William Buckley : Belonging / Shelley McKenzie

Through connection to place I began to be aware of William Buckley. When I lived in Fyansford, the Moorabool River and the Barwon were my walking places. Sometimes I might be lucky to see a wallaby or a platypus. There are neat wooden signs saying Buckley Falls and Bunyip Pool small signs of previous presences. In walking each day I wondered about the people here before. There was evidence of the big bluestone paper mill and the embankments created to harness the flow of the Barwon River for industry. There were Fred Kruger’s photographs of the newly built paper mill worker’s cottages from the 1870’s sitting in a strangely denuded landscape. But before that, when words like Moorabool and Barwon held different meanings, this had been a place that sustained and nourished people. This was a place people moved through in a seasonal rhythm. The marks left behind were more subtle. They had created stories about terrifying creatures that lived in the water, traded green stone, made canoes and fish traps. The myth of William Buckley has form in places, sayings, stories and images. Scraps of information came – a pamphlet from fisheries and wildlife about how the Wadda wurrung had used plant species around the Barwon River, Tim Flannery’s book on the life and adventures of William Buckley, Tommy McCrae’s lively ink drawings of Buckley dancing with the Wadda wurrung. After being in a place where he spent time, the thing that persists is the place, though the place is changed. I can experience the sound of the birds, the rush of the water over rocks, walking the land, the wind in my face but only in my present. In part, my work explores that place and our transitory occupation of it.

  • The most significant part of the Buckley story for me is almost like an allegory- the European man, an outsider – abandoned and escaping- displaced, dislocated. Like King Lear – “naked and unaccomodated”. Buckley’s physical and emotional struggle in the wilderness is almost heroic and echoes the hero myth where someone needs to be lost in order to find true knowledge and wisdom. I think his story underpins the European dis -ease with the Australian landscape. The salvation in the story is due to the benevolence of the Wadda wurrung. The Buckley experience suggests there is wisdom to be learned from the First peoples. We know Buckley’s name but white history has not absorbed the names of those who sustained him. So the Buckley story is about whose history is told and how received knowledge or history is a cobbled together thing made up of fragments.
  • The local area that resonated with me was around the Fyansford area- Buckley Falls, the Bunyip pool, the Barwon River, the Moorabool River – the sounds of the river, the rocks, the acacia trees. The sense of walking and the rhythm of the seasons echoed a shared experience of place despite the huge changes to the natural environment- a landscape of curves, rocks and water.
  • The highlights were the diversity of approaches and camaraderie of other artists and the generosity of Simon Wylie who fed us and allowed us to gather at a venue in point Lonsdale- the recognition that art work can hold a multiplicity of meanings in the one creation. The challenge was to find an entry point into the story and maintain integrity of artistic process and style.


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