Alexander 'Tracker' Riley: The Remarkable Life of NSW's First Aboriginal Police Sergeant (2023)

WThey areAlexander „Tracker“ RileyIn 1911, shortly after his 27th birthday, he joined the New South Wales Police Force in Dubbo. The Wiradjuri man's knowledge and instinct for finding lost and runaway people became the stuff of legend.

He could read the country fluently, using skills first taught to him at the age of eight by an aboriginal tribe in the Condobolin bushland. He could tell if a fugitive was running, walking, or tired by looking at footprints, broken sticks, bruised grass, and torn up ant trails. A colleague recalled that he knew “all the birds and all the animals” and their calls. As is well known, he always carried a bottle of milk with him in case he needed something to eat. the lost people he would often find successfully.

In one of his most famous cases, Riley tracked down murderer Albert "Mad Mossy" Moss, who claimed to have killed 13 people in 1939. While searching through the ashes beside a Narromine stream, he found the bones of a victim Moss he had murdered for a horse and cart. Riley testified in Moss's three-count murder trial. (Moss's death sentence was commuted to life in prison.)

Riley is the subject of a new dance theater production,tracker, which opens at the Sydney Festival before traveling to Perth and Adelaide. Choreographer and co-director of the show.daniel rileyhe is her great-grandnephew; he hopes the production of Tracker will celebrate Riley's life.

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"People won't know who Uncle Alec is, but after this show they will definitely know him and our ongoing cultural resilience," he says.

Tracker Riley performed an "incredible balancing act," says his great-grandnephew, as "a black man wearing a colonial uniform in service to a crown, asking him to use his cultural knowledge that the colonial project was trying to erase."

But days before opening night comes turbulence. The only actor on the show.Ari Mace long, who was to play both Tracker Riley and his great-grandnephew Archie (based on Daniel), is forced to drop out suddenly due to the unexpected death of his grandmother Vera Blankman, the Dutch-born widow of the late activist Meriam/Yidindji. Bob Maza, who was one of the founders that he wasNational Black Theater.

Maza Long and her mother,Raquel Maza, who is also co-director of Tracker and art director ofnew moonTheater Company, both have left the show to attend to shady business. (They are expected to return in time for the show to run at the Perth Festival.)

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Just days before the opening in Sydney, a new actor is being cast in a gender-blind rotation: actor and director.Abbie Lee Lewis, a woman from Kalkadoon who will play the two male roles in Sydney. During rehearsals, she walks around with her hair in a ponytail, learning her lines and marking her steps with yellow chalk on black linoleum. She picks up a blue jacket laden with stones as if she's cradling a baby.

"You were looking in the wrong place," he says, playing on his intonation. "Let him understand."

As he reads the lines, Lewis is only now learning about the tragic case of Desmond Clark, a two-and-a-half-year-old boy who went missing in the Pilliga bush in 1940. Tracker Riley had a theory: the moon was full the night Desmond disappeared, so he believed that the child had walked towards the light. But his racist grandfather refused to let Riley onto his property to help find the boy.

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A search party of 750 people was unable to find the boy. Months later, after the old man's death, Riley conducted her own search for him. She found the boy's bones within 12 hours in a chalk pit not far from the family's home. The original search party had gone in the wrong direction.

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Rachael Maza, speaking before saying goodbye to the show, noted that Riley was born just a century after Australia was colonized by Britain. "There were still massacres up the river," she says. "It was a war zone. So when she worked for the police, which was an instrument of colonization, there was a whole moral and ethical dilemma that she had to deal with."

Riley became a sergeant in 1941, the first Native American to reach the rank in NSW. Two years later, he received the King's Medal for Distinguished Services Police and Fire. But when he left the force in 1950, he was denied his police pension due to institutional and general racism, despite contributing to the fund. Inblack tracker, a 1997 television documentary directed by Riley's grandsonMiguel Riley, one of Riley's daughters, Ruby McGuiness, recalled: "Farewell dinner and a gold watch and that's what he got... when he retired, he and his mother [Riley's wife Ethel] got nothing more".

Ursula Yovich, who co-wrote the screenplay for Tracker with playwright Wiradjuriamy soleShe admits that she initially "struggled" with finding Riley's voice. "He was such a humble man and even though he didn't get a pension from the police, he didn't complain about it," she says. "I'm sure deep down he would have felt how unfair he was to him."

Alexander 'Tracker' Riley: The Remarkable Life of NSW's First Aboriginal Police Sergeant (2)

She spoke with the aunts in Riley's family before deciding to set the dialogue in "dreamy space, lofty language". As the sole actors, three dancers perform alongside Wiradjuri Songman.Gary Watling, who plays pedal steel guitar and creates loops live. Audiences will sit on three sides of a storytelling circle surrounded by drapes inspired by the movie Sgt Riley and His Country. The curtains were designed by the artist Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi.jonathan jonesand hand painted by Tubba-Gah artistsembudo merindain open weave mesh of shark tooth.

Riley was written about during her lifetime, often through a white filter. In 1950, after his retirement, she gave an illustrationInterviewin which he recalled that almost three decades ago he had tracked down and helped capture a fellow Wiradjuri, Roy Governor, from a notorious vagrant family for three months. Riley, noticing that the Governor wore sheepskin boots to cover his tracks, confronted the fugitive at his hideout.

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In the contrasting paths Riley and the governor have taken in response to colonization and oppression, Rachael Maza sees parallels in the debate among indigenous peoples over the voice of parliament. “Are you sitting at the table as a government adviser or are you standing outside and protesting?” he says.

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Daniel Riley says his great-great-uncle always had a strong sense of who he was. "A couple of the aunts said that when asked to track down the mob, he would often walk away [others] with a little, 'Go this way; I'm going to go that way, which I find funny,'" he says. "But he was also very committed to his work."

Years after his retirement, Tracker Riley continued to liveTalbragar-Aborigines-Reservedwith his wife Ethel, despite government attempts to force First Nations people to live in urban housing. The couple maintained a modest home with a garden of apple trees and vines. "It was pretty self-sufficient and they were happy because it was a simple life," says Daniel Riley.

Tracker Riley died in 1970. Twenty years earlier, after his retirement, he seemed magnanimous about how the police had treated him. "Now that I'm out of the force, I'll stick to the bushes," he said. "But if they want me to go back to any job, I'll help with any job except crime."

  • trackerruns January 10-14 at Carriageworks for Sydney Festival; at Studio Underground for the Perth Festival March 1-4; and at the Odeon Theater for the Adelaide Festival from March 10-18.

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