A contemporary of Alex Riley, Frank Williams was a tracker who also received numerous accolades throughout his career. Williams was born in the country between Gundabooka and Toorale in the 1870s to Edward Williams and an Aboriginal woman named Fanny Hippi. He is associated with the Ngemba speaking peoples south of Bourke. After working as a labourer, he was appointed as the tracker at Dubbo on 1 March 1915, the first year of Riley’s temporary absence of the force. He transferred to Byrock the following year before resigning on 16 May 1919. He re-joined just over 12 months later and was stationed at Byrock until March 1938 when he took up the tracker’s job at Bourke. Another 12 years on the job followed before Williams retired in May 1950, two months before Alex Riley left the force.
Frank Williams told his daughter Grace that after his mother died when he about six years old, he “stopped with his grandmother”, who is known only as Maude. He said that they:
…used to lie on skins. They used to have like a humpie, built right down, real traditional. He said this ‘walkabout’ that they reckon they used to do, he said they usen’t to. The only time they moved around was when they changed their camps, and that was for cleanness. They would shift around and get fresh ground.
Maude, who had “up alongside her nose… a bone needle from a fish”, taught Frank about tracking. She knew how to “sew the possum skins and make little possum skin bags to carry water in”. Grace Williams said that:
Dad used to go about with her and she used to show him a lot. She showed him how to track, so he ended up being a good tracker.
A case which Williams received some press coverage at the time was the murder of Robert Whye (aka Bobbie Burns), a ten year old Aboriginal boy, on the banks of the Barwon River near Brewarrina Aboriginal Mission. The culprit was an older Aboriginal man from Brewarrina named Charlie McDonald and Williams was faced with the prospect of tracking his countryman. But his decision was made somewhat easier by the fact that he had strong familial ties to the victim.
In June 1906, Frank Williams married Caroline Parker (aka Caroline Whye) at Brewarrina. Caroline was the daughter of Sam Parker of Coopers Creek, South Australia, and Caroline Hilt of Brewarrina, a fluent speaker of the Wailwan dialect of Ngiyampaa. She passed her linguistic knowledge on to her daughter and both were significant informants about Ngiyampaa language and culture for R.H. Mathews. Caroline Hilt’s first marriage was to Alfred Whye, non-Indigenous, and her children to Cooper sometimes carried this surname.
The young victim, Robert Whye, was born at Warren in 1919 to George Whye and Jane Francis McIntrye. His maternal grandmother was Caroline Hilt, making Caroline Parker his aunt, and in cultural terms, his mother. Although Charlie McDonald was from Brewarrina, it is not clear how he is related to the other families from the district. In a broad sense, Frank Williams was not stepping outside the bounds of tradition is seeing that McDonald was captured and punished for the murder. Other prominent members of the Brewarrina Aboriginal community were prepared to give evidence against McDonald, including Christy Warraweena (a Ngiyampaa speaker) and John Wilson (a cousin of Frank Williams). Other witnesses were children who were probably playing with Whye when he disappeared. In an interesting twist from the Governor episode, one of the witnesses was Annie Coombes, the daughter of Jack Coombes of Wollar and Lottie Governor (Jimmy and Joe’s sister). Her parents were part of the Wollar community which was removed to Brewarrina Aboriginal Station. They married at Brewarrina in October 1900 while the chase was still on and Annie was born about 10 years later. The following year she married Tom Wellington who was also a witness against McDonald.
The pursuit itself was a difficult one. Rain soon after the murder obliterated most of the tracks, which at one stage led within less than a kilometre of Brewarrina Aboriginal Station. Although not mentioned in the press, Williams was assisted for some of the search by Alex Riley. But it was Williams alone who led the other police to a lonely shearer’s hut on Caringle Station where McDonald was arrested. Convicted of the murder at Dubbo, he was incarcerated in Goulburn Gaol where he passed away in 1928.
Family was an important part of Frank Williams’ life and he and Caroline had 12 children and many grandkids. Cecily Hampton recently recalled spending the weekends with her grandfather:
I used to go out with grandfather a lot, especially on weekends. On Sundays we’d got out and kill a kangaroo and always bring back the tail. We never brought anything else back, just the tail. Granny would make a big pot of kangaroo tail soup. Oh it was beautiful. I used to always follow grandfather around! He used to sit down out the back and we’d talk about all sorts of things. He would show me how to draw figures in the dirt, things like lizards and frogs, you name it, and he could draw it.
Williams was probably taught to track in a similar manner by his grandmother Maude. He was keen to pass the knowledge on: his son Sydney Williams also worked as a tracker. Frank Williams retired in 1950, having been promoted to the rank of Sergeant and given the King’s Medal in 1943.
Police Salary Register 1915 SRNSW 3/2995 Reel 1974. The family also believe that Williams was casually employed as a tracker at Mount Drysdale near Cobar before moving to Dubbo. The salary register does not record
Cowlishaw 2006: 10.
This information is significant given that there are no known examples of Aboriginal women working for NSW Police. It clearly demonstrates that Aboriginal women, not surprisingly, had the skills to track people in the bush.
Cowlishaw 2006: 11.
MC of Francis Williams and Caroline Parker 1906/006754.
R.H. Mathews Papers NLA MS 8006. Series 3. Folder 7. Notebook 7b Untitled:114.
See DC of Caroline Parker 1917/003971.
Tindale Brewarrina Genealogy, 1938; MC of Thomas Wellington and Annie Coombes 1927/009958; DC of Robert Whye 1926/001079.
Sydney Morning Herald 1 January 1926: 5; New South Wales Police Gazette 6 January 1926: 9; Sydney Morning Herald 8 January 1926: 11; Tracker Riley file, Macquarie Regional Library, Dubbo.
Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), Monday 19 April 1937, page 4
Mr. J. G. McDonald
THE death of Mr. James Gillis McDonald (66), of Perry street. Mudgee, occurred on Friday night. The late Mr. McDonald, who had been a tracker in the police department for 40 years, passed away in his sleep. Born at Cobbora, he had lived in the Mudgee, Wollar, and Rylstone districts all his life.
McDONALD ( nee Cubbins )— On the 7th August, suddenly, Catherine ( Kate, relict of James Gillies McDonald, of 459 Drummond street, Carlton, ( Victoria ) beloved mother of Norman, Elsie, and Kathleen, aged 48 years.
Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), Monday 14 July 1902, page 2
An Object of Suspicion.
A Mudgee Visitor’s Experience
On Friday the Mudgee police received word that a burglary had been committed near Wellington, and a description of the bold bad men was sent here by wireless telegraphy or some other up-to-date means.
The local suppressors of crime and bad language were soon all alert, and on Friday evening Constable Tully and James Gillies McDonald, the well known tracker, had their cunning constabulary optics on a couple of strangers who had driven over from Wellington that day and were stopping at a local hotel.
The rules and regulation provide that a constable shall always act with caution, and therefore Constable Tully did not rush affairs but engaged a room at the hotel and, presumably, sat up all night with one eye on the back door and the other on the front.
The name of the unconscious object of constabulary cunning was Mr. W. V. Bradley, the representative of the Two Bays Nursery Co., Melbourne.
After consuming a very gratifying breakfast he strolled outside his hotel, and was accosted by a man who was a stranger to him, and asked him some tricky little questions as to who he was, where he came from, and where he contemplated going to. Mr. Bradley stated that he was going to the post office, and the stranger at once revealed his official identity, and intimated that the requirements of justice necessitated that the visitor should be searched, for he was suspected of being mixed up in a burglary near Wellington.
Mr. Bradley said he had not the least objection to being searched, and informed the constable that his Gladstone bag was upstairs and contained the usual assortment of clothes soiled and otherwise, and that he had £60 in notes in his pocket, and a fully loaded revolver, which he playfully introduced to the notice of the guardian of the peace.
Constable Tully carefully examined the socks, bicycling knickers, etc., and then sadly abandoned the case as far as Mr. Bradley was concerned. So far as we have heard the genuine desperado has not yet been arrested, but the police are keeping a very wide eye open.
Hi, My name is Jule and I am the great granddaughter of Jimmy McDonald. He was a tracker for the police and I am trying to find information on him.
I know he married Harriot Cooper. I do remember her but I would like to know where is is buried. Thank you I really enjoyed reading your site too. Jules.
I also think he had a police funeral – Jule.
Yes Jule. His family have also seen a photo of him in a NSW Police publication. they are finding out more information – editor.
Mickel Cowie answers: I don’t know anything about Tracker but have noticed that his name has been mentioned in a judgement re Warrabinga-Waradjurie that is accessable via Google using that as the search . Jules could read the judgement and contact the people who have made the claim. Mickel
My name is Edwin McKenzie and I am the grandson of Jimmy “Tracker” McDonald and Harriet Cooper. I’m 65 now, living in Cairns and moving to Brisbane at the end of June – I would love to find out as much as I can about my family and descendents before I die. i would appreciate any information or leads you can give me. Edwin McKenzie
Jimmy McDonald is also my Great Grand Father, my Grandmother (His daughter) Alice Valerie Honeysett (nee McDonald). Jimmy is buried in Mudgee Cemetery in the Salvation Army section. There is still family in the area. The direct Children of Jimmy & Harriet McDonald are: Jimmy, Edie, Doobie, Davey, Jeanie, Donnie, Gertie, Valerie, Dawn, Malcolm McDonald 80 still living in Toronto. I have a photo of them all together which I would be happy to share if you wish. Who are your parents, we must be cousins? Regards, Marina Honeysett
Answering Jules re Jimmy McDonald – he is buried in the Salvation Army section of Mudgee cemetery Row B Plot 50. (unmarked still I think) He lived at 13 Perry St where the RTA now stands and was the last tracker at Wollar between about 1906 to 1919 living there in the trackers hut, then at Rylstone. his obituary. – Anonymous
20/4/1937(mon) Death – Mr J G McDonald – The death occurred of Mr James Gillis McDonald (66) of Perry St. Mudgee occurred on Friday night. The late Mr McDonald who had been a tracker in the police dept. for 40 years, passed away in his sleep. Born at Cobbora he had lived in the Mudgee, Wollar and Rylstone districts all his life. In his younger days he was a noted athlete, boxer, and swimmer and had won the famous Botany foot-running handicap. A well respected citizen, his passing will be mourned by many. A widow & eleven children survive. Funeral took place Salvation Army section Mudgee cem. Among those at the funeral were members of the local police force, who also acted as pall bearers.
Dear Diane, thanks for your email and yes I do have that information. James is buried in the Salvation Army section of the Mudgee cemetery and he has a plaque which was put there by his daughter Valerie . It is available on the mudgee cemetery website.
Please pass on email address to Jule , I too am a great grand daughter of Jim McDonald. His son James Henry Crawford McDonald is my grandfather Tanya Scrivener
My name is Edwin McKenzie and I am the grandson of Jimmy “Tracker” McDonald and Harriet Cooper. I’m 65 now, living in Cairns and moving to Brisbane at the end of June – I would love to find out as much as I can about my family and decendents before I die. i would appreciate any information or leads you can give me.
Thank you for your great site . Thanks to you I have found more relatives and some I didn’t know I had And I plan to catch up with all of them Congrats on a great site Jule
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True story of Jimmy Governor by Moore & Williams Children of James & Harriet McDonald were as follows Edith – James – Gertie – Hubert – Alice – Davi- Sylvia – Eugene and Donald (twins) – Dawn – Malcolm. Also two who may have died young.
Around the Black Stump. James Gillis McDonald A well known bush tracker, was born at Laheys Creek 26-1-1872. His mother being Eliza McNabb, and his father Thomas McDonald, who was employed by James Falconer as a shepherd. After his wife’s death Thomas McDonald went to Queensland, leaving his young son James with the Falconers. He was reared by the Falconers growing up with their children Mark & Mary.
The Lady Bushranger. Page 70. Sergeant Buckley of Rylstone , his reputation began the day he arrived, for he had brought his milking cow with him. During the trip the cow produced twin calves, one of which he gave to his tracker Jimmy McDonald, who owned a rogue cow. Jimmys cow was the terror of the town and was nothing short of a blooming menace , always breaking into everyone’s garden. Yet she fulfilled a much needed role by providing milk for Jimmys extensive brood. Although Jimmy was a full blood Aborigine his wife was not, and their twelve happy children came in varied colours.Jim could see the humour when he chuckled, with my kiddies , it’s never any use killing a fowl, it would have to be a centipede because everyone begs for a leg.
NSW Aboriginal Trackers James McDonald was the tracker at Wollarah when the Governor brother were on the run. He lived in a four room hut in the police paddock. James knew Jimmy and didn’t shoot him when he had the chance.
Interview with Malcolm McDonald 2012. Jimmy once fired a warning shot at James which struck his saddle, the children later played with saddle when growing up.
Aboriginal Trackers 1893. Coolah.
Aboriginal Trackers 1894 – 1901. Mudgee Jimmy Mack and others
Aboriginal Trackers 1898 – 1899 Tambar Springs Jimmy Mack and others
Wages for black trackers varied from four to seven pounds a month
Mudgee Guardian & North Western Representative 11-11-1918 Police tracker James McDonald stationed at Wollar, who has been doing police duty at Gulgong. Whilst sweeping the yard at the police station here a few days since,picked up a nice nugget of gold , weighing ?? wts
Mudgee Guardian & North Western Representative 1-7-1920. Police tracker McDonald, for many years stationed at Wollarah, who recently retired from the service , has it will be learnt with satisfaction rejoined it. Tracker McDonald will resume duty on July 10th. He will be stationed at Rylstone, which will henceforth be the tracker station and depot for the Mudgee Police District.
Mudgee Guardian & North Western Representative 19-4-1937 Death of Mr J McDonald (66) of Perry Street Mudgee occurred on Friday night. The late Mr McDonald who had been a tracker in the police Dept. for 40 years passed away in his sleep. Born at Cobbora, he lived in the Mudgee, Wollarah & Rylstone district all his life. In his young days he was a noted athlete, Boxer, swimmer and he won the famous Botany foot running handicap. A well respected citizen, his passing will be mourned by many. A widow & 11 children survive. Funeral Salvation Army section of Mudgee cemetery. Many at the funeral were members of the local police force, who acted as pall bearers.
James parents Thomas & Eliza McNabb ?????
Notes from Mr Roy Cameron. Historian of Coolah
DEATH 11485/1937 Mudgee Guardian & North Western Representative 11-11-1918 Mudgee Guardian & North Western Representative 1-7-1920- Mudgee Guardian Newspaper 19-4-1937. Page 4. The Lady Bushranger , page 70-71. by Pat Studdy-Clift. NSW Aboriginal Trackers Pathfinders saw.org.au/… List of Black Trackers Coolah & other areas by Roy Cameron Around the Black Stump, page 330. by Roy Cameron
Walter Williams, a Bundjalung man, was born at Bonalbo in the 1890s to Lansbury Williams, a renowned stockman and tracker, and Emily Charles. Lansbury Williams probably spoke the Gidhabal dialect of Bundjalung. Walter was also the great-grandson of King Bobby and Queen Jinny Little who both had strong ties to Yulgilbar Station on the Clarence River. Before taking the job as the tracker at Casino in about 1919, he worked as a bush labourer and horse breaker. On one occasion, he drove 200 horses to Tabulam before breaking them all. He was a master horseman.
Walter took over as the Casino tracker from his father-in-law Denny Joseph. He continued to break horses for the police. His other main jobs as the tracker were to look for people lost in the bush and trailing herds of lost or stolen cattle. His tracking career was sadly cut short in 1930 when he suddenly passed away suffering from pneumonia, a condition he had first suffered from in 1919. He was survived by his wife, Violet Joseph, and four children.
Bundjalung News 01/11/1977; Death Certificate of Walter Williams 1930/005249; Casino and Kyogle Courier and North Coast Advertiser 26 February 1919:
Casino and Kyogle Courier and North Coast Advertiser (NSW : 1904 – 1932), Wednesday 5 March 1930, page 2
CASINO BLACK TRACKER DIES.
The black-tracker, Walter Williams, who was attached to the Casino Police station, and who had been ill for the past few weeks, died on Sunday, after a severe bout of pneumonia and pleurisy. The deceased was 38 years of age, and besides his wife and family, leaves other relatives in the Tabulam district. . ” Walter Williams was a loyal and conscientious worker. ” said Sergeant S. L. McIntosh, when referring to Tracker Williams‘ death. ” He was with the police for 12 years, ” he added, ” and was most loyal in his work. ”
Clive Andrew Williams (1915?-1980), Aboriginal leader, was born probably on 22 February 1915 at Casino, New South Wales, second of five children of Walter Williams, an Aboriginal tracker, and his wife Violet, née Joseph, from Queensland. Clive attended the public school and was one of few Aborigines accepted at Casino Intermediate High School. At the age of 15 he began work on the railways at Coonabarabran. He returned to Casino where he was employed in the butter factory. While still a young man, Williams planned to travel to Bellbrook on the Macleay River to participate in an initiation ceremony. He found, to his disappointment, that the ceremonies had recently been discontinued, as they had among his own Bundjalung people on the Richmond and Clarence rivers.
At St John’s Presbyterian Church, Coraki, on 26 April 1941 Williams married Ida Drew, who had been taken from her parents by the Aborigines Protection Board. He built a rough dwelling and continued to work in the Casino butter factory. The family then lived for a time on the Aboriginal reserve, but in 1962 moved to a cottage in the town. In the mid-1960s Williams accepted accommodation at Tranby Co-operative College for Aborigines at Glebe, Sydney, where his work with Rev. Alfred Clint and the Co-operative for Aborigines Ltd was highly regarded. He gained employment with the Department of Main Roads and brought his growing family to their new home at Rozelle.
Having joined the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship, Williams attended the annual conferences of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. Before the 1967 referendum, he helped in the successful campaign for the removal of the two offensive clauses in the Constitution relating to Aborigines. A member of the executive committee of the Aboriginal Education Council, he was involved with the early leadership training schools and other community development programmes. His wise counsel was appreciated.
In the 1960s the Commonwealth government was promoting the doctrine of ‘assimilation’, while Aboriginal organizations, especially F.C.A.A.T.S.I., wanted increased recognition of Aboriginal identity. Caught between two worlds, Williams was fiercely proud of his Aboriginal heritage but remained gentle and non-aggressive. In 1967 he took the leading role in a film, One Man’s Road, produced by the Commonwealth Film Unit for the Department of Interior; in it he and Ida told of their life and struggles. He was dismayed to discover that the Department of Territories used the film as propaganda to promote assimilation.
Williams and his family returned to the North Coast where he quickly became involved with the community. He was a leader among a group of Aboriginal elders who worked with the administrators of the Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education towards the recognition of the interests of the Bundjalung and other Aboriginal communities in the area. Suffering from hypertension, Clive Williams died of myocardial infarction on 1 December 1980 at his Lismore home and was buried in Goonellabah cemetery. His wife, and their three sons and six daughters survived him.