Anyone living in South Australia in the 1950s and onwards will probably be aware of stories of the remarkable aboriginal man, Jimmy James and his incredible work as a tracker. Over a period of more than 30 years, his amazing abilities to read the bush helped in the capture of 40 criminals and the rescue of 10 people lost in the bush. In a fitting tribute you can now visit a memorial known as ‘A special Place for Jimmy James’, on the banks of the Murray River at Berri and learn more about this remarkable man.
Jimmy was born in central Australia on Pitjantjatjara land but his birth was never officially recorded so it has been estimated to have been somewhere between 1910 and 1925. It was in this community that he learnt how to recognize animal tracks, the directions they were moving and where rocks and grass were displaced. Later he moved to the Riverland area of South Australia and his skills were officially used for the first time in 1948. Over the years his unique tracking abilities were used by the police in South Australia and other states in capturing escapees, murderers, arsonists, poachers and lost persons.
He was a quiet and humble man with a sense of humour and was a much respected elder and community leader, teaching traditional stories and bush craft to aboriginal children. His abilities were so incredible that police he worked with said he could even tell the mood of the person he was tracking, by signs of the way they walked through the bush. He was named the inaugural South Australian Aborigine of the Year in 1983 and in 1984 he received the Medal of the Order of Australia for his outstanding service.
His most prized possession though was a medal given to him by the parents of an abducted child who he and another tracker by the name of Daniel Moodoo helped to locate after a 20 kilometre trek through thick scrubland in the Adelaide Hills in 1966. He found the girl in three hours, after more than 150 police and volunteers had been looking for her for three days. He wore that medal until the day he died. He was a husband and father of four children, all of whom died before he passed away on the 27th of October 1991. He was given a service with a police honour guard and was buried with his family in the Gerard Reserve Cemetery in the Riverland.
The very fitting tribute to this legendary man can be found on the riverfront walk in Berri, surrounded by bush and looking over the Murray River. South Australian artist Silvio Apponyi created the sculpture pieces which were designed by Stephen Fox and Bluey Roberts, a nephew of Jimmy’s. The different elements of the sculptures are a tribute to Jimmy’s talent, in that it takes a while to realise that there are subtle prints in the rocks around the memorial site. The more you look the more you notice things like a footprint or handprint here, tyre tracks and animal prints there.
The main part of the memorial is a large granite boulder that has been carved with aboriginal designs relating to Jimmy’s life and where he lived. In one corner there is a bronze image of him in a typical kneeling stance that he would adopt when he was searching for signs of disturbance in the bush.