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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Robert Henry (Bob) Buck (1881–1960)

Bob Buck, by Charles Mountford, 1935

Bob Buck, by Charles Mountford, 1935

State Library of South Australia, PRG 1218/34/115B

Bob Buck will sit no more at the Stuart Arms Hotel playing crib, drinking rum, and regaling wide-eyed tourists with tales of the Territory. The veteran died in his 80th year in Alice Springs Hospital on Tuesday, and with his passing goes one of the most colourful figures in central Australia.

Bob had been in ill-health over recent months, and spent a period in hospital. He collapsed on Tuesday morning, and when found on his bed said to Mr. Terry Schultz, "Wind my watch and I'll tell you when I'll die." He passed away that afternoon.

For half a century Bob was associated with the Centre, living a full life and enjoying every bit of it.

Visitors who came here asked for Bob Buck, and he gave them their full value, with a fund of stories, some true and others better than the truth.

He recently told us that for the past 20 years he had homesteaded at the Stuart Arms, and the big shaggy frame with the handlebar moustaches was a permanent fixture in the lounge, with the inevitable crib board in front of him, and an open invitation to a game at anytime.

"Playing crib & drinking rum are two of the best things in life, and you can do 'em together," was another of his comments.

Bob came to the Northern Territory in 1905, accompanying his uncle, Mr. Joe Breaden, who owned Todmorden Station in South Australia and Henbury.

He also claimed that he had visited the Territory six years before as a boy.

His mate for half, a century, Mr. Alf Butler, recalls him as a stripling stockman working at Henbury, and one of his early feats in overlanding 800 head of mixed cattle from Brunette Downs to Henbury in 1907, the mob being ten months on the road due to drought conditions.

“He was an outstanding stockman, a good tracker, and had a way with blackfellows," says Alf.

After acting as manager at Henbury for years, Bob joined Alf Butler in 1930 to take up a new station at Middleton Ponds on the Palmer River.

When they dissolved partnership Bob carried on that station, later selling it to Tempy Downs, and he then took over Renner's Rock Station 60 miles west of Alice. When he sold that property to come to live in Alice Springs.

It was while at Middleton Ponds that he achieved national prominence because of his association with the prospector, Harold Bell Lasseter.

In 1931 Lasseter went into the Petermann Ranges searching for his fabulous gold reef.

When he failed to return Bob Buck led a camel party with two natives in search of the prospector. One of the natives, Billy Button, is still alive in Alice Springs.

They found the body and buried it, and that started an Australian legend, for hundreds claim the body was never found, and numerous parties since then have gone out searching for the reef, deemed mystical by the experts.

When doubts were cast on the find, Bob's one-time answer to the question was to throw a set of false teeth across the table and say, "They’re Lasseter's."

Alf Butler scorns the doubters. "Of course he buried Lasseter. He brought back his teeth, part of his equipment, and plenty of evidence, and the police were satisfied."

An enterprising photographer dug up the bones and this landed him in the Alice Springs court. The bones are now interred in the Alice Springs cemetery.

In 1933 Bob was employed for nearly a year by the Mackay aerial expedition, which mapped the western section of the Territory and a large section of West Australia previously unmapped. Bob’s task was to move ahead and clear spaces for landing, bring in the petrol by camel train, and establish base camps.

"Bob was a man with no enemies, not the argumentative type," says his friend Alf.

This will be supported by the hundreds who knew him well. But as a legpuller and teller of stories he ranked high.

For six months we have been trying to extract his life story from him without success. His comment was, "I don't think I have long enough left to tell you it all. When they bury me I hope no Territory liar stops away, otherwise I'll be lonely."

It was fitting that the old Stuart Arms or part of the original building should go out with Bob Buck.

In the recent fire he was brought from part of the burning building to safety. He hasn't looked the same since with the crib board set up in the beer garden.

Bob, who never married, is survived by a brother and a sister in South Australia.

His funeral on Wednesday was attended by a large crowd of mourners.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Buck, Robert Henry (Bob) (1881–1960)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Bob Buck, by Charles Mountford, 1935

Bob Buck, by Charles Mountford, 1935

State Library of South Australia, PRG 1218/34/115B

Life Summary [details]


2 July, 1881
Alberton, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


9 August, 1960 (aged 79)
Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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