. That gets me every time.
  • The challenge for me was feeling in some way that I had permission to interpret this story in my own way – sounds weird but as a non indigenous person I felt like this was probably complicated from the Aboriginal perspective and I very much wanted to respect that.
Look here to see full list of Natalie’s work