Black Trackers [The Illustrated Australian Encyclopaedia, 1925]

[Editor: This is an entry from The Illustrated Australian Encyclopaedia (1925).]

Black Trackers, aboriginals attached to the police force in several Australian States, who are employed chiefly in tracking criminals and lost persons in outlying districts. The earliest known official reference to the use of aboriginals for this purpose occurs in a memorial of the legislative council (dated 6 September 1825) to Governor Brisbane on the suppression of bushranging; the council recommended that ‘small parties composed of three or four soldiers and one or two natives, under the direction of one constable for each party,’ should be stationed on the main roads out of Sydney to track and secure highway robbers. Brisbane forwarded this memorial to Bathurst, who ignored the recommendation; but Darling in March 1826 issued a general police order in which he suggested that the most intelligent natives should be attached to police parties. In the hunt for escaped convicts and early bushrangers trackers were used both in New South Wales and Tasmania — the best known being Musquito (q.v.) of the Broken Bay tribe, who was transported to Tasmania in a 1813 and for some years afterwards employed to track down bushrangers, including the notorious Michael Howe.

So valuable were the trackers in police work against the aboriginal tribes that in 1838 an effort was made in the Port Phillip district to raise a native police force — a course that had been suggested by Alexander Maconochie (q.v.) as advantageous to the natives themselves. In 1841 Captain Dana, with the assistance of the tribal chiefs, succeeded in organizing a native corps which performed its duties until his death in 1852. It was then disbanded, as the use of these ‘Joes’ in the mining district excited much opposition. In Queensland a native mounted-police corps was recruited in 1848 by the explorer Frederick Walker; it was disbanded after a few years’ service, during which the troopers were responsible for much wholesale slaughter among the aboriginal tribes, but reorganized in 1857 and maintained until 1900, when it was finally disbanded. Troopers were allowed to reengage as native trackers attached to the general police force. The services of these Queensland troopers were at times engaged by the other States for tracking purposes — the most notable instance being the engagement by Victoria of six troopers under Sub-inspector O’Connor in the hunt for the Kelly gang. The other States, too, recruited native trackers for their regular police forces. ‘Sir Watkin,’ of the New South Wales force, at the age of 51 distinguished himself highly by his courage and skill during the hunt for the Clarke gang of bushrangers in 1867; he lost an arm in the final fight, and was given as a reward the honorary rank of sergeant-major.

White troopers in outlying districts have at times suffered from the treachery of their trackers, and in the early days some trackers took advantage of their official position to deal cruelly with aboriginal tribes other than their own. But under proper supervision the native police have behaved finely, and their special capacity for their work is indubitable.

In 1919 there were 39 black trackers in New South Wales; 89 in Queensland; 10 in South Australia; 45 in Western Australia; and 27 in the Northern Territory.

Arthur Wilberforce Jose and Herbert James Carter (editors), The Illustrated Australian Encyclopaedia, vol. 1, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1925, page 170


  1. I need information of Nullagine Jack, who I’m related to.
    Taken from Port Hedland WA on a boat called Coowinda to Fremantle up to work to track around Mullewa, Pinjarra.

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