The Ghost and the Bounty Hunter: A Review

I recently had the pleasure of firstly hearing a talk by Sydney-based writer and journalist, Adam Courtenay, about his latest book The Ghost and the Bounty Hunter, and then of reading it myself. This is a true story from colonial Australia relating to the birth of the city of Melbourne.

The Ghost and Bounty Hunter

The Ghost in the story is convict William Buckley, who having escaped from the short-lived penal colony near Sorrento at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay in 1803, spent some 32 years living with the Wadawurrung clan of the Kulin nation. During that time he had no contact with Europeans and was considered by the local indigenous people to be a reincarnated family member and was treated as such.

The Bounty Hunter was Tasmanian John Batman, who earned that description by his pursuit of bush rangers, and had “long held dreams of being a large landowner.” He saw that ambition being realised in the grazing land across Bass Strait around Port Phillip, and in 1835 organised the first free settlement in the area of what was to become the city of Melbourne.

The third “protagonist” in the story is the Kulin nation. Courtenay describes in some detail the life and customs of these people, the relationships developed with the settlers and the ultimate dispossession of their lands as the white population increased and hundreds of thousands of sheep are introduced.

In this era of “truth-telling” about Australian history, for me Courtenay’s book has made a real contribution to my understanding of how European settlement affected indigenous peoples. The story shows how the clash of cultures would inevitably lead to the “theft of Kulin country” and which was the case throughout Australia.

I would recommend The Ghost and the Bounty Hunter to anyone interested in Australia history.


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