BELOVED Ballarat identity Billy Butterfly, a man highly regarded as everyone's friend, was part of the fabric of this city in his time. Christmas Day will mark 50 years since his death but to many, Billy Butterfly remains a fond memory whose story is at the essence of Ballarat.
Billy, not quite a vagrant, was known for walking and sleeping on the streets, particularly about Ballarat East, in his later years. He was a constant fixture on the outer, near the scoreboard at Eastern Oval, to watch his beloved Golden Point Football Club's home games.
A bit of mystery and friendly, familiar face to children in town, it was the love and support from many in the city that helped care for Billy, respecting his fierce independence. The community rallied when his hut was vandalised and built him a new one on the rise at what is now Llanberris Reserve. Friends and the Sisters of Mercy would ensure Billy always had a good meal to eat as much as they could. Others would offer him a few broken biscuits, which at the time were a cheaper alternative treat, when they passed.
But whenever offered a car ride, Billy would always turn others down and walk where he needed to be.
Former Ballarat mayor John Burt, a child at the time, said it was remarkable how everybody knew Billy, largely accepted him and helped out where they could in a time with no government benefits.
This was why Mr Burt said it was important to keep the stories and the people of Ballarat, like Billy, alive.
In hindsight, we were very naughty kids but as you get older, you realise how special that was.John Burt
"As kids we probably didn't pay his the respect he deserved. I used to come from Redan and you'd see him at White Flat and in the Yarrowee market gardens," Mr Burt said. "In hindsight, we were very naughty kids but as you get older, you realise how special that was."
Born William Lang, and of Chinese descent, Billy received his nickname because he was known for flying butterfly kites with his father in Ballarat. His father Ah Lung was captain of the town's Chinese Fire Brigade, which was formed to combat fire outbreaks in the Chinese camp.
Ballarat's Chinese population all-but-disappeared after the White Australia policy was enacted in 1901.
The city's Chinese influence was paid tribute in Golden Point Football Club's nickname the Rice Eaters. Billy was found to have played a junior game for the club in the early 1900s.
A devout Catholic, Billy would often attend two masses in succession and could be heard reciting Latin in his hut. He was also fondly remembered for attending most weddings at St Patrick's church, often appearing in photographs.
His legacy lives on should you venture down to Llanberris Reserve with Butterfly Lane running alongside it, just off Barkley Street.
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