On Monday, 26, December, 1803, at about nine o’clock William Buckley and five other convicts made their move towards freedom. Stealing a gun, some food and an iron kettle they ran through the night ….
The story of William Buckley is staggering and unique. The story of a desperate man looking for freedom and a new beginning in an unfamiliar land. The focus of my body of paintings revolves around the first few months of Buckley’s escape. Though I’ve tried I can’t even imagine how difficult a time this must of been. He left everything he knew apart from the clothes he wore and ran into the unknown. Soon alone he pushed along our bays, inlets and beaches ever aware of his presence in someone else’s land.
What fascinates me is that this incredible story unfolded in our much loved part of the world. Often we associate Buckley with well known locations such as Buckley’s cave at Pt Lonsdale, the river mouth at Barwon Heads, Breamlea, Buckley’s Falls, etc but I’m fascinated with other areas of our broader region that are far less glamorous and often over looked. Even though this connection to the landscape is so strong in my thinking about Buckley I have chosen the sky as my vehicle to convey his possible emotional state at key points of time and place. With so much frantic change occurring in his life and the need to adapt quickly to survive … Buckley’s troubled past was now merging with an uncertain future. Hunger, fear and wonder drew him along, loneliness gnawed at his soul …. he needed to belong.
- The Buckley story is an incredible one on so many levels but the thing I really struggled to imagine was how a man could sever all connections to his known world and flee into the wild of a new but also ancient land. This act of fleeing is either one of bravery and adventure or more likely one of desperation and an innate drive within him of freedom. My body of paintings all focus on the first few critical months of Buckley’s escape and try to evoke feelings in the viewer of things like longing, hope, regret, desire, melancholy, etc. My inability to comprehend how he could flee and continue to persevere in his single mindlessness has not lessened and it’s something I’m still pondering as I write.
- A site where the Buckley story became alive to me was along a stretch of beach in the Bellarine Peninsula. Edwards Point is a 4 km long sand spit that extends southwards between Swan Bay and Port Phillip Bay. On this particular day a really strong south westerly wind was blowing and right above my head dark brooding clouds were clashing with serene blue skies. Im sure Buckley would have tread this exact beach and maybe in similar weather conditions and it was here that I truly could not understand how he could keep walking.
- A highlight of being involved in a project like this was getting inside the story, myth and person of William Buckley and gaining a greater appreciation and knowledge of our local indigenous peoples. Having a reason to explore our part of the world in a deeper way with a great bunch of visual artists is always a bonus.
See a full listing of Ren’s paintings here.