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Aboriginal activist Kwementyaye Leigh Bruce Tilmouth, also known as Tracker Tilmouth (1954-2015), was in residential and foster care as a child.

Tracker Tilmouth was an Eastern Arrente man, a member of the Stolen Generations and the sixth in a family of eighr children, all of whom were removed from their father, Roy, after their mother Betty died. The older children went into institutional care in Adelaide while four-year-old Tracker and his younger brothers, William and Patrick, were sent from Alice Springs first to the Retta Dixon Home in Darwin and after six months to Croker Island off the coast of the Northern Territory. The Croker Island Mission was established in 1941 by the Methodist Overseas Mission.

The process for Aboriginal children who had been taken to Croker Island was that you were stuck in dormitories or cottages with a cottage mother, and there were twelve boys in our cottage (Tilmouth in Wright, 29).

So that he could attend high school in Darwin, Tracker was sent to Essington House, a government-run house usually for teenage boys waiting for other placements or to appear before the Children’s Court. Tracker was at Essington House for two years before he was shifted briefly to a reformatory and then to Carpentaria College for about eighteen months. He was also in and out of foster homes, ending up with Geraldine and Alfie Liddle who took him to Angas Downs, an Aboriginal Australian owned area 300 km south-west of Alice Springs. He lived at Angas Downs for between four and five years.

My mob showed me where my country was, right through to Aileron and Ti Tree, Adelaide Bore and Alcoota, Wake River and Bushy Park, and then Harts Range mob who are my cousins. We used to go gem fossicking at Harts Range, where we had a project to sell gems to Hong Kong, which paid for our Toyota and the wages and everything (Tilmouth in Wright, 89).

In 1978, Tracker Tilmouth began working with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Alice Springs. He was later seconded to the Aboriginal Development Commission as a project officer.

During the late 1980s, Tilmouth went to Adelaide to attend the Roseworthy Agricultural College (since 1991 a part of the University of Adelaide) and attained his Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree.

He then began working as Deputy Director for the Central Land Council (CLC)—later serving as Director—an organisation established to support Aboriginal Australians who run cattle stations.

One of the first things Tracker did was set up the Tanami Steer Committee with people…from the government to be brought in through the employment agency departments, the mining company and the Land Council. It was also a big thing for Tracker to get politicians from Canberra… (Barnes in Wright, 471).

Tilmouth was a long-term member of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and in 1998, he was asked by Gary Gray, then National Secretary of the ALP, to stand as a Senate candidate. In the end, he withdrew. Some say it was because he was attacked and undermined by members of the party, others because he thought the ALP in the Northern Territory was a “strange beast” fond of tokenism (Maddison, 669).

Tracker is the subject of a collective biography by award winning writer Alexis Wright, and Tracker decided who should contribute to the work. Wright’s method of storytelling follows “an Aboriginal tradition of storytelling practice… giving many voices a part in the story” (Whitebeach, 80) which allows, says former colleague of Tracker, Paul Burke, for the reader to “construct their own biography” (117) of the man.

On 12 March 2015 at a state funeral in Darwin, Kwementyaye Tilmouth was honoured by hundreds of people as a leader of his community.

Tracker’s legacy is in this archive, his filing cabinet, the minds of other people. The road maps or blueprints of the vision splendid, el grande plano, are spread among people of all walks of life around the country – the politicians and political thinkers, economists, resource and land developers, media representatives, Aboriginal communities and their leaders, and the everyday people who were Tracker’s mates (Wright, 11).


Burke, Paul. A Wake for Tracker, larrikin Aboriginal leader: a personal response to Alexis Wright’s ‘Tracker’: Stories of Tracker Tilmouth, Australian Journal of Biography and History, vol. 2 (2019):117-134.

“Croker Island Mission (1940-1968).” Find & Connect, 2020.

“Essington House (1963-1974).” Find & Connect, 2021.

Maddison, Sarah. “White Parliament, Black Politics: The Dilemmas of Indigenous Parliamentary Representation.” Australian Journal of Political Science, vol. 45, no.4 (2010):663-580.

“Northern Territory Indigenous activist Leigh Bruce ‘Tracker’ Tilmouth dies at 62.” ABC News, 1 March 2015.

Purtill, James. “Tracker Tilmouth farewelled at state funeral in Darwin as mourners remember ‘success story’ despite Stolen Generation.” ABC News, 13 March 2015.

“Retta Dixon Home (1946-1982).” Find & Connect, 2011.

Tilmouth, Tracker & Mitchell, Paul. “From head stockman to owner: supporting Aboriginal cattle stations in Central Australian.” Indigenous law bulletin, vol. 4, no. 14 (1998):4-8.

Whitebeach, Terry Anne. “Tracker: Stories of Tracker Tilmouth.” Northern Territory Historical Studies, vol. 30 (2019):80-81.

Wright, Alex. Tracker. Artarmon, NSW: Giramondo Press, 2017.

Image available here.