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North Australia Observer Unit

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

North Australia Observer Unit (NAOU) - "Nackeroos" / "Curtin's Cowboys"

Members of the Northern Territory Police and their trackers were seconded to the Army to form a reconnaissance and surveillance unit called the 2/1st North Australia Observer Unit (NAOU also know as the Nackeroos or Curtin's Cowboys) that had a 'stay behind' role for the imminent invasion (see article to right). The NAOU was the forerunner of the current Regional Force Surveillance Unit - Norforce. The members listed were seconded to the North Australia Observer Unit (NAOU or Nackeroos).


First Name




Sidney James


Tasman Charles


Clive William


Victor Charles


Edward Joseph


Albert Douglas 'Doug'


Alfred Stanley




John Joseph


William 'Bill'


William George


Arthur Bloomfield


John William


Gordon Cameron Heaslop


Gregory John

You can also see a list of members who;


The article below is from Barry Frew and appears in the May edition of the Citation Magazine in 2008. Between 1939 and 1945 the total strength of the NT Police was 62 men. Fifteen men left to enlist in the Armed Services. Another twelve with aboriginal trackers and aboriginal personnel were seconded for duties with an Army unit known as the North Australia Observation Unit. Members of the unit nick-named themselves the Nackeroos. Others called them "Curtin’s Cowboys". The idea of a "special unit" originated at a meeting of Australian and American Intelligence Officers in early March of 1942. Singapore had fallen. Troops in Timor were retreating and Darwin was being bombed daily. The Japs were coming and nothing was stopping them. Prime Minister Curtin was calling it the Battle for Australia and was asking Churchill to release Australian troops to defend the mainland of Australia. Military personnel were discussing a retreat to the Southern States to defend Australia as they did not think they could defend the whole northern Australian coastline. This special surveillance unit was to be volunteer bush men who could be at first coast watchers for enemy landings and, after the invasion, be left behind enemy lines to continue the fight. Their chances of survival were slim. The person designed to be in command was a young anthropologist who in 1932 studied with aborigine groups in the Northern Territory and was an advisor to the War Cabinet. He was told to raise a unit of about 450 bushmen who could ride and live in the bush. Some came from disbanded Light Horse Regiments; some were returned servicemen, trained but bored and ready to volunteer for the next challenge. Dr. Stanner asked the NT Police Force for police officers along with their Police Trackers because of their knowledge of the bush and their experience from living in the isolated Territory. All groups were in position by September, just in time for the flooding wet season of the north. Their transport was to be horses, donkeys, mules, trucks and eight boats (under l5 metres). Their armament was left over rifles, shotguns, small amount of firearms from different countries and whatever you could bring yourself. They endured isolation, flies, crocodile attacks, mosquitoes, hunger, thirst, sometimes only Morse code to communicate with their headquarters, and the knowledge that they were expendable.

Without the skills of the aborigines, the patrols could not survive. But survive they did until disbandment in 1945.

This 6 page poster document outlines the formation of the North Australia Observer Unit (NAOU or Nackeroos) during WWII and the pivotal role played by serving members of the Northern Territory Police who were attached to the unit during the war.
This 6 page poster document outlines the formation of the North Australia Observer Unit (NAOU or Nackeroos) during WWII and the pivotal role played by serving members of the Northern Territory Police who were attached to the unit during the war.

The following letter is included in that Citation Article and is copied here (with some loss of formatting) CONFIDENTIAL. 11th May, 1942. The Secretary, Department of the Interior, CANBERRA. A.C.T . SERVICES OF NORTHERN TERRITORY POLICE IN CONNECTION WITH MILITARY WORK With reference to this subject, I have now discussed it with Superintendent Stretton who in the main agrees with my nominations. The Superintendent's list of Class A. men and my list are set out hereunder:­- My List Constable W.L. Abbott, Brocks Creek. Acting Sergeant G.R.Birt, Darwin. Constable T.C. Fitzer (on leave) Sergeant A. P. Lynch (Seconded to Commonwealth Investigation.) Acting Sergeant W.McKinnon, Darwin. Constable J. J. Mahony, Arltunga. Constable E.H.Morey (Seconded Military Service.} Constable G. Stott, Timber Creek. Constable W. Langdon, Wave Hill. Constable G.J. Withnell, Alice Springs. Superintendent Stretton’s List Sergeant W. McKinnon, now on leave. Sergeant A.P. Lynch, (Seconded to Commonwealth Investigation.) Constable Heathcock, Borroloola. Constable Hall, Alice Springs. Constable Fitzer, now on leave. Constable Abbott, Brocks Creek. Constable Johnson, A.S. Pine Creek. Constable Mahony, Arltunga. Constable Graham, Rankine River. Constable Riley, Lake Nash. Constable Langdon, Wave Hill. I think that Constable Morey who is now in the Army should be recalled for this special work for which he is eminently suited. The same applies to Sergeant Lynch, who is with the Commonwealth Investigation Branch. Sergeant Lynch has written to Superintendent Stretton and expressed a desire to return to the Northern Territory Police Force. Superintendent Stretton adds that some of the necessary plant is available from the various police stations and if any shortage exists additional horses and saddlery could doubtless be obtained from the Pastoralists in the District. Camels are not recommended for use on the northern coasts owing to the presence of poison bush. Furthermore the nature of the country does not lend itself to a camel patrol. (C.L.A. Abbott) ADMINISTRATOR

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