Alexander Riley, legendary Aboriginal police tracker
The remarkable talents of Aboriginal trackers who worked for NSW Police in the 20th century are featured in a display at the Justice & Police Museum. Accompanied by collection items, the centrepiece of the display is the documentary Black tracker, exploring the life of Tracker Alec Riley.
From the earliest days of the NSW colony, the authorities saw First Nations people’s deep understanding of Country as useful to help search for criminals on the run, stolen property, and people and livestock lost in the bush. These early trackers don’t appear to have been employees but were hired for specific search parties. However, when the centralised NSW Police Force was established in 1862, trackers were listed as a police role, and police returns the following year show that around 30 trackers were employed.
Alexander ‘Alec’ Riley (1884–1970) joined NSW Police as a tracker in 1911. For nearly 40 years until his retirement in 1950, he served in the Western District around Dubbo in central northern NSW, on Wiradjuri Country. With his highly regarded skills, he was also called on to assist searches in other parts of NSW, as well as Queensland and Victoria.
Riley was the first tracker to attain the rank of sergeant, in 1941, and two years later he was awarded the King’s Police and Fire Service Medal for distinguished service. However, his retirement drew attention to the unequal status of trackers in NSW. Like female police officers, trackers were designated as ‘special constables’, which meant that they were not entitled to receive a police pension. Although Riley was a deeply private man, his supporters campaigned against this injustice, taking his case all the way to the NSW Parliament, without success.
Riley remained living with his family on the Talbragar Aboriginal Reserve near Dubbo, where he continued his lifelong sporting interests, including coaching athletes. He died in 1970.
Justice & Police MuseumCorner Albert and Phillip streets, Sydney NSW 2000. Phone +61 2 9252 1144
- Wheelchair accessible
The remarkable talents of Aboriginal trackers who worked for NSW Police in the 20th century are featured in a display at the Justice & Police Museum
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