Yakaduna (born between 1820 and 1836, died 1901) was a Wahgunyah man of the Kwatkwat people whose Country stretches south of the Murray River near the junction of the Goulburn River in Victoria. Yakaduna was known by many names including Yakaduna, Tommy McCrae, Tony McCrae and Tommy Barnes. Living on Country all his life, Yakaduna grew up at a time of great change, witnessing the start of European settlement on his Country during the 1830s and the gold rush of the 1850s, and adapting to his changing landscape by working as a stockman by the 1860s.
Although life as he knew it was changing, Yakaduna continured to be a keeper of cultural practices, traditions and knowledge through his drawings. In addition to his works of hunting, fighting and ceremonies, Yakaduna also documented the relationship and stories between his people and the settlers including the story of William Buckley, an escaped convict who lived with Yakaduna’s people. Buckley was mistaken for the spirit of their Ancestor due to a spear he took from the burial site.
While Yakaduna’s drawings were in high demand and collected by settlers including Theresa Walker and Roderick Kilborn, his skills and relationships with the settlers did not exclude him from the Board for the Protection of Aborigines, nor the resulting initiatives which resulted in all of Yakaduna;s children being taken away. He passed away in 1901 at Lake Moodomere, not permitted to see or be reunited with any of his children again.
One group of drawings describes the story of William Buckley, the ‘Wild White Man’. Buckley was a British convict who absconded from David Collins’s abortive settlement at Sorrento in 1804 and spent the next 30 years living with the Wathaurong people around the western side of Port Phillip Bay. Yakaduna made many drawings depicting aspects of Buckley’s story. Why Beruk focussed so intently on Buckley’s story is un known, perhaps the tale was one of those first encounter stories – like James Cook’s landings – that spread along songlines across Indigenous Australia, being variously modified along the way. Perhaps this story of a white man entering Aboriginal society resonated strongly with a black man attempting the same transformation in reverse.
By his own account, exhausted after a long trek around the bay, Buckley had pulled a broken spear from an Aboriginal burial mound to use as a walking stick. When he met some Wathaurong shortly afterwards, they recognised the spear as belonging to their kinsman and assumed that Buckley was him resurrected (in accordance with Aboriginal beliefs) as white. The named Buckley Murrangurk, meaning one who had been killed come back to life. In his image of Buckley and his Wathaurong companions dancing, the hat, tobacco pipe and white, hairy body clearly mark Buckley as Other, but in his pose and leafy dance leggings he is fully integrated into Wathaurong social and cultural life. Only the sailing ship in the upper left is distinctly European, though it is not clear whether it represents Collins’s Calcutta – from which Buckley had escaped – or John Batman’s Rebecca – the vessel which brought his ‘rescuers’ 30 years later.