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Fred Briggs

Fred Briggs, a Gumbaynggirr man, was born at Farquarhar’s Creek near Nymboida in about 1866 to Thomas Briggs and Mary.  His tracking prowess came to prominence when he found Edward Blaxland, his employer, in mountainous country on Marengo Station in the mid-1880s.  Briggs was working as a stockman at the time.  His first official employment as tracker was at Blicks...

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Jack Redtank

Jack Redtank, the son of Ngiyampaa speakers Jimmy Keewong and Kitty Narrangie, was recognised as being one of the best trackers in NSW in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His talents were brought to the attention of the authorities by David Harris, a European bushman who lived with Emily Keewong, Jack's sister. Jack's first job aged 16 was...

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Joseph Murray

Joseph Murray, son of George Murray of Gundabooka, was born at Bourke in about 1890.  A talented horseman who stood over six feet tall, he was recruited by the police to work at the Redfern police stables soon after the end of WWI.  The police relied on Murray to break in many of their new horses.  Murray treated horses...

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Eric Mumbler

Eric “Nugget” Mumbler was born at Kempsey in about 1916 to Harold Mumbler from the NSW south coast and Jane Drew of Pelican Island on the lower reaches of the Macleay River. Eric was living at Kempsey in September 1937 when he married Helen Donovan who also had ties to the south coast and Nambucca Heads.  The couple raised a...

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Peter Wandy

Peter Wandy was born in Western Australia in the early 1880s, possibly in the Kalgoorlie-Coolgardie district, which is approximately 550km east-north-east of Perth.  As a young man he was the tracker at Kalgoorlie for four years before picking up work on a cattle station.  Peter quickly left after suffering physical abuse at the hands of the boss.  He moved to...

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Edward Bowers Bennett

Edward Bowers Bennett, son of Englishman Edward Bennett and Aboriginal woman Elizabeth Woods, was born at Pilliga in about 1882.  He married Mary Ann Goulding, daughter of Irishman Michael Goulding and Aboriginal woman Mary Ann Hall at Coonabarabran in 1903.  The couple raised three daughters and a step-son who was sadly killed on the Western Front in World War I....

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Porters Retreat

Trackers were employed at Porters Retreat (approximately 70km south-south-east of Bathurst) from at least 1903 to 1916 and probably later[ref]SARANSW Police Salary Registers.[/ref]. The settlement was originally known as Glencoe and changed its name in about 1908 to Porters Retreat. As can be seen in the accompanying plan, by 1914 the tracker was living in a hut adjacent to the...

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Broughton

Broughton (also known as Toodwick, an anglicized version of his Aboriginal name) was an Aboriginal man from the lower Shoalhaven River in the vicinity of Coolangatta Mountain, or Cullunghutti as it was originally recorded.  Born in the late 18th century, he worked as a young man for Charles Throsby of Liverpool and later as a...

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Milparinka Police Station

The first police station at Milparinka was established in 1881, not long after the discovery of gold at Mount Poole and the subsequent opening of the Albert Goldfield.  Thousands of miners flocked to the area and six policemen were posted at Milparinka to help control them.  The stone police station shown in the accompanying photograph was constructed in 1885.  Trackers...

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Henry Cleveland

Henry Cleveland (also known as Harry) was born at Cleveland Bay near Townsville in about 1864.  He knew little of his mother (she may have passed away when he was an infant), but probably lived for several years with his father, brother and sister.  From a young age, Henry was adopted by a white family who took him to Adelaide. ...

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Mount Boppy

Mount Boppy probably has the record for the shortest tenure of a tracker in NSW.  A small gold-mining settlement 50 kilometres east of Cobar in Ngiyampaa country, a tracker was based at Mount Boppy for only the month of January 1904.  Known only as Jack, he had previously served as the tracker at Cobar and then moved on to Mount...

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Byrock Police Station

Trackers were employed at Byrock Police Station from 1884 to at least 1938.  The career of the first Byrock tracker, Jack Todhunter, was tragically short.  He contracted typhoid fever two months after starting the job.  He was transferred to Dubbo Hospital when his condition deteriorated and he passed away there on 10 March 1885.  Little is known about Todhunter.  He...

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Tommy Ryan

Tommy Ryan, a noted Aboriginal stockman on the Upper Clarence between Grafton and Yulgilbar, was born in about 1860.  It is likely that he was a Bundjalung speaker.  He never worked as a tracker , but his run-ins with police meant that several trackers were sent after him. His story is significant because of his ability to repeatedly escape custody....

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Alexander Ward

Alexander Ward (also known as Alexander King) was born at Bingebah Station on the western fringe of the Pilliga Scrub on 5 September 1887.  He was the son of William King, an Aboriginal stockman born at Coonamble, and Jane Ward of Windsor in western Sydney.  He married Stella Duncan of Coonamble at Burra Bee Dee Aboriginal Station in July 1916. ...

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Billy Nicholls

Billy Nicholls was born at Tabulam in about 1869, possibly to Billy Nicholls Senior who was a gold miner in the Tabulam district and an Aboriginal woman named Ellen Walker.  Billy started as the tracker at Copmanhurst on the Clarence River in September 1908 replacing Carty Cregg.  Previously, Billy had worked as a stockman for George Barnier at Moleville (12km...

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Tracker Jack Patten

This article is reproduced with the kind permission of the team at Koori History.  See the original article written by John T. Patten at https://koorihistory.com/tracker-patten/   John James Patten, known as Jack Patten, was born in the Snowy Mountains of Victoria at Corryong in 1874. He was the eldest son of John Patten, a man for whom there is...

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Bundjalung

Bundjalung, sometimes Yugambeh-Bundjalung, was a language spoken on the far north coast of NSW and in south-eastern Queensland.  Linguists have identified at least 19 dialects including Gidhabal (spoken on the upper Richmond River), Wehlubal (spoken at Baryulgil on the Clarence River) and Bandjalang (spoken at Coraki and Evans Head).  Bundjalung is a living though endangered language, with fluent speakers living...

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Walter Williams

Walter Williams, a Bundjalung man, was born at Bonalbo in the 1890s to Lansbury Williams, a renowned stockman and tracker, and Emily Charles.  Lansbury Williams probably spoke the Gidhabal dialect of Bundjalung.  Walter was also the great-grandson of King Bobby and Queen Jinny Little who both had strong ties to Yulgilbar Station on the Clarence River.  Before taking the job...

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Whyman McLean

Whyman McLean, the son of Archibald McLean and an Aboriginal woman known only as Louisa, was born at Morago near the Werai Forest in about 1860.  There were many knowledgeable Aboriginal men in the district and it is likely that Whyman learned tracking skills from them when growing up.[ref]See The Memoirs of H.M. Eastman held by the Central Murray Regional...

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Alexander Farrell

Alexander Farrell was born at Armidale in 1868.  His mother was an Aboriginal woman known only as Polly.  In 1898 he was appointed as the tracker at Nowendoc, replacing Billy Beck who had moved to Walcha.  One of Farrell's first jobs was to investigate a case of pig stealing on the Cooplacurripa River.  Less than two years later in September...

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Mungo Park

The drought and depression of the 1890s may have forced some Aboriginal men to travel further afield than usual to obtain work and support.  Mungo Park, born at Chatsworth on the Clarence River in 1870 to Ned Parker and an Aboriginal woman named Eliza, tracked for five years around Moree in the mid-1890s.  His first assignment was at Meroe where...

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James Boney

James Boney, the son of Harry Boney and Kate Coventry, was born at Wollomombi in about 1870.  He was initiated at Guy Fawkes at a ceremony attended by Aboriginal people from the Macleay River, Bellinger River, New England tableland and Tenterfield.[ref]Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser 24 December 1926[/ref]  He worked as the tracker at Hillgrove where he once pursued...

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Jack Cook

Jack Cook was born at Gloucester in Worimi country in about 1838 and grew up to be a talented stockman.  As a young man, he handled horses for Thunderbolt the bushranger.  He was later employed as a tracker, but did not actively pursue Thunderbolt whose partner was an Aboriginal woman named Mary Ann Bugg who also came from the Gloucester...

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Trial Bay

Fourteen Aboriginal men were hired in November 1887 to look for Mr Francis Scott who went missing at Trial Bay near Arakoon.  It is probable that the many of the trackers were residents of the nearby Pelican Island Aboriginal Reserve which was gazetted in 1885.  Some of the named individuals have strong cultural connections to the Kempsey district and Dunghutti...

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A General History

Pathfinders book

Pathfinders, A history of Aboriginal trackers in NSW, written by Dr Michael Bennett and published by NewSouth, is now available from all good bookstores. Click on the link below to order your copy. https://www.abbeys.com.au/book/pathfinders-a-history-of-aboriginal-trackers-in-nsw.do...

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Billy Dargin

Billy Dargin was born on the Bogan River in about 1843.  Nothing is known about his parents, but it was recorded at the time of his death in 1865 that he obtained his surname through working for Peter Dargin, a squatter who owned land in the Bathurst district and further west.  Dargin is common Aboriginal surname from the Bogan River...

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Walgett Police Station

Trackers were employed at Walgett for over 100 years.  One of the earliest trackers was Jackey Bundah who in 1877 pursued and captured his brother-in-law Charley Combo.  He was severely beaten by other local Aboriginal men for his breach of customary law.  There were many other trackers with traditional ties to the district including Tom Hickey (born Walgett 1878) who was...

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Tracker Tommy of Broken Hill

An Aboriginal man named Tommy was the tracker at Broken Hill from the early 1890s through to 1910.  Unfortunately, little is known about his personal details.  His surname was not recorded in official documents or in the press.  He participated in numerous investigations in the Broken Hill district, including the pursuit of robbers who stole a safe from the Commercial...

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Tracker Tommy of Brewarrina

  Tracker Tommy was based at Brewarrina in 1874 and throughout the year he undertook a variety of jobs.  Unfortunately, no personal details about Tommy are known at this time [ref]An Aboriginal man known as McElligott’s Tommy was arrested on suspicion of having killed another Aboriginal man at a camp near Brewarrina in July 1876 (Maitland Mercury and Hunter River...

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Norman Walford

Norman Walford, the last officially employed tracker in NSW, retired from the NSW Police on 3 May 1973 after a career of 25 years.  He is well-remembered in Walgett today – there is a walkway in his honour along the edge of the Namoi River – and his wife, Mrs Gladys Walford (nee Kennedy) lives in town.  And many Aboriginal...

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John Watkins

A distinguished tracker, John Watkins (nick-named Sir Watkin Wynne), was born about 1830, probably in Wiradjuri country between Bathurst and Forbes [ref]Sydney Morning Herald 9 August 1887: 8.  I have inferred the broad area of Watkin’s birth place from the area where he is first mentioned in the historical record and the area to which he returned after retiring from...

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Jimmy Nerang

James Nerang, or Jimmy as he was often known, worked as a tracker in the central-west of NSW around the turn of the 20th century.  He took a prominent part in tracking Jimmy and Joe Governor after the massacre at Breelong in 1900.  He was stationed at Dubbo in January 1902 when he gave evidence identifying Charles Ryan, an Aboriginal...

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James Gillis McDonald

James Gillis McDonald was born at Cobborah near the Talbragar River in about 1873 to Thomas McDonald and Eliza McNabb.  He married Harriet Cooper at Mudgee in October 1904 and the couple had at seven children.  His youngest son, Malcolm, later recalled that his father told him about tracking Jimmy and Joe Governor in 1900.  James knew Jimmy and didn’t...

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Jackey Bundah

Jackey Bundah worked as a tracker at Walgett in the late 1870s and early 1880s.  “Bundah” means kangaroo in Gamilaraay and it is possible that this was his totem.  In early 1877, he assisted in the recapture of Charley Combo, his brother-in-law, who had escaped from Walgett Gaol and was wanted for assault.  After Combo was returned to gaol, two...

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Narrabri Trackers Hut

Trackers were employed at Narrabri from 1886 through to the 1940s.  Later trackers were housed in a hut which was originally located at the rear of the Narrabri Police Station.  It now stands in the nearby Narrabri Gaol Museum and is the last known example of a tracker’s hut in New South Wales.  The last tracker to occupy it was...

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Dandaloo Police Station

A single mounted policeman was first stationed at Dandaloo on the Bogan River in May 1871, rising to two early in the New Year.  Trackers were employed from 1875 and through to 1909.  Paddy was a well-traveled tracker who worked at Dubbo and Dandaloo in these early years.  Prior to his employment he had been arrested and tried in October...

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NSW Aboriginal Trackers

This website explores the history of Aboriginal trackers in NSW from 1862 when the current NSW Police Force was established through to 1973 when the last tracker, Norman Walford, retired.  You can read about the lives of individual trackers and some of the incredible tracking feats they...

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Parkes Police Station

Trackers were employed at Parkes from as early as 1875 when two were sent to a nearby property to search for a lost boy.  They returned five days later without success [ref]Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser 2 October 1875: 425.[/ref]. The names of the trackers who worked from 1883 to 1886 are known.  Alfred was the tracker in...

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Mudgee Police Station

Trackers were placed at the Mudgee Police Station for almost a century.  George Miranda was part of the team who captured Foley, one of the robbers of the Mudgee mail in October 1863.  A newspaper report indicates that he shared in the reward of £500 [ref]Sydney Morning Herald 24 October 1863.[/ref]. Many of the early trackers are known only by...

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Goodooga Police Station

Goodooga Police Station was established in 1871 as part of the North Western Police district.  Trackers were employed at the station from 1883 to 1914, including George Rose Murray (1883) and Angledool Joe (1883).  The longest serving tracker at Goodooga was George Sharpley who worked from 1884 to 1912.  He sometimes combined ceremonial obligations with tracking work.  After leaving the...

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Billy Bogan

Billy Bogan, also known as William Field, was born on the Bogan River to the north of Nyngan in 1862, possibly at Billybingbone, another name he was known by. Employed as a tracker at Warren in 1882, he witnessed Charles Robertson stealing forage from the police station. Robertson was released on bail and he soon attempted to bribe Bogan with...

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Ngiyampaa

The Ngiyampaa language (comprised of two dialects, Wayilwan and Wangaaypuwan) was spoken across a wide area of central NSW including long segments of the upper Macquarie and Bogan Rivers, along the southern bank of Barwon River west of Walgett and the arid area to the south-west of Cobar.  It was closely related to the Wiradjuri, Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay languages to the...

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Wiradjuri

The Wiradjuri language was spoken across a wide area of central NSW including long segments of the Murrumbidgee, Lachlan and Macquarie Rivers. It was closely related to the Ngiyampaa language to the west and Gamilaraay to the north. Linguists refer to the three languages as the Wiradjuri group [ref]Mathews 1907; Keen 2004.[/ref]. A distinctive feature of the group was that...

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Frank Williams

A contemporary of Alex Riley, Frank Williams was a tracker who also received numerous accolades throughout his career.  Williams was born in the country between Gundabooka and Toorale in the 1870s to Edward Williams and an Aboriginal woman named Fanny Hippi.  He is associated with the Ngemba speaking peoples south of Bourke.  After working as a labourer, he was appointed...

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Alexander Riley

Perhaps the best known tracker in NSW is Alexander (or Alec) Riley, who worked, mainly at Dubbo, from 1911 to 1950.  His tracking feats were respected by the white and Aboriginal communities, and in 1943 he was awarded the King’s Police and Fire Services Medal for Distinguished conduct.  He was also the first tracker to be promoted to the rank...

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Charles Gilbert Moodie

Born at Mungindi in 1877, Charles Gilbert Moodie worked as a tracker for almost 50 years.   He commenced service at Mungindi in 1905 and later worked at Garah and Gunnedah before leaving the Police in 1916.  He rejoined as the tracker at Yetman in August 1928 and transferred to Gunnedah in December the following year, where he remained until retiring...

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NSW Aboriginal Trackers

This website explores the history of Aboriginal trackers in NSW from 1862 when the current NSW Police Force was established through to 1973 when the last tracker, Norman Walford, retired.  You can read about the lives of individual trackers and some of the incredible tracking feats they...

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Police Stations

There were over 200 NSW police stations that employed Aboriginal trackers between 1862 and 1973.  Many were concentrated in the central-west and north-west of the state, the agricultural and pastoral heartland of NSW.  This is because one of the main jobs of trackers was to pursue sheep, cattle and horse thieves. Trackers sometimes lived in small huts out the back...

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A General History

Pathfinders book Pathfinders, A history of Aboriginal trackers in NSW, written by Dr Michael Bennett and published by NewSouth, is now available from all good bookstores. Click on the link below to order your copy. https://www.abbeys.com.au/book/pathfinders-a-history-of-aboriginal-trackers-in-nsw.do Early History Since the beginning of the colony, government agencies, explorers, surveyors and members of the general public called upon the tracking...

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