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ATSI service in the NT Police Force 1870-2009

The following material is from the draft manuscript written and supplied by NT Police Superintendent Tony Fuller

A Narrative of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders Service in the Northern Territory Police Force 1870-2009

Preface The focus of this book is exploring the service of Indigenous people in the Police services that have protected what is now known as the Northern Territory since the first contact Europeans had in the Northern Territory. The first “Police” in the Northern Territory may well have arrived 50 or 60,000 years ago when the first inhabitants arrived. Indigenous customary law men still practice their skills in many Indigenous communities across the Northern Territory today and whilst their roles differ to conventional Policing in some ways they are very similar as they are there to maintain law and order amongst clan groups and enforce customary law. Researching this area of Policing has obvious difficulties and as such the focus remains on the “conventional” history of Policing. This history of what is now known as the Northern Territory Police Force dates back to early 1870. Through out this time Indigenous members, both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have played a significant role in its history as Native Police, Trackers, Guides, Liaison Assistants, River Pilots and more recently as Police Aides, Aboriginal Community Police Officers, Police Auxillaries, Public Servants and Constables. This document has been compiled to provide a skeleton of record and base to some of the achievements and sometimes infamous notable events that Indigenous members of the Northern Territory have provided to the history pages of the Police Force. The information supplied is derived from a number of sources including but not limited to;

  • open sources such as the internet,

  • history reference books and books written by former members,

  • members accounts and files in some cases to clarify service histories,

  • Police and Government Gazettes and files,

  • media including Police media articles and publications such as the Drum and the the Citation – The Newsletter of the Northern Territory Police Museum and Historical Society.

The extensive published and unpublished works of the late and former Police Commissioner Mr WJ (Bill) McLaren and former member and now Doctor Mr W (Bill) Wilson proved invaluable as reference resources. Some of the language used in this narrative is not of modern day politically correct standard however it is the language used by the authors of the time and as such it remains in this narrative so not to change the originality of the quotes or alter the readers perceptions of attitudes of the day. Also in researching historical documents relating to Indigenous Police it was obvious that quite often terminology was not consistent and could be interchangeable particularly with terms such as Tracker, Black Boy and Native Police. As such some periods became hard to distinguish what role or office the person actually held. This narrative and collection is aimed primarily to provide a glimpse into the proud and not so proud achievements of Indigenous people in our short but colourful history. Short articles have been collected and included in this document as a reference and starting point for further research and as such the author has added them in good faith and the versions provided are those of the individuals involved and are open to their interpretation. Undoubtedly there will be gaps in this research and ideally a revised more accurate edition can be reproduced in the future should gaps be identified. PART 1 – HISTORICAL OVERVIEW Summary of Indigenous service in the Northern Territory Sidney Downer in his book “Patrol Indefinite”[1] states that the first police force set up in the Northern Territory was short in duration and in manpower. He reports that in 1864 Mr B.T. Finniss, established a settlement at Escape Cliffs at the mouth of the Adelaide River. Finniss nominated seven men – Acting Inspector Litchfield, Constable F. Finniss, Constable Dougall, Constable King, Constable Lloyd, Constable Christie and Constable Ross, to act as a rural Constabulary “in defence of life and property and in the pursuit of offenders.” This settlement was short lived as was this rural Constabulary. Historians such as Mr Peter Forrest and former member Dr Bill Wilson and former Northern Territory Police Commissioner Mr Bill McClaren draw attention to previous settlements at Fort Dundas, Fort Wellington and Victoria Settlement that were “Policed” by Military personnel such as the “Royal Marines.” It could be argued that these could have been the territories first conventional Police and in what could be described as prophetic to the interaction of future Police and Territory Aboriginals one of the first “Police” actions to be recorded in Northern Australia occurred at Victoria Settlement in 1847. Sergeant William Masland, the senior Constable at the settlement, and four armed marines were sent to apprehend some Aborigines for stealing. This they did. The Marines put the suspects on a boat to take them back to the settlement across the harbour. One of the men and a boy jumped overboard in an attempt to escape to land. The boy was quickly recaptured but the man did not stop when called upon, and after he came up for air, was shot by Masland and killed. His body was recovered the next day. Masland was arrested and charged for the killing.[2] Masland was however later acquitted in Sydney and the shooting was declared justified as the prisoner was in custody and attempting to escape. The Northern Territory Police Forces Internet site provides the following as an introduction into the beginnings of the Northern Territory Police Force; The Northern Territory, sometimes referred to as ‘the last frontier’ has a (permanent) police history dating from 1870 when Inspector Paul Foelsche and six other police officers arrived in the Territory. A small rural constabulary (part time force) had existed earlier but was disbanded. That Territory was then under South Australian control and the town of Palmerston now the city of Darwin was founded by William George Goyder – Surveyor General of South Australia. In December 1869, the Governor commissioned Paul Foelsche, a Corporal in the SA Mounted Police stationed at Strathalbyn, to be the first Sub-Inspector of Police at Palmerston. He sailed for Darwin soon afterwards. The early police letterbooks recording correspondence between the Commissioner’s office in Adelaide and Inspector Foelsche in Palmerston have, unfortunately, been lost so we do not know the exact history of the early days. Darwin’s first police station was a crude affair of poles and plaster measuring 20ft by 12ft. The inspector lived nearby in three rooms. A small stone building with two cells was the accommodation for those in custody. These are now incorporated in the Administrator’s offices on the Esplanade. Initially Indigenous employees were primarily hired as Trackers which were used to assist the European Constables in tracking as the name suggests but also as will be described later as labourers and guides. In a piece of history that is not commonly known or celebrated in 1884 the Northern Territory Police introduced “Native Police”,[3] who were armed and travelled the Territory tracking and apprehending offenders. Some of these members were involved in some infamous incidents that have been described as massacres and often the Native Police members perpetuated the deaths of their fellow Indigenous people. As a result the initial relationship and contacts between Police and aboriginal communities was not pleasant for the aboriginal members as reported in Langton et al It was explained to us that even before people came into contact with police, they were afraid of them. Stories of violent incidents traveled the country ahead of actual contact with the authorities. After contact the reason for that fear became obvious. The police were armed, and when they arrested people they walked them in chains away from their country and kin to a far distant police station. Police trackers played their part in “quietening the mobs”. They were also armed and any outlaws were hunted. [4] This fear is unfortunately still real in some communities were Police are still seen only in a negative light by some community members as the only time they see Police is usually to arrest family members and take them to jail for extended periods. However significant in-roads have been made in recent years to allay some of these fears. At the turn of the 19th century Native Police had been phased out and local Aborigines were employed primarily as Trackers for over one hundred years. Even though the Native Police Corps were disbanded for many years after trackers who went on patrol were often armed and put in perilous situations and some lost their lives. Generally however as technology improved in the years that followed the role of Indigenous Officers waned and they were more often employed as laborers for Police and occasionally used in investigations. They were always however a resource sometimes under valued for their local knowledge and bush skills. In the 1970’s Indigenous community members were also employed as Liaison Assistants then Police Aides as Coast Watchers under the Police Aide Scheme in 1979. Police Aides evolved into Aboriginal Community Police Officers scheme that currently serves the Northern Territory Police Force. In the late 70’s and early 80’s we also saw the first steps by some Indigenous members entering directly as Constables or indirectly as Police Cadets and then Constables. Members such as Teddy Dean, Jennifer Roe, Rosanna Breed, Robbie Willets and Ellen Pocock being some of the more successful trail blazers in this area. 1982-3 saw the inclusion of two ACPO’s Danny Sandy and Stanley Tipolura on Recruit Courses however they were unsuccessful in their endeavours. In 1991 on the 15th April The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody published its final report. Some of the recommendations of the report provided a prelude into the changing role of Indigenous members in the Police Force due in part to the following recommendations. Recommendation 229: That all Police Services pursue an active policy of recruiting Aboriginal people into their services, in particular recruiting Aboriginal women. Where possible Aboriginal recruits should be inducted in groups. Recommendation 230: That where Aboriginal applicants wish to join a service who appear otherwise to be suitable but whose general standard of education is insufficient, means should be available to allow those persons to undertake a bridging course before entering upon a specific police training. Recommendation 231: That different jurisdictions pursue their chosen initiatives for improving relations between police and Aboriginal people in the form of police aides, liaison officers and in other ways; experimenting and adjusting in the light of the experience of other services and applying what seems to work best in particular circumstances.[5] In 1995 discussions were being held into developing a transition process for ACPO’s into Constables under “Special Entry Status Program”.[6] The discussions centered around allowing some ACPO’s the opportunity to join a Police Recruit Squad. Individuals did progress through the ranks from ACPO to Constable but overall this was not as successful as hoped. It was not until 2007 that a specific course known as the Aboriginal Community Police Officer to Constable Transition program (TACPO) was held that allowed the progression of multiple applicants together in the one Squad. This program whilst in its infancy has already made significant in roads into increasing the representation of Indigenous employees in the Force. On the 21st June 2007 the Federal Government under Prime Minister John Howard, declared the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER). This response was on the back of the “Little Children are Sacred” Report which alleged wide scale substance abuse and neglect of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory. As a result of the NTER there was an influx of Interstate and Federal Police into Indigenous Communities in the Northern territory that did not have a permanent Police presence prior to the Emergency Response. Before the NTER, 38 police stations serviced Northern Territory remote communities. Between July 2007 and February 2008 18 additional temporary police stations were built under the auspices of Taskforce THEMIS in the NTER communities. Since end June 2007 an additional 51 police (33 Australian Federal Police and interstate police and 18 Northern Territory Police) in 18 remote communities have been deployed.[7] Nearly a year later the Federal Government now under the charge of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced a Review Board on the 6th June 2008. The Board released its review in October 2008 in which the following recommendations in relation to law and order were made.

Law and order

Alcohol, drugs and pornography

  • The NTER laws prohibiting the possession and transportation of alcohol on prescribed lands be maintained.

  • Alcohol supply, demand and harm reduction strategies be implemented urgently to ensure the sustainability and long-term success of the alcohol restriction measures.

  • Comprehensive alcohol management plans be finalised in all relevant communities.

  • Strengthened measures be put in place as a matter of urgency to address illicit drug use in remote Aboriginal communities and associated mental health issues.

  • Current signage advertising about alcohol and pornography restrictions should be modified in consultation with communities to determine appropriate location, design and wording, where this has not already occurred.


  • The overall number of police in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities be significantly increased and put on a more secure footing through:

    • the existing 18 THEMIS police stations being made permanent

    • similar police stations being established in other Aboriginal communities with substantial populations

    • an emphasis on recruiting more female police officers.

  • The Australian and Northern Territory Governments agree, as soon as possible, a standard for policing levels in remote communities which delivers effective and equitable police numbers, is transparent and provides certainty for Aboriginal people.

    • the governments further agree to work towards achieving the standard over an agreed timeframe.

  • In parallel with increased police numbers, there be an emphasis on quality community policing with police officers receiving relevant training and development before deployment to an Aboriginal community.

Interestingly unlike the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody there is no recommendation for the recruitment of Indigenous Officers in these recommendations despite the three person Board consisting of two Indigenous members. Regardless the Northern Territory Police remains committed to recruiting Indigenous employees across the Tri-Service and two ACPO’s were recruited and stationed at Themis stations during 2008. The NTER simply highlights that Police were dealing with Indigenous issues in 1870 and they still are in 2009 but in that time the face of the NT Police Force has changed. There are now Indigenous Police that hold equal merit with their European colleagues but there is still a long way to go in relation to equity balance in numbers of members and representation into the Executive level of the force.

Also from Superintendent Fuller's manuscript

Police Cadet Scheme

In 1980 the Northern Territory Police commenced a cadet entry scheme. There were no Indigenous cadets in the first squad however in 1981 three Indigenous Cadets, (Ross, Simpson and Morrison) joined the scheme but did not however succeed. In 1983 Cadet Jennifer Roe joined intake 4/83.[1] Cadet Roe passed through the scheme and joined the Police Force in 1985 with fellow Cadets. Jenny was still a member of the Police Force twenty five years later making her the longest serving fully sworn Indigenous Officer to date. The cadet scheme was phased out in the late eighties and as a result a lower entry point was lost for potential Indigenous recruits. It has however been discussed again at a number of levels particularly as it gives Indigenous recruits another option for an entry point into the Police Force. [1] HQ File 79/1437

Bibliograpghy from Fuller manuscript for reference p.154:

Alexander, Jim (1996) NTUniprint, The Rainbird Arthur, Bill and Morphy Frances ed., The Macquarie Library 2005, Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia. Brown, Ron & Studdy-Clift, Pat, (1990) Hesperian Books, Bush Justice. Canavan, M (1989), Katherine Police 1879-1980. Clark, H.V.; (1974) The Long Arm, A biography of a Northern Territory Policeman, Roebuck Society Publication 12. Clyne, R. Colonial Blue, A History of the South Australia Police Force 1836-1916, Wakefield Press. Courtney, M. A History of Police in Tennant Creek, 1933 to 1983. Downer, Sidney (1963) Rigby Ltd, Adelaide, Patrol Indefinite Forrest, Peter (1995), An Introduction to the History and Geography of the Northern Territory with Chronology of NT Police History Hall, Vic (1962) Angus and Robertson, Dreamtime Justice. Hall, Vic (1970) Rigby Limited, Outback Policeman Hazelhurst, Kayleen M. (1985) Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra ACT, Aboriginal Policing Principles and Practices Idriess, Ion L. (1935) Man Tracks – Angus and Robertson Johnston, E. 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody National Report, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra. James /Meyer /Murphy /Pini (2006) Yidiyu Business Case - Indigenous Cadetships in to the NTPFES Leadership Development Program 1/2006 – Project -Indigenous Constable Program http://norlaw/cip/projectregisterattachments/83/ldp1-06 meyer, james, pini, brief indgns const course vdoc5.pdf Langton, M., L. Ah Matt, B. Moss, E. Schaber, C. Mackinolty, M. Thomas, E. Tilton and L. Spencer 1990 Too Much Sorry Business, Report of the Aboriginal lssues Unit of the Northern Territory. In Vol 5 Appendix D(i) Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody National Report, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
Lewis, D; (ed) (1998) Patrolling the ‘Big Up’; The Adventures of Mounted Constable Johns in the Top End of the Northern Territory, 1910-1915. Historical Society of the Northern Territory, Darwin. Macpherson & Bennet - Abstract: Bill McKinnon 1902 —1997 -by Garth Macpherson and Brian Bennett. McMillan, Andrew (2007) Niblock Publishing, An Intruders Guide to East Arnhem Land McMaster, Dean (2004), Executive Leadership Group Paper and Presentation By Sgt Dean McMaster Recruitment and Retention of Indigenous Constables 5th April 2004 McLaren W.J. The Northern Territory and it’s Police Forces, Unpublished manuscript, 1982 McLaren W.J and Alcorta F. The History of the Northern Territory Police, unpublished manuscript 1995 Moore, R.D. (David), Deputy Commissioner NT Police (Jan 1995), Holistic Policing, “Policing Remote Aboriginal Communities”. Munday, Jane (1998) NT Police, History of Policing in Timber Creek, A commemorative booklet produced by the Northern Territory Police. O’Neill, Suzanne & Bathgate, Jane (1993) Northern Territory Police, Policing Strategies in Aboriginal and Non-English Speaking Background Communities, A Community Relations Project, Final Report Rosser, Bill, (1990) University of Queensland Press. Up rode the Troopers, The Black Police in Queensland. Stapleton, Austin (1992) Hesperian Press, Willshire of Alice Springs. Sykes, Jim and Peters Allan L.(Ed.) Police Troopers of the Outback. Crawford House Publishing. Taylor, J.A., Chief Superintendent NT Police ( Jan 1989), Alternative Policing in Aboriginal Communities Wilson,W.R. (Bill), (1990), STRATEGIES FOR INCREASED MULTI CULTURAL RECRUITING, NT Police Internal report Wilson, W.R. (Bill) undated. (Uni Assignment) The Northern Territory Native Police during the period 1884-1891. Wilson,W.R. (Bill), 1995, The Myth and Reality, An examination of The Involvement of Aboriginal People With Northern Territory Policing 1911-1994. Wilson,W.R. (Bill), 1996, Sillitoe’s Tartan in Northern Australia: A view of black and white policing in the Northern Territory 1884 to 1935, Northern Territory University Wilson,W.R. (Bill), 2001, The Force Apart? A History of the Northern Territory Police Force, 1870-1926, Peacock Academic Press. Hong Kong. Internal Police Files NT Police Historical Society, The Citation Volume 6, No 1 February, 2000 NT Police Historical Society, The Citation Volume 6, No 2 April, 2000 NT Police Historical Society, The Citation Volume 6, No 3 June, 2000 NT Police Historical Society, The Citation Volume 4, No 14 – December 1998 NT Police Historical Society, The Citation December 2005 NT Police Historical Society, The Citation October 2005 NT Police File 79/479 – Aboriginal Police Liaison Assistants re Training Course NT Police File 79/1161 – Police Aides Policy NT Police File HQ 79/1437 – Police Cadet Training Scheme NT Police File 79/1568 – Employment of Aborigines as Liaison Assistants to the NT Police Force NT Police File 81/602 – Police Aides General NT Police File HQ 81/968 – Police Aides General NT Police File HQ 83/1752-Police Aide Induction and Training 1/79 NT Police File HQ 83/1753-Police Aide Induction and Training 2/79 (Ali Curung) NT Police File HQ 83/1754-Police Aide Induction and Training 3/79 (Darwin) NT Police File HQ 83/1755-Police Aide Induction and Training 4/80 (Darwin) NT Police File HQ 83/1758-Police Aide Induction and Training 7/83 (Batchelor) NT Police File HQ 83/1759-Police Aide Induction and Training 7/84 (Batchelor) NT Police File HQ 83/1761- Inclusion in recruit and in service training NT Police File HQ 87/273 – Police Aides Executive Audit Reports NT Police File HQ 89/401 – Police Aides General NT Police File HQ 90/430 – Re Expansion of Police Aide Scheme NT Police File HQ 95/0800 – Aboriginal and Ethnic Policy Unit General NT Police File HQ 96/0576 – Aboriginal Community Police Officers ACPO Review. NT Police File C2006/763 – Staff Development – Planning – Indigenous Constables Program The Drum 2005, July, Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services internal magazine. The Drum 2005, December, Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services internal magazine. The Drum 2006, March, Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services internal magazine. The Drum 2006, September, Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services internal magazine. The Drum 2007, March, Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services internal magazine. The Drum 2007, June, Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services internal magazine. The Drum 2007, September, Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services internal magazine. The Drum 2007, December, Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services internal magazine. The Drum 2008, March, Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services internal magazine.
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