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 north of Grafton). In late 1907, the police suspected that one of the calves at Molveville was stolen and called the Grafton Tracker, Tommy Gordon, in to investigate. Gordon found that the calf had been brought over to Moleville by Barnier from nearby Saltwater Creek. Billy initially denied being involved but later said in court that he had helped his employer with the calf. It turned out that the calf already belonged to Barnier and he was found not guilty. Billy was admonished by the court for having given false information to the police, but this did not stop them employing him as the tracker at Copmanhurst.SLNSW Tindale Woodenbong Genealogy – Sheet 3; Clarence and Richmond Examiner 24 December 1907: 5, 15 February 1908: 4 & 14 April 1908: 2; NSW Police Gazette 15 January 1908: 27; Police Salary Register – Trackers, 1908-1910 State Archives and Records Authority of NSW 3/2994, Reel 1973.
In March 1909, the Copmanhurst police received word of a terrible boating accident at Newbold. A fresh water surge had overturned a boat on the Clarence River carrying two Aboriginal people, a man named Clancy and a toddler named Alister Jackson. Clancy attempted to swim to the riverbank with Alister in his arms but lost grip. The poor boy sank below and drowned. Billy Nicholls was called in to retrieve the body. He also acted as the undertaker at Alister’s funeral at Copmanhurst which took place the following day. It is the only recorded case of Billy’s career, although a song about Billy’s capabilities as a tracker was later recorded by the anthropologist Malcolm Calley.Clarence and Richmond Examiner 23 March 1909: 4; AIATSIS papers of Malcolm John Chalmers Calley, 1954-1969, MS 2900 IIG Item 17 (iii) (b) and (e).
Billy Nicholls remained as the tracker at Copmanhurst until November 1910 when he was replaced by Tommy Gordon who was transferred from Grafton. He moved with his wife Susan Beaton (whom he had married at Drake) to the Aboriginal settlement at Baryulgil. Billy passed away at Baryulgil in 1927 – his funeral was attended by members of the Mundine family. Roland Robinson later recorded a story about Billy from Ethel Gordon (nee Bawden), wife of Tommy Gordon. According to Ethel, Billy had gone without permission to a mountain which was sacred to her father. His intention was to find gold which he believed was buried there. He didn’t find the gold, but the spirits sent him blind for breaking Aboriginal law.DC of William Nicol 1927/009031; Roland Robinson The Man Who Sold His Dreaming 1965, Currawong Publishing, Sydney: 101-104.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||SLNSW Tindale Woodenbong Genealogy – Sheet 3; Clarence and Richmond Examiner 24 December 1907: 5, 15 February 1908: 4 & 14 April 1908: 2; NSW Police Gazette 15 January 1908: 27; Police Salary Register – Trackers, 1908-1910 State Archives and Records Authority of NSW 3/2994, Reel 1973.|
|2.||↑||Clarence and Richmond Examiner 23 March 1909: 4; AIATSIS papers of Malcolm John Chalmers Calley, 1954-1969, MS 2900 IIG Item 17 (iii) (b) and (e).|
|3.||↑||DC of William Nicol 1927/009031; Roland Robinson The Man Who Sold His Dreaming 1965, Currawong Publishing, Sydney: 101-104.|
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 performed. There is also information about the police stations where they worked and...Learn More ►
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...Learn More ►
Early History Since the beginning of the colony, government agencies, explorers, surveyors and members of the general public called upon the tracking abilities of Aboriginal men and women. First Fleet officers and early land-owners sometimes made use of Aboriginal men to track and capture escaped convicts. Alexander Berry, for example, relied on an Aboriginal man known as Broughton (or Toodwick)...Learn More ►