Motions: National Police Remembrance Day

Wednesday September 25, 2019

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (12:10): I rise to make a few brief comments on National Police Remembrance Day, of course being commemorated on 29 September each year. I would like to give thanks to every current and former serving South Australian police officer in what is often a very tough role. Police in regional areas often work alone in difficult situations, and I believe that we need to do everything we can to support our police and keep their workplaces as safe as possible. They also make strong connections into local communities, and I believe that one of the best things we can do is to raise community understanding and forge connections with our local police.

I would like to make mention of Superintendent Phil Hoff and Sergeant Andrew Stott, Manager of the Crime Prevention Section, and all the men and women who work within the Limestone Coast Local Service Area. It takes a considerable skill set to be a regional police officer. Often you go into a community you are unfamiliar with and it takes time to integrate and to learn the ways of the locals while still performing your job as an officer.

Many solo police officers become multiskilled: both keepers of the peace and community leaders. Sergeant Stott has done a lot of work recently on recognising the contribution that local Aboriginal trackers played in South Australia's policing history. Since 1838, SA Police have worked with 64 Aboriginal trackers across all the regions of South Australia. Long before forensics and DNA technology came into play, Indigenous Australians with their ability to read the land were called in to help police. They were able to see things virtually invisible to their police colleagues, following a trail because of foliage or grass near the scene of the crime because of how it might have been broken in a particular way.

At this year's Foundation Day, SA Police honoured the wider work of Aboriginal trackers and police aids, who were later renamed community constables. There are two Limestone Coast trackers I would like to mention, Alf Ryan and Lanky Kana. Alf Ryan was a tracker from Port Augusta who came to the Mount Gambier Police Station in 1919. He was known for his tremendous ability to solve a case quickly and efficiently. In 1928, he was responsible for tracking down two prison inmates who escaped from Adelaide's Yatala Labour Prison—they actually escaped twice—and were found in Mount Gambier. He was also called in for one of the state's biggest and most intensive searches for a missing child, a little girl called Elaine Long, at Bordertown. Four days after she went missing, Alf headed a team of trackers to locate her through eight miles of bushland and return her to her family.

For many years, Indigenous trackers faced plenty of discrimination in their day-to-day work. Although they often did the same work as regular police officers, they were not officially sworn in, so they did not have the same authority. Although they were often responsible for solving crimes, they were rarely given recognition in newspaper reports and were referred to as 'trackers', not even by their own names. Trackers were also paid less than regular police officers, at around £25 per year in the early 1900s.

As was the custom at the time, Indigenous people were buried in unmarked gravesites. Tracker Ryan died in 1966 and was buried in an unmarked gravesite in the Penola South Cemetery. In recent years, there has been a push to recognise the services of the state's Indigenous trackers by the South Australia Police Historical Society. In 2004, on Police Foundation Day, a plaque commemorating his service was unveiled at his gravesite at the Penola Cemetery, with relatives travelling from Port Augusta to witness the ceremony.

Lanky Kana was a Boandik man who was a legend in the region for his skills at tracking. He would be brought in to help locate stolen cattle and missing criminals and to uncover clues missed by police. He also looked after the police horses and used to walk them to a well at Beachport to water them. When Lanky died in 1904, he was buried at the back of the Beachport Cemetery in the so-called 'disadvantaged section' right away from the other graves, as was the custom at the time.

Thanks to the work of Robyn Campbell from the South East Aboriginal Focus Group, who has family ties to Lanky, the grave has been restored and a memorial garden put in place. This year, the final resting place of Lanky was officially recognised with a plaque placed at his grave at the Beachport Cemetery by SAPOL as part of their NAIDOC Week. Sergeant Andy Stott was there to see the plaque unveiled, as was the Commissioner of Police, Grant Stevens.

The arrival of police dogs in the 1970s ended the official role of many Indigenous trackers, although they were still called in for major cases. It was only five years ago, in 2014, that Australia's last police tracker retired from service, ending a 200-year-old tradition. I commend the incredible service of Alf and Lanky today as I commend every former and currently serving South Australian police officer.