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The last blacktracker

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(My use of the word ‘blacktracker’ instead of ‘Aboriginal Police Tracker’ may be politically incorrect in 2014, but it is part of our vernacular and as I am using it with respectful intent I don’t give a rat’s arse.)

 

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Australia cannot claim much moral high ground over America or South Africa when it comes to the past treatment of people of colour.

Until the 1960’s Australian aborigines had no voting rites, the National census classified them as ‘fauna’ and many were forced to live in shanty settlements on the outskirts of our towns.

This is the reality of the country in which I was raised, yet ‘white Australia’ still grabbed every opportunity to bask in the glory of those aboriginals who excelled despite their ethnic subjugation.

On one hand we lauded the exceptional achievements of Albert Namatjira (artist),  Kath Walker (poet),  Doug Nicholls (Pastor and Governor,) and Lionel Rose (boxer), whilst with the other we abducted aboriginal children from their parents.

Blacktrackers have always been an under-appreciated part of our history.

For more than 100 years they have been employed in remote locations to work alongside European police officers, using their unique tracking skills and knowledge of ‘country’ to locate fugitives and lost travelers. In places far away from ambulances and Forensic Crash Units they were also called upon to assist with first response services and investigation of motor vehicle accidents.

Barry Post, age 72, (pictured above) retired last week at Coen, a remote township on Cape York Peninsula.   He was Australia’s last blacktracker, an occupation made redundant by satellite imagery, GPS and mobile phones.

Blacktrackers served Australia with distinction (and inferior employment conditions) and they should never be forgotten.

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About GOF

"Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it, depends upon what you put into it." (Tom Lehrer)

31 responses »

  1. When I think about all the history that is never taught in schools and all the sugar-coating given to every country’s past by hiding the bad parts of it, it makes me shudder.

    Thank you for a very interesting and informative post. 🙂

    Reply
  2. I’ll bet there are plenty of things he can do that GPS cannot.

    Reply
  3. That’s a great pic, GOF. Mr Post really looks the part, and I’m sure he was a great tracker. 72 is a good age to retire, and I hope he got a good package and a gold watch. I think that most countries have a lot of history of which they’re very ashamed, and of course even in this age of so-called ‘enlightenment’, injustices are still going on.

    Reply
    • Thank you. Unfortunately I stole the picture from the newspaper. Re Mr Post retiring at age 72; Aboriginal people get a lot of criticism for their reliance on social welfare payments. He has set a good example not only for them, but also for the majority of other Australians who can’t wait to retire at age 65.

      Reply
  4. I’ve met Barry. When I was doing the Cooktown-Coen bus run. Nice bloke.

    Reply
    • I’ve heard several good stories about him. You probably know more about the real reasons why they are not replacing men like him.

      Reply
      • I could suggest some reasons GOF. I tend to think it’s a combination of budgets, technology and the lack of young TOs with the skills and desire to work in that profession. There are people in community with the skills, but not like Barry and his predecessors. Culture is being lost, sadly. Down our way language remains strong and traditional hunting mixes with modern techniques. Still, traditional skills are disappearing. Even the rangers use GPS nowadays (mainly to mark significant sites accurately).

        Reply
        • Thanks Brad. It is a sad end for a really valuable occupation. Maybe the recent push to reintroduce language education for kids in the Cape will be accompanied by learning all the other traditional skills for surviving in the bush.

          Reply
  5. This is interesting! I don’t know how long it has been since this hasn’t been needed in the US but my paternal grandfather did similar duties when the gov rarely entered the Irish Wilderness of the Ozark Mtns. They considered him a guide and while he was certainly packing heat, he was not made a marshal or even temporarily deputised as far as I know.

    I do know they came to the Clan for help when they were here.

    Reply
    • Your family story in fascinating too MT….I hope your grandfather has provided a record of this history. I’ll bet he could tell some wild stories.

      Reply
      • My grandfather was born in the 1880s. I’m lucky to have memories of him! My granny passed before was born, which is to be expected for me being born in 1971.

        If only I had more time with my excellent uncles and Aunties!

        Reply
  6. Political Correctness seems to have trouble with terms that are based on respect which seems odd to me. The whole reason it exists was supposed to be for rooting out the negative crap yet it seems it can damage its own message.

    I can’t remember hearing the term black tracker used as an insult yet it’s sure to get up someone’s nose.

    They were highly respected folk delivering a life saving service and also helped bring in some very dangerous individuals.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    Reply
    • I thought long and hard before using the word Peter, but I thought back to my childhood when most aboriginal people were looked down upon by the rest of us and we always had the greatest respect for the various aboriginal achievers, including Australia’s first cricket team to England in the 1800’s, and blacktrackers…….as a kid living the bush I would attempt to learn some of their skills…….and still do when walking through the rainforest today.

      As you correctly point out, they were highly respected folk.

      Reply
  7. Thanks for the fascinating story, GOF. I’d never heard of such use of trackers before. And congratulations to Barry Post, he’s certainly earned his retirement, 72? Wow!

    I was astonished by this bit though: “the National census classified them as ‘fauna’”

    Reply
    • You’re welcome Lance. They provided valuable services throughout most of outback Australia for a century, and Barry waiting until age 72 to retire is an example to many of us.

      The ‘fauna’ classification IS beyond belief, and a reflection of European arrogance at the time.

      Reply
  8. Those guys had an amazing skill set, and it’s sad that a lot of that lore will be lost once the older generations pass away.

    Reply
    • Yep, it’s the sad end of an era, but I guess those who still live in the bush will retain those skills and teach some of the youngsters.

      Reply
  9. Gee, this sounds familiar. We only acknowledge the existence of our Native Peoples when we need something from them, the rest of the time we spend stripping away their rights and pretending that our ancestors never persecuted them.

    The story of Australian Blacktrackers is new to me. Thanks for sharing this, I would love to read more. If they only record via oral tradition we had better start listening.

    Reply
    • Yep, similar events happened in many countries. When I was at school history lessons only contained biased information about our good deeds since invading this continent. The previous 30,000 years of aboriginal habitation were completely ignored.
      You’re right Emmy….they have so much to teach us……if only we would listen.

      Reply

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