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Territory a dead end for Trackers

By Chips MacKinolty Sydney Morning Herald, 07/01/1992

News and Features, Page 5 DARWIN: Mr Bob Markham, an Aboriginal police tracker at Batchelor, 110 kilometres south of Darwin, looks set to become another victim of the recession. Mr Markham, along with 39 other full-time and part-time trackers, may soon lose their jobs as changing technology and cuts in government spending see the end of the era of Aboriginal police trackers in the Northern Territory. "It's this modern turnout I reckon. It's not like the days - not so long ago - of coppers on horses in the scrub. I suppose they just don't need us trackers any more," said Mr Markham, whose duties these days are more likely to be cleaning and labouring around the Batchelor police station than following the trail of criminals or lost stockmen. This, it seems, is the lot of most trackers in the Northern Territory and the Government is no longer prepared to keep them on the payroll. According to Commander Robin Chalker, tracking skills are only rarely needed now, and last April's Northern Territory Government Expenditure Review Committee identified substantial savings to the police force through dropping the legendary trackers. "No-one has been made redundant," he said. "It will all be through natural attrition and redeployment in police and emergency services, or the general Public Service. Eight on limited tenure have gone and 18 have been redeployed. It's just a matter of time before the rest go. "We still use the tracking skills of Aboriginal people out on the communities, and can call on them when needed. It's a cultural skill that we want maintained. As well, we have 38 Aboriginal police aides around the Territory, who are better educated and equipped to do police work than the trackers ever were." Eileen Fitzer, who will be "God willing, 90 years old in March" has strong memories of life with her husband, Tas Fitzer, who served with the Territory police from 1925 to 1957, all at remote bush police stations. "It will be sad to see them go. I've always had a great deal of time for them: there are many people over the years who owe their lives to trackers. The Territory owes them an enormous debt. They did more than anyone realises these days. "I owe my life to ... Attawomba Joe. He definitely saved me. "It was a terrible wet season in March 1946 when we were stationed up the Daly River. I was very ill, with swollen joints and fever and despite the morphia I gave myself, my husband knew I was very ill. Attawomba Joe ... was our tracker. "... as our pedal radio wasn't working, Tas sent Attawomba Joe for help. He finally got across the floods to Adelaide River. From there they contacted the Navy and got ... HMAS Kangaroo up to the mouth of the Daly River and sent a crash boat 83 miles up the river to get me to hospital. "Without Attawomba Joe, I wouldn't be alive to tell the story today."



Trackers in other Jurisdictions

Tracker Robinson - NSW Police - Koori Mail Dec 16 1992

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