The names and details of more than 400 Aboriginal men who worked as trackers for the Western Australian Police Department have been released.

From the 1800s all the way through to the 1970s, the state’s police department relied heavily on skilled Aboriginal men as guides through uncharted country.

They also had extraordinary abilities to track and locate missing animals and people.

However they often weren’t paid adequately or at all for their work and were often assigned against their will to places far away from their home country.

Now, a searchable database of hundreds of those men has been assembled through the hard work of the Aboriginal History Western Australia team.

The database lists the names of more than 400 Aboriginal trackers who served at police stations around the state between 1931 and 1954.

Wongi man Johnny Grey [left] also known as Pannican, one of the trackers featured in the database and considered one of the best trackers of his time.

The team’s Community Education Officer, Duane Kelly, told N-I-R-S the project began when they were approached by the police department.

“They wanted to recognise the work trackers did in the past and provide medals to some of their descendants. As an outcome of that we wanted to expand and find as many trackers as we could to get them acknowledged.

We did a bit of research and ended up finding over 400.”

While the role of the Aboriginal tracker has been romanticised in popular film and television, Mr Kelly said they often lived difficult lives.

“Because they fell under the 1905 Act – the Aborigines Act in WA – that really restricted the lives of Aboriginal people across the state and a lot of the trackers were not voluntarily within those roles…they were conscripted into the roles and placed there by the police system.

A lot of them were removed from their home Countries, hundreds if not thousands of kilometres away to serve in these outposts or police stations.

They tracked people down but did a lot of other work like helping out prospectors or farmers as well as saving people who became lost in the bush.

This project is trying to show that people who were the trackers were not always there voluntarily.”

Mr Kelly has encouraged anyone who believes they might have an ancestor who worked as a WA tracker to have a look through the database.

Hear more of this story in our Weekly News in Review on Friday and Saturday.

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