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A Fabulous Yarn: Read a Review of Buckley’s Chance by Garry Linnell

October 9, 2019

The greatest Australian story never told – until now.

We’ve all heard the name – Buckley. It’s an all Australian catchphrase.

You’ve got Buckley’s mate.”

“You’ve got two chances – Buckley’s and none.”

We know Buckley’s means ‘little chance’ but where did that come from? Who was Buckley?

Walkley Award winning journalist, Garry Linnell tells us exactly who this fascinating character is in the utterly absorbing, Buckley’s Chance.

The 19th century has just begun. The world is at war. England, ruled by a mad king, is exiling thousands of criminals to an old land that has become its newest dumping ground.

One of those prisoners is William Buckley, barely 21, a former soldier sentenced to life for stealing two small pieces of cloth. He’s a giant for his times. But it’s not just his towering frame that sets him apart. It’s his desire for freedom that will make his story so unique – even in an era famous for outrageous acts of bravery and heroism.

He has already fought Napoleon’s army and survived. He was sent to the gallows and escaped the noose. Now he is in chains and on his way to the other side of the world. What happens next will become one of the most remarkable survival stories in history.

On a moonlit night Buckley escapes and disappears into the Australian bush. Discovered and adopted by an aboriginal tribe who regard him as a ghost, he is initiated into their rich and complex culture. Given up for dead by his white captors, he will not be seen again for more than 30 years. Everyone figured he was dead. He was forgotten, until he emerges one day…carrying a spear, dressed in animal skins and having forgotten the English language.

Buckley’s Chance is a profound journey into a turning point in history where cultures clash, bitter rivals go to war and the body count mounts. It’s also the story of a man who refuses to be held down. A man prepared to defy all odds and take a chance.

As much as I enjoy immersing myself in the latest fiction to hit the shelves, it’s a nice change to read something a little different. Exceptionally well-researched, Linnell has delivered a terrific tale. The story is split into three sections that along with polished prose written in an unusual conversational style means that Buckley’s Chance is not your average historical biography. It’s vivid in its descriptions of not only Buckley but many figures of that time, as well as the setting and time period. William Buckley was an astounding character and Linnell does a brilliant job of bringing him to life on the page. I found Buckley’s Chance absolutely fascinating and highly entertaining.

At the back of the book Linnell includes summaries of many of the other characters who appear along the way – what happened to them later. There is also a list of Wadawurrung clan names and locations, as well as more information about the First Peoples of Victoria.  This is an important book not only telling the history of one white man, but this period of history for Australia’s First Peoples, in particular the Wadawurrung.

It’s clear William Buckley sat on Garry Linnell’s shoulder as he wrote this book. I imagine he must be pleased with the result.

A fabulous yarn. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of Buckley’s Chance here. 

About the author

Garry Linnell was the Editorial Director at Fairfax, Editor of the Daily Telegraph and is a Walkley Award winner. 


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