The first recorded appearance of Aboriginal trackers in Australia was in 1835 at Freemantle in West Australia. Thirteen years later, in 1848, the Governor of the Colony fostered the formation of a Native Police Force to violently control members of their own community. In about 1863, the New South Wales Police began to employ Aboriginal men as trackers.
This practice continued until 1973 particularly at stations including Dubbo, Coonamble, Walgett and Redfern. It has been estimated that about 1,000 Aboriginal trackers have been employed in New South Wales. These men were exceptionally skilled in hunting, gathering and tracking. They were significant in helping to solve a lot of cases, arrest notorious bushrangers and to locate people lost in the bush. Most appointments were made on a regional basis. This included the larger towns as their headquarters with visits to the smaller adjoining villages when required.
Aboriginal trackers were placed at the Mudgee Police Station for almost a century. In addition to Mudgee and its district they generally attended to duty as far away as Coolah, Leadville, Cobbora, Cassilis, Denison Town, Wollar and Rylstone. All of the trackers were known only by their first names. A prominent tracker who was stationed for a long time at Mudgee and served at adjoining police stations was James Gillis McDonald, known to all as "Jimmie."
He was born at Lathey Creek, north of Gulgong in 1872. His mother was Eliza McNabb, and his father Thomas McDonald who was the employed by farmer James Falconer as a shepherd. When Mrs MacDonald died Thomas MacDonald went to Queensland leaving Jimmie McDonald with the Falconers. Jimmie grew up with the Falconer family, including with their children Mark and Mary.
As a youth Jimmie went to Sydney droving sheep. On one of his trips to the City he stayed there for some time and competed in boxing, swimming and running with such success he won the famous Botany Handicap which was the forerunner of the later Stalwell Gift.
When Jimmie was 19 years of age he returned to the Falconer property and later joined the NSW Police Force as a tracker at Mudgee with stints at the satellite centres already mentioned. Trackers continued to be employed at the Mudgee police station until the middle decades of the 20th.century. These later trackers included Darcy Peckham, Robert Henry Robertson and Raymond Perry.
Jimmie was engaged in the assistance of capturing the lady bushranger, Elizabeth jessie Hickman. When Jimmie's sergeant was temporarily transferred from Mudgee to Rylstone he took his milking cow. At Rylstone the cow produced two calves, one of which he gave to Jimmie. This calf was a rogue and it became the terror of the town. It was always breaking into gardens. Yet, the cow served the much needed role by providing milk for Jimmies extensive breed. Although Jimmie was a full blooded Aboriginal, his wife was not. He often chuckled about his children. It was never any use killing a fowl. It would have to be a centipede because every one of the children begged for a leg.
During the 1900 chase for the capture of the Breelong murderers, Jimmie and Joe Governor, Jimmie McDonald was a relief tracker at Wollar. He came across the fugitives and fired at both and missed. Jimmy. Governor returned the fire but bullet only struck the saddle of Jimmie's horse.
Jimmie passed away in April,1937, aged 66 years. He had been a tracker in the Police Department for 40 years. He was a well respect citizen of the Mudgee district citizen leaving a widow and eleven children to survive. His interment was carried out in t he Salvation Army portion of the Mudgee Cemetery. Members of the Police Force acted as pall-bearers.
Further reading: Roy Cameron, 1953, "Around the Black Stump"; Moore and Williams, "The True Story of Jimmy Governor." 2001.