The unique skills and experience of Aboriginal police trackers will be lost when the last tracker in service retires.
Barry Port, who has been working with the Queensland Police Service in Coen, Far North Queensland for more than 30 years, is the final tracker to use his valuable skills in vital police work.
“Aboriginal trackers have been an essential part of rural police operations in Queensland for more than 100 years,’’ says Dr Jonathan Richards from Griffith University, who with colleagues travelled to Far North Queensland in November 2012 to record an oral history of Barry’s life.
“Their skill in tracking animals and people made them invaluable for finding lost people in the bush, locating criminals and searching for lost or stolen livestock.
“Good trackers were considered the best deterrent against stock theft — ‘cattle-duffing’ — the most prevalent crime outside cities and towns.”
Barry’s work came to wider public notice in 2012 when he was asked to track a missing man on the Palmer River, between Cooktown and Cairns. Nowadays, he told researchers, most of his duties are connected with motor vehicle accidents and family violence.
Tracking is a skill without a future, he says, and does not think he will be replaced when he retires.
The work of trackers is now carried out by technology, especially helicopters, while police liaison officers from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and other ethnic communities provide the police service with interpretive and information resources.
“Aboriginal skills such as tracking were key factors in the British colonisation of Australia, so his retirement is really in a sense, the end of a collaboration that began in 1788,’’ Dr Richards said.
As well as Richards, the researchers include Queensland Police Service Inspector Jason Saunders, Professor Philip Stenning and Dr Nina Westera from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security.
They hope to spend more time recording Barry’s daily duties and thoughts on remote policing before he retires, as part of a larger project on the history of policing in remote Far North Queensland.
A ‘Policing the Cape — the role of Aboriginal trackers’ seminar — will be held on Tuesday, February 12 from12.30pm at Mt Gravatt capus (M10, 4.12).