Wongi man Johnny Grey, also known as Pannican, is one of the many trackers featured.

Tracking down the history of our Aboriginal police trackers

Aboriginal trackers were able to locate people and animals by following barely distinguishable tracks.
June 6, 2024

THE names and details of more than 400 Aboriginal men who played a crucial role in tracking and wayfinding for WA Police between 1931 and 1954 have been released.

It includes the Wheatbelt towns of Northam, Merredin, Moora, Narrogin and Southern Cross.

The Aboriginal trackers of Western Australia index is a searchable database to help Aboriginal people who are seeking more information about their family history.

From the early 1800s through to the mid-1900s the state's fledgling police forces were heavily reliant on Aboriginal trackers to guide them through uncharted country.

Aboriginal trackers had an extraordinary ability to locate people and animals by following barely distinguishable tracks.

However, they were not adequately paid for their skills or time and were often assigned to locations far from their Country and families to deter them from running away.

This was allowed through various government policies that legalised the removal of Aboriginal people from one district to another and allowed government authorities to place them onto missions, reserves or into employment.

The index has been produced by the Aboriginal History Western Australia (AHWA) team, within the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.

It is one of many initiatives undertaken by AHWA in partnership with Aboriginal communities and stakeholders to connect people to their Aboriginal ancestry.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dr Tony Buti said Aboriginal trackers were the unsung heroes in the history of policing.

“Their intimate knowledge of the land underpins their expertise to guide people through often harsh and desolate Country and to locate missing or wanted persons,” he said.

“We know they were often removed from their families, against their will, to be Police trackers and that they were not adequately paid for their time. Records show that many ran away within days or weeks of arriving at a station.

“It is important that we acknowledge these uncomfortable truths while providing Aboriginal people with the resources they need to learn more about their family history.”

For more information or to search the index visit the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries website.

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