I was trying to convince a friend that he should write a book about his amusing experiences.
He was a builder and would relate the most incredible stories about building on the wrong block, about renovating a bank that collapsed on them, and so on.
“Is it a good idea,” he questioned, “to end every chapter with the reader wondering what happens next?”
“Too right,” I replied in my usual Aussie slang, “in my book every chapter ends with a real cliffhanger.”
“That’s what I thought,” he said smugly.
And that’s what I want you to know too.
Right from the Preface my story ends every chapter leaving you on the endge of your chair.
So if you want a good read, with cliffhangers leaving you unable to put the book down, then my true story is for you.
And unlike a novel you know that these events really happened.
Unbelievable as some of them may seem.
It’s a story of princes and politicians, drama on the high seas, the early days of Australian settlement by the British and the convicts who were sent here against their will and the aborigines they encountered, a hostile New Zealand Maori chief, as well as my own adventures and a mystery that fell into my lap.
“You have discerned an amazing story,” says the Judge of Writer’s Digest’s 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards. “It’s got everything it needs to be a blockbuster.”
To order your copy direct from the publisher CLICK HERE for a 10% discount’
A number of convicts had escaped from the Sullivan’s Bay settlement in the south, just 15 years after the first convicts arrived to establish the first settlement at Sydney Harbour in 1788.
All but one had either been killed, disappeared or returned in desperation to give themselves up.
The one surviving escapee, William Buckley, has been written into the local folklore and the Australian vernacular. To have ‘Buckley’s hope’ – or just ‘Buckley’s’ – has come to mean to have little hope.
This extraordinary story of survival in a natural and hostile environment is told in my book ‘Back to the Wall’.
He was found by a group of aborigines whose leader had only just died and, since Buckley was over six feet tall and the first white man they’d ever seen, they believed him to be the returned spirit of their deceased leader.
The Wathaurong aborigines cared for him and taught him their social order and ways of survival in the bush.
They even gave him a wife.
For 32 years the ‘wild white man’ Buckley lived with these original inhabitants on a peninsula south-west of present-day Melbourne and across the bay from Sullivan’s Cove.
As a young boy I’d come with my family for our annual holidays to this very spot. I recall standing in awe at the entrance to Buckley’s Cave beneath the lighthouse where he is said to have lived.
I would imagine this huge man with a wild beard and long unkempt hair residing inside in the darkness watching me standing there on the sand outside.
He truly captured my imagination as a boy even though, at the time, I knew only vaguely of him as an Aussie version of Robinson Crusoe.
Fast forward 32 years to John Batman’s famous landing party sailing from the new settlement in Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), with the intention of claiming the site on which Melbourne now stands.
John Batman was the son of a convict mother and convict father and was married to a convict woman.
He set out from Van Diemen’s Land in 1835 with a party of three European servants and seven aborigines.
They sailed up the river known by the aborigines as Yarra Yarra (meaning ‘flowing water’), declaring this to be “the place for a village”.
A short distance upstream he negotiated the purchase of the land on which Melbourne now stands with the local aboriginal tribe at a spot right behind the playing fields of my old high school.
He purchased a hundred thousand acres of land in exchange for flour, blankets, scissors, tomahawks, looking-glasses, various items of clothing and alcohol.
His party then returned to Van Diemen’s Land.
A few months later an advance party returned to settle permanently on their new land which, unknown to them, was illegal without the approval of the Crown (which they didn’t have).
On landing at Indented Head inside Port Phillip Bay not far from Buckley’s Cave they ran into a wild white man dressed the same as the natives.
It was William Buckley the convict who had escaped 32 years earlier. He had forgotten how to speak English, speaking instead the language of his aboriginal tribe.
He was persuaded to go with the party of settlers and was eventually granted a pardon after agreeing to work between the two races to help relationships between them.
So how does this strange story of the ‘wild white man’ fit in with the mystery in the book?
What other fascinating true stories are told in my book?
What royal secrets did the Reverend Robert Knopwood know?
He was the first chaplain of Van Diemen’s Land (as Tasmania was called) who sailed to New South Wales (as Australia was called) at the time of the First Fleets of mainly convicts from England came to create the first British settlement here.
He mixed with the highest society back in England including with those in the circle of the Prince of Wales.
As did a certain mysterious Dr Desailly and his wife who came to Van Diemen’s Land under strange circumstaces.
Rumours had it that Dr Desailly’s English practice had been at the court of George IV and that his beautiful wife had been a Lady in Waiting to Queen Caroline.
A vessel under special charter had brought them to Australia and they always had plenty of money which, it was said, was paid regularly from a mysterious pension with great secrecy.
What were they doing in this isolated antipodean outpost?
They were certainly not convicts nor did they hold any official position in the colony.
Was it because they knew too much?
I was in the middle of researching the background for my book when I came across an extraordinary find.
I couldn’t believe my luck.
Right there in my small country library I found a numbered limited edition copy of a rare book published 45 years ago by a bookshop in Tasmania, Australia, with the modest title of ‘The Chaplain: Being Some Further Account of the Days of Bobby Knopwood’.
In this old book the author, Mabel Hookey, speculates on a scenario pointing to a lost secret that sailed to Tasmania with Rev Knopwood and Dr Desailly over 200 years ago.
Quite unexpectedly, the author, Mabel Hookey, provided me with the perfect opening to my own book, a mystery that I had stumbled upon going back over 200 years to Regency England and the Prince of Wales, George IV.
In her foreword Hookey explains that “diaries and bundles of old letters and papers on which I have drawn for my subject matter were bought by my grandfather, George Stokell, at the sale of Knopwood’s effects.”
The author continues to say that for many years Knopwood’s effects were stored in a cupboard in her grandfather’s home and that while most had found their way to the Mitchell Library in Sydney others were still in her possession.
It’s from these lost papers that she offers an astounding proposition that pretty much matched the mystery which had fallen into my lap.
To add to the mystery, when I returned to my library to borrow the book again to check what I had quoted, I found to my surprise that it was no longer on the shelves or even in the library catalogue, having sat there gathering dust for up to 45 years.
Then when I wrote to the publisher in Tasmania requesting permission to quote from the book I received no reply. I could find no record of any such bookshop either.
They had all, apparently, vanished.
And my true romantic adventure seemed to have become a paranormal mystery as well.