Indigenous tracker Corporal Sam Johnson to be honoured at Police Remembrance Day in Longreach in central-west Queensland

Updated September 28, 2015 16:07:29

An Indigenous man who worked for more than two decades as a police tracker in western Queensland will be honoured in a National Police Remembrance Day ceremony on Tuesday.

Corporal Sam Johnson, a member of the Bidjara people born in Charleville around 1877, served for 23 years as a tracker.

He died at Longreach from influenza in 1919, and the Friends of the Queensland Police Museum (FQPM) said his resting place in the Longreach Cemetery deserved the dignity of a headstone.

A lot of the trackers came and went, but Sam seemed to be quite comfortable working in the European environment.

Bob Burns, Friends of Queensland Police Museum

A headstone and a plaque acknowledging his service and contribution to Queensland will now be officially unveiled.

President of the FQPM Bob Burns said Corporal Johnson was a highly respected horseman and tracker with a quiet and sincere disposition and a willingness to work.

“Sam had a good grasp of spoken English; he was a significant person in the area of central-western Queensland, and around Roma and Longreach,” he said.

“A lot of the trackers came and went, but Sam seemed to be quite comfortable working in the European environment, and he was also able to sign his name as well.”

Mr Burns said Corporal Johnson featured strongly in the story of Queensland bushranger brothers Patrick and James Kenniff.

He said Corporal Johnson was the sole survivor of a police clash with the Kenniff brothers.

In 1902, Constable George Doyle from the Upper Warrego Police Station and Carnarvon Station manager Albert Dalke were murdered at Lethbridge’s Pocket, in Queensland’s Carnarvon region.

“There was a warrant for the arrest of the Kenniffs on horse stealing – Constable Doyle took Sam as his tracker, and the station manager decided to go with them,” he said.

“Only one of the brothers was captured originally, and Sam was sent to get the handcuffs, and while he was doing that, he heard a number of shots being fired.

“When he rode back, the two Kenniff brothers were riding towards him and he decided the best thing he could do was to ride off and get some help.

“Later that day, the help party discovered that Constable Doyle and Albert Dalke had been murdered.”

Mr Burns said the brothers were captured some months later and tried in Brisbane.

Patrick Kenniff was hung for the murder and James got life imprisonment, although he was later released.

Mr Burns said after the murder investigation and the trial, Corporal Johnson asked to be shifted from Roma because he felt unsafe.

“The police superiors agreed, and moved him and his wife Limerick to Longreach, where he served out the rest of his service,” he said.

“[Corporal Johnson] appears in a number of memoirs of retired police who served about that time and was held in very high regard.”

The FQPM said a request to acknowledge Corporal Johnson’s role and resting place had come from Roma-based historian Peter Keegan.

“The scene of the murder at Lethbridge Pocket has been marked with a plaque, and in the middle of all this Corporal Sam Johnson was buried in Longreach and didn’t have a headstone,” Mr Burns said.

“To just round off the whole story and to put some dignity for Sam Johnson, the Friends of the Museum decided to seek some assistance and the Queensland Police Union and the Queensland Police Service have assisted us to do this.”

The plaque is being dedicated at 9:00am on Tuesday at the Longreach Cemetery, ahead of a service for Police Remembrance Day in the memorial garden at the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame.

Topics: indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, people, police, rural, longreach-4730, roma-4455

First posted September 28, 2015 10:05:10

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