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Pathfinders: A history of Aboriginal trackers in NSW

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Summary

From the explorer to the pioneer, the swagman to the drover’s wife, with a few bushrangers for good measure, Europeans play all the leading roles. A rare exception is the redoubtable tracker.

With skills passed down over millennia, trackers could trace the movements of people across vast swathes of country. Celebrated as saviours of lost children and disoriented adults, and finders of missing livestock, they were also cursed by robbers on the run.

Trackers live in the collective memory as one of the few examples of Aboriginal people’s skills being sought after in colonial society. In New South Wales alone, more than a thousand Aboriginal men and a smaller number of women toiled for authorities across the state after 1862.

Pathfinders tells the often unlikely stories of trackers including Billy Bogan, Jimmy Governor, Tommy Gordon, Frank Williams and Alec Riley.

Through his work on native title claims, historian Michael Bennett realised that the role of trackers – and how they moved between two worlds – has been largely unacknowledged. His important book reveals that their work grew out of traditional society and was sustained by the vast family networks that endure to this day. Pathfinders brings the skilled and diverse work of trackers not only to the forefront of law enforcement history but to the general shared histories of black and white Australia.

About the Author

Michael Bennett worked as a historian in native title from 2002 until 2017, preparing evidence and writing reports for claims throughout NSW. It was through conducting research for native title claims that he first realised the extent to which the NSW Police relied on trackers for their expert skill. He grew up in Dubbo where he first learned of the exploits of Tracker Alec Riley.

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Harvard citation

Korff, J 2020, Pathfinders: A history of Aboriginal trackers in NSW, <https://www.creativespirits.info/resources/books/pathfinders-a-history-of-aboriginal-trackers-in-nsw>, retrieved 12 August 2020

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