Interpreting William Buckley

Exploring the life of a historical figure awakens us to the social and cultural context in which they lived. This activity uses the life of William Buckley – runaway convict, respected member of the Wauthaurung community and 'wild white man' – as a model for understanding this period of Victoria's history, and the reasons for Buckley's enduring historical significance.

This activity is linked to the Discovering people inquiry unit and is aimed at students in Years 5 and 6.

Tuning in


This research activity requires the use of web-based resources. Students will need access to the Internet to complete these questions.

  • Describe William Buckley's geographical journey.
  • Use Google maps to chart Buckley's journey.
  • Was transportation of convicts common at this time? Was it part of a larger movement of people? What were the reasons for this? 
  • Consider the landscape of 19th-century Victoria before European settlement. What did it look like? Who lived here? How did they use the land?
  • Explore the context of William Buckley's life in the penal settlement. Why did he want to escape?
  • What key relationships and skills did Buckley develop during his time with the Wathaurung people?
  • After students have answered these questions, ask them to summarise the life and times of William Buckley in dot points. Share these summaries with the class, and discuss points of similarity and difference. Compile a definitive class version.


  • Using the class summary of Buckley's story, ask students to design a poster based on his life using an online tool like Glogster.
  • Consider these questions: what was Buckley's impact on early-Melbourne society? Does his story hold any lessons for us today?