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William Rutherford was born at Jimenbuan on the southern Monaro in NSW on 2 February 1892.[ref]Sydney Mail 14 December 1932[/ref]  His parents were William and Elizabeth (Bradshaw) Rutherford.  William later moved to Delegate with his parents, where he briefly attended school.  His father provided the majority of his education.

William joined the NSW police force at Delegate in 1909, when he was 18 years old.[ref]Telling Absence: Aboriginal Social History and the National Museum of Australia. Christine Frances Hansen December 2009: 203[/ref]  William spent much of his career at Dalgety and from time to time was called to assist with searches in other parts of the Monaro.  He was 25 years old when he married.

In March 1928, William called in to help with the search for 2 prisoners who had escaped from the Brookfield Afforestation Camp, Mila, near Bombala.  A few days after their escape, William picked up the escapees tracks north of Bombala and later assisted in their recapture near the Holts Flat railway station.[ref]Goulburn Evening Penny Post 30 April 1928[/ref]

In August 1928, William was called to assist in the search for two skiers lost near Mt Kosciusko.  Unfortunately, Laurie Seaman and Evan Hayes had already died of exposure before William joined the search. Seaman’s remains were found almost a month later and Hayes more than a year after his death.[ref]Death on the Summit – The Seaman and Hayes Tragedy of 1928 by David Scott August 2013[/ref]

Laurie’s wife, Chrissie Seaman, wrote to William to thank him.  Dear Constable Rutherford, I feel at a complete loss to convey even in a small way my great gratitude to you and the many others whose brave and untiring efforts meant so much to me and mine in the great loss that has befallen me. …..Yours very sincerely, Chrissie Seaman.[ref]Bombala Times 12 January 1934[/ref]

William was called to Delegate in August 1931, with his friend and fellow tracker Alex Brindle, to help in the search for a missing toddler who was two and a half years old.  Once again, the missing person had already perished before William’s arrival and her remains were found in a creek in April 1932.[ref]Sun (Sydney) 25 August 1931[/ref]

In January 1934, William was dismissed from the police force, as the force said there was less work for trackers.  Despite local and Sydney papers highlighting William’s valuable police work, he was not reinstated.[ref]Bombala Times 12 January 1934[/ref]

He moved to Orbost, in East Gippsland, Victoria to live.  He was admitted to hospital in Melbourne in 1938 and on 3 October 1938, he passed away, after contracting pneumonia.  William was greatly respected by people in the communities where he lived and worked.[ref]Telling Absence: Aboriginal Social History and the National Museum of Australia. Christine Frances Hansen December 2009: 211[/ref]


A story in the Sydney Mail newspaper, on the 14 December 1932 said of William: “He has often been the means of saving people who have been lost in the rugged country he knows so well. To meet such men quickly banishes all unfavourable ideas of the Australian aborigines, and one wonders why more of his class have not been given equal chances. Surely we Australians are not going to allow such men to fade out of existence.”

William was a proud Ngarigu man and his bravery and dignity provide a great legacy to his people and the descendants of the people who lived in the communities he served.


By Iris White (descendant of William Rutherford) and Peter Rutherford (Bombala Historical Society)

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