AE 403 – Expression: To Have Buckley’s Chance

Learn Australian English in this episode of the Aussie English Podcast where I teach you how to use TO HAVE BUCKLEY’S CHANCE like a native speaker.

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AE 403 – Expression: To Have Buckley’s Chance

Welcome to convict Sydney, New South Wales, in the 1790s. A tiny settlement clinging to the edge of the great aboriginal continent we call Australia. Now most of us think of this as a pretty cruel and hopeless place, a dumping ground for the prisoners of Britain’s overcrowded jails, where people were miserable most of the time, but that’s not the whole story. New South Wales became a radical experiment in giving rogues, thieves, and adventurers a chance.


How’s it going, guys? Just for something different instead of, ‘G’day, guys!’. How’s it going? How’s it going?

Welcome to The Aussie English Podcast, guys, the number one podcast for anyone and everyone wanting to learn Australian English, whether you want to understand Australian English or speak English like an Aussie, The Aussie English Podcast is the right place for you.

And it’s brought to you by The Aussie English Classroom, an online learning environment where you get access to learning materials in courses with lessons and quizzes, all the bonus content that is specifically designed to help you learn Australian English even faster. And today’s expression episode is turned into a course that is then put up on The Aussie English Classroom with a whole bunch of lessons and exercises for you to complete in your own time.

Anyway. So, today’s intro scene was from a documentary called Rogue Nation, which was filmed in 2009, where historian Michael Cathcart tells the epic story of how the colourful characters of early colonial Australia transformed the original penal settlement into a land with rights and opportunity in a mere 40 years, in just four decades. So, it’s an absolutely brilliant doco. I really recommend that you suss it out if you can. It’s called Rogue Nation, R-O-G-U-E N-A-T-I-O-N, Rogue Nation.

So, today we’re going to be talking about convicts, convicts and Australian history, and that’ll be in the Australian fact at the end of today’s episode, but that’s why we had that intro scene there. And the Aussie joke today is a little bit of a longer joke but it’s related to Australian convict history.

Aussie Joke:

So, here’s the Aussie joke: A pom, which is an English person, a pom fresh off the plane at Sydney airport is trying to negotiate Australian Customs. Finally, when it’s his turn to get his passport stamped, the customs officer starts rattling off the usual questions. How long do you intend to stay, mate? And the pom says, one week. What’s the nature of this trip? And the pom says, business. Do you have any past criminal convictions? And the Pom says, I didn’t think we still needed to. I didn’t think we still needed to.

The joke there being that Australia was founded on convicts. So, we had a lot of criminals, a lot of convicts, that were brought over to Australia in the early years of Australian settlement. And the joke that he’s making there when the customs officer asks, do you have any past criminal convictions? So, have you been convicted of a crime previously? Which they ask. They want to know if you’re a criminal. The pom, the English man, says, I didn’t think we still needed that. The joke is there that he didn’t think it was still a requirement that he was a criminal in order to enter Australia. Anyway, that’s the joke.


Alright so, today’s expression is ‘to have Buckley’s chance’, ‘to have Buckley’s chance’. And as you’ll find out, when we go through the origin of this expression, this is also tied in with convict history in Australia.

Anyway, let’s go through and define the words in the expression ‘to have Buckley’s chance’.


So, ‘to have’, the verb ‘to have’. You’re going to know what the verb ‘to have’ is. It means to possess something, to own something, to hold something. That is ‘to have’. You have something.

‘Buckley’s’. ‘Buckley’s’ is obviously the word ‘Buckley’, which is the surname of an Australian convict, William Buckley, and then it’s got that possessive article at the end of it, the ‘s’, the ”s’. ‘Buckley’s’, as in something that belongs to Buckley. So, that’s what ‘Buckley’s’ means.

‘A chance’, if you have a chance at something, it is the possibility of something occurring or the possibility of something happening. So, that is ‘a chance’. If you’ve got no chance, something is impossible. If you have a chance, there is a possibility that that thing can happen.

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Expression Definition & Origin:

So, let’s go through and define the expression and talk about its origin.

So, ‘to have Buckley’s chance’, if you’ve got Buckley’s chance, it means that you have little to no chance of something happening. You have no prospect whatsoever of being successful at something. So, there’s effectively no possibility that something will happen. You’ve got Buckley’s chance, mate. You’ve got Buckley’s.

And I should mention, it often gets abbreviated to just ‘you have Buckley’s’. So, instead of saying ‘chance’ at the end there, we just dropped the word ‘chance’, and we say ‘to have Buckley’s’, you’ve got us, you’ve got Buckley’s chance.

So, the origins of this expression. There were two possible origins. The first origin is that it comes from the convict William Buckley who escaped from Port Phillip, which is where I live. I live in Port Phillip Bay, or at least near Port Phillip Bay, in Victoria, and William Buckley escaped in 1803. He escaped in 1803. And he lived with the indigenous people who lived in this area, the Wathaurong, for 32 years. 32 years, that’s longer than I’ve been alive, that William Buckley lived with the indigenous people in this area before he then came into contact with a group of Englishmen who had come in 1835 to found the city of Melbourne, and that’s when they encountered this guy, and obviously they thought he was dead. So, they thought that he had no chance of surviving, and so the expression ‘to have Buckley’s chance’, I guess, is related to that idea that he had no chance of survival, but he managed to survive for 32 years.

The second origin is that it possibly comes from a Melbourne firm called ‘Buckley and Nunn’. So, these are two surnames, and the second surname there is spelt N-U-N-N. ‘Buckley and Nunn’. And this was established later in the 1800s in 1851, and it suggests that a pun developed on the word ‘Nunn’, N-U-N-N, part of the firm’s name, and it was a pun with the word ‘none’, N-O-N-E, meaning ‘not any’. And so, there was also an expression used back then where it was ‘Buckley’s and none’, ‘Buckley’s and none’. So, you had Buckley’s chance, which was effectively zero, and then none, as in not any chance.

So, those are the two potential origins, but I imagine that the word ‘Buckley’ in the firm’s name, Buckley and Nunn, is related to William Buckley or one of his descendants.

Anyway, guys, let’s go through some examples of how I would use the expression ‘to have Buckley’s chance.



So, example number one. My father used to say, ‘you’ve got Buckley’s’ or ‘you’ve got Buckley’s chance’ all the time. He used to say that to me any time I had no chance of doing something, of getting something, of receiving something, anytime I had no chance. So, I remember one day being out playing football with my father on an oval as a kid, and I remember trying to kick, a goal a football goal, from about 60 metres away from the goal, and there was no chance that I could do this. So, my dad would have yelled out, you’ve got Buckley’s chance mate. There’s no chance you’re going to kick that goal from 60 metres away from the goal post. You’ve got Buckley’s. You’ve got Buckley’s chance.


Example number two. So, imagine that you want to ask for a raise at work or maybe you want to ask for a better desk, a better office, but you don’t really deserve it. So, when it comes to work, you’re a bit of a bludger. You like bludging. You’re a bit of a slacker. You enjoy slacking off at work. And so, when you go and ask for this pay rise or this new office, this new desk, you ask your boss and he says, nah, you’ve got Buckley’s chance mate. There’s no chance that you’re going to get that. You’ve got Buckley’s.


Example number three. This time, imagine you are an Aussie bloke you’re out at a club, you’re out at a pub, you’re sinking some beers with some mates, you guys are just shooting the shit, which is a very informal way of saying just talking about nothing and everything, nothing important, this and that, talking about this and that. So, imagine a beautiful woman walks in and she walks up to the bar, and you say to your mates, do you guys think I’m to be a smooth talker and be able to chat this girl up and successfully get her phone number? And they might say, mate, she’s out of your league. So, she is way too good for you. You’ve got Buckley’s chance of getting her number. There is no hope. You have no hope of getting her number. You’ve got Buckley’s.

So, that’s the expression ‘to have Buckley’s chance’, guys. It means to have little to no chance of something occurring, so no prospect whatsoever.

Let’s go through a listen and repeat exercise here, guys, now where this is your opportunity to practice your Australian pronunciation or just your English pronunciation in general, but listen and repeat after me. This is a shadowing exercise, okay, guys? So, I was chatting to one of my students today called Lalin. I was chatting to him. Hopefully, he’s listening, and he was asking me about shadowing exercises and why I think they are important for pronunciation, and how to do them. So, the key here is to listen carefully to how I say these words and these phrases, and then to try and repeat them exactly as I say them in the blank space that follows these phrases. So, listen and repeat after me, guys.

Listen & Repeat:

To have

To have Buckley’s

To have Buckley’s chance x 5

I’ve got Buckley’s chance

You’ve got Buckley’s chance

He’s got Buckley’s chance

She’s got Buckley’s chance

We’ve got Buckley’s chance

They’ve got Buckley’s chance

It’s got Buckley’s chance


Great job, guys. Great job! And I really really really recommend using this expression at some point in Australia with other Australians, because I think you’re going to see them light up a bit, they’ll smile, when they hear you say this expression. It’s a very cool Australian expression.

Aussie Fact:

So, anyway, let’s get into the Aussie fact today, guys, and today I wanted to talk about convict history in Australia. So, the convicts. When did they get here? Why were they brought here? And I also wanted to talk a little bit about the kinds of crimes that would get you sent here as a convict. Okay.

So, the convicts first arrived on Australian soil in 1788 with the arrival of The First Fleet, a group of 11 ships, six of which carried convicts from England to Australia. So, the ships departed on the 13th of May the year before. So, they departed in 1787 on the mission of founding the first penal colony and European settlement in Australia.

So, this occurred because the English had previously tried to send convicts to America, but the American-English war had obviously taken place and England was no longer in a position to do that. So, they had to find somewhere else to send their convicts and set up a penal colony, and so they decided on Australia, which had been quote-unquote “discovered” by James Captain Cook, or at least claimed, stolen from the indigenous people, in 1770. So, 18 years beforehand. Anyway, The First Fleet comprised 11 ships: two Royal Navy vessels; three store ships, with all the resources, food, all of that sort of stuff on there; and then six convict ships. And these 11 ships carried between 1000 and 1500 convicts, marines, seamen, civil officers, and free people.

So, The Fleet left England and it sailed south west, and it went to Brazil, it went to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and then it went east to Cape Town in South Africa, and then it went on to Australia via the Great Southern Ocean, finally reaching Botany Bay and arriving over the period of the 18th to the 20th of January, 1788. So, the entire trip lasted between 250 to 252 days. So, two thirds of the year. How crazy’s that? About eight months is how long this trip took.

So, how did convicts find themselves on The First Fleet? So, many of the convicts were transported for petty crimes, usually involving theft or something trivial like that. The most severe crimes of things like rape and murder wouldn’t actually end up making you a convict, because at the time England had the death penalty and they would just put you to death. You would get a capital punishment for the crimes of rape and murder. So, there’s a big list of crimes committed by convicts at the website, and I had a look at this and I’ll link it in the transcript. And it was just mind blowing. You can see all the different crimes that convicts were convicted of that got them effectively all seven years transportation, which means they were transported to Australia and their sentence was seven years of labour, effectively, and a large portion of these crimes were petty theft. So, the theft of incredibly trivial items. For instance, stealing feathers, stealing cheese, stealing a hairbrush, stealing a hat, stealing a case of tea, and stealing a handkerchief. Stealing a handkerchief. The kind of thing that you blow your nose into, a tiny piece of cloth, could get you seven years and transported to, effectively, back then what would have been another planet.

And so, I looked and there were 112 convicts, in the history of convicts sent to Australia, who were sent here because of stealing a handkerchief.

Anyway, the crazy thing, too, was that a lot of these convicts were children. So, incredibly young age didn’t spare you from being convicted of these kinds of crimes and being sent to another continent. So, let’s talk about some of these young convicts.

John Hudson was a young orphaned chimney sweep of only nine years old in 1783 when he received seven years transportation for breaking and entering and stealing a linen shirt, five silk stockings, a pistol, and two aprons. And then he was 13 years old when he finally got transported to Australia on The First Fleet.

The youngest girl was also 13 years old, and she received seven years transportation for a similar crime of stealing a linen gown, a silk bonnet, and a bath cloth cloak. And she pawned these and took the money and was obviously caught.

So, that’s crazy, that blows my mind, that 13-year-old children could be sent on such a devastating voyage by themselves to a completely different continent.

The oldest convict was Dorothy Handland who is 82 years old when she first stepped foot on Australian shores, and again, she was given, you guessed it, seven years transportation, but this time for perjury. So, she falsely accused a man, named William Till, of stealing all of her belongings, and it was found that she was lying, she perjured herself, and was convicted, and sent to Australia. Strangely enough, Dorothy Handland departed from England in 1787 aged 61, but during the voyage a man named Arthur Bowes Smyth estimated that her age was actually 82. So, obviously something weird was happening with her documents there, and she left England at 61 and got to Australia at the age of 82, despite the voyage only taking eight months.

Interestingly about Handland, she was the first European to commit suicide in Australia, where in 1789 during a fit of despair she hanged herself from a gum tree at Sydney Cove.

So, again guys, you can check out some of these crazy crimes that were committed by convicts at It’ll be linked in the transcript.

Originally, convict Australians were little more than slaves, at least during their time served for their crimes, and they only became free after this time was served. For many decades to follow, being a convict, or even having convict ancestry, was a big taboo. It was a social stigma and a source of shame, and the upper-class Australians would look down on anyone who had any kind of convict blood in them. Nowadays though, it’s the complete opposite. Many Australians find it a great source of pride to be able to trace their ancestry back to the first convicts that came to Australia.

Anyway, guys, that’s it for today, and I’m sure you’re wondering, do I have any convict ancestry? Unfortunately for me, I don’t believe I do. Both of my parents loved doing family history stuff, and I think from what I’ve heard from them when I’ve chatted to them and asked them about this we don’t have any direct ancestry with convicts. We’re probably related to some indirectly, but we trace our lineage back to England in, I think, the mid to late 1800s.

So, that’s it for today’s episode, guys. I hope you have a great weekend and I will chat to you soon. Peace out, guys.

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