Tracking down the history of WA’s Aboriginal Police Trackers

  • Details of Aboriginal Police Trackers’ pivotal wayfinding roles from the early 1800s
  • Aboriginal History WA has released a database of Trackers to help family members undertaking ancestry research
  • Aboriginal Affairs Minister describes the trackers as unsung heroes and acknowledges that many were forced to track against their will, with little to no pay

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

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. For more information or to search the index visit

As stated by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dr Tony Buti:

“Aboriginal Trackers are 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.

“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.”

More information:

The police stations covered in the Aboriginal Trackers of Western Australia Index were in the following towns:

  • Gascoyne – Carnarvon and Gascoyne Junction
  • Goldfields-Esperance – Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Laverton, Menzies and Norseman
  • Great Southern – Mount Barker
  • Kimberley – Broome, Derby, Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek, Turkey Creek and Wyndham
  • Mid West – Leonora, Meekatharra, Mount Magnet, Mullewa, Wiluna and Yalgoo
  • Murchison – Lawlers, Peak Hill and Sandstone
  • Perth Metro – Perth Stables
  • Pilbara – Marble Bar, Nullagine, Onslow, Port Hedland and Roebourne
  • South West – Bridgetown
  • Wheatbelt – Merredin, Moora, Narrogin, Northam and Southern Cross

AHWA background:

  • Aboriginal History Research Unit (AHRU) was established following the release of the report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families (Bringing Them Home 1997). The reportmade multiple recommendationsthat relate to the provision of family history services, endorsed family reunion, and information dissemination and access to state records.
  • 1997 was when the ‘Aboriginal History Research Unit’ (AHRU) was formalised.
  • When AHRU moved to DLGSC from the former Department of Aboriginal Affairs as part of the Machinery of Government changes, it became Aboriginal History Western Australia (AHWA) which consists of both the AHRU, and a special projects branch. AHRU was renamed to ‘Aboriginal History Research Service’.

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