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Pathfinders: A history of Aboriginal trackers in NSW

Michael Bennett

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New South Books
01 March 2020
History; Australasian & Pacific history; Abbey's Double Rewards
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There are few Aboriginal icons in White Australia history.

From the explorer to the pioneer, the swagman to the drover's wife, with a few bushrangers for good measure, Europeans play all the leading roles. A rare exception is the redoubtable tracker. With skills passed down over millennia, trackers could trace the movements of people across vast swathes of country. Celebrated as saviours of lost children and disoriented adults, and finders of missing livestock, they were also cursed by robbers on the run.

Trackers live in the collective memory as one of the few examples of Aboriginal people's skills being sought after in colonial society. In New South Wales alone, more than a thousand Aboriginal men and a smaller number of women toiled for authorities across the state after 1862. This book tells the often unlikely stories of trackers including Billy Bogan, Jimmy Governor, Tommy Gordon, Frank Williams and Alec Riley.

Through his work on native title claims, historian Michael Bennett realised that the role of trackers - and how they moved between two worlds - has been largely unacknowledged. His important book reveals that their work grew out of traditional society and was sustained by the vast family networks that endure to this day.

Pathfindersbrings the skilled and diverse work of trackers not only to the forefront of law enforcement history but to the general shared histories of black and white Australia.

'The word tracker conjures images of the legendary Aboriginal bush experts responsible for bringing criminals to justice and finding people lost in the wild. Michael Bennett's new book is a very welcome addition. The book charts an important though largely overlooked area of the country's history. Aboriginal trackers hold a mythical yet obscure presence in the history of the continent. Bennett weaves back into the nation's historical narrative these Aboriginal heroes and heroines.' - Professor John Maynard
By:   Michael Bennett
Imprint:   New South Books
Country of Publication:   Australia
Dimensions:   Height: 234mm,  Width: 153mm, 
ISBN:   9781742236568
ISBN 10:   1742236561
Pages:   336
Publication Date:   01 March 2020
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Michael Bennett worked as a historian in native title from 2002 until 2017, preparing evidence and writing reports for claims throughout NSW. It was through conducting research for native title claims that he first realised the extent to which the NSW Police relied on trackers for their expert skill. He grew up in Dubbo where he first learned of the exploits of Tracker Alec Riley.

Reviews for Pathfinders: A history of Aboriginal trackers in NSW

'The word tracker conjures images of the legendary Aboriginal bush experts responsible for bringing criminals to justice and finding people lost in the wild. Michael Bennett's new book is a very welcome addition. The book charts an important though largely overlooked area of the country's history. Aboriginal trackers hold a mythical yet obscure presence in the history of the continent. Bennett weaves back into the nation's historical narrative these Aboriginal heroes and heroines.' - Professor John Maynard


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