Tony’s Notes From The Bony Novels (Part 11)

Posted on Thu 04/14/2011 by


The Science of Tracking (Part Two)

In the earlier Post I mentioned the Science of Tracking in general, and here I will specifically discuss some of the places where Upfield went to great length to explain some of the finer points of something that ‘seems’ to be less of a Science than believed.

The aborigines were quite literal in the way that they understood things. As you might think, they would have known very little English, and those people investigating things at those times would not have even thought of even beginning to learn even one of those many Aboriginal languages, so sometimes, there was difficulty in the translation of what was actually being asked of them.

So, when Bony comes on the scene with an understanding of both sides, the Police, and the aborigines being used for the tracking purposes, he knew what to ask, how to couch what was being asked, and knew the methods that the aborigines would be using when they were asked to do a job of tracking.

In one case, Bony introduced something that the aborigines had no concept of, Plaster of Paris, with which he could take an impression of a footprint, and use this as part of his investigation.

This happened in the novel ‘Bony Buys A Woman’.

The aborigines had no concept of Plaster of Paris, and how a footprint that might mean something is then preserved. When one of the characters, Ole Fren Yorky’s footprints was preserved with the use of Plaster of Paris, Bony then uses this to make footprints of Yorky around the area, and then asks the aborigines if they are Yorky’s footprints. Without blinking, all the white men say that they certainly do look like Yorky’s tracks. The aborigines, however, are dumbfounded, not understanding about Plaster of Paris, and seeing the footprints of Yorky, and knowing him to actually be many miles away, they just cannot understand how his footprints appear at a place and time where he could not have been present, and this of itself provides Bony with a vital clue in his investigation.

In ‘Bony And The Mouse’, the trackers say that it looks like a certain person made the tracks, not comprehending the concept that someone else could be deliberately walking like that in those shoes, pretending to be that other person, and thus distracting the Police from the real killer.

In other books, and in quite a few places, Bony has to ask the trackers to look for tracks other than the specific tracks that they have originally been asked to look for, as they have tended to believe the question as originally couched, and not even bothering to notice other tracks that also might mean something. Bony explains this as not being a deliberate omission, as it is seemed to be by others, but just that they were not asked to look for these things, so they blocked them out and did not even mention them, even though they knew of their existence, but that because they were not asked specifically about them, then they were perceived as not being important.

On other occasions, when the trackers from that area have been missing for some reason or other, trackers have been brought in from elsewhere to do the tracking, and these black trackers might not be familiar with that area, so they see different things, or for that matter, don’t see different things. Bony has to be very patient to explain exactly what he wants to find, more often than not using their skills as a form of verifying backup for his own, having already found what he wants to find. The skill of tracking is one that Upfield explains in a matter of fact way, and in doing so, treats it not as a skill, but almost as something done from instinct.

Bony has the ability to guess the height and weight of the person he is tracking, and this is something that all the aboriginal trackers can do, so when mentioned here, this is actually not fiction, but known fact. Bony can also see numerous other things in the tracks also.

Some of these seem at this time to be a little far fetched, but as with some of the other things that Upfield himself was able to do, one example being the ability to tell the time by just looking at the stars in the night sky, it would only stand to reason that this Science of tracking can actually tell you these things.

There have also been a couple of cases in the novels where Bony has actually learned something new about the Science of tracking. One startling example is in the novel ‘Bony And The White Savage’, where Bony is being assisted by another, quite old, aborigine. This novel was written in 1961, so it would possibly stand to reason that Bony himself was quite old, being in the vicinity of sixty or so himself, although the age thing is never mentioned in any of the Bony novels.

Bony is with this old tracker who can read things from the tracks that Bony cannot. Understandably, Bony is a little sceptical, but upon looking back a few pages, I found that Bony had not told the man just who they were supposed to be tracking, and yet the man knew, just from looking at the tracks who he was tracking. Bony questioned him about this knowledge, and the old man told him it was a craft he learned from his father. He called this man ‘Kedic Feller’, meaning bad medicine, so it seems that this skill that he learned from his father and carried through the years was able to tell him who he was tracking at the time. It might just stand to reason that if this was a skill that he learned from his father, then it might also stand to reason that the father knew he was bad medicine even prior to the time that he started to commit his crimes. At the same time, the old man was able to tell Bony that his father was able to tell from looking at the tracks just what the person who made the tracks was thinking about. Again, this sounds a little far fetched, but not if you seriously think about it, and use some reasoning or even a little logic. If this is a skill that is passed from father to son, or even passed down from the tribal elders to the young initiates, then it is a skill that we have taken for granted, and is now lost forever.

That is why I mentioned the ability to tell time from the stars and put it in the same context as the skill of tracking. These days, we have no need of the skill of tracking. In this day and age, it is something we rarely, if at all, hear of. We have watches that we tell the time with, so we have no need to tell the time by looking at the stars, so this is a lost skill, and so far lost, that now, when we hear or read of someone who is able to do this, we treat it with disbelief, because we cannot understand how it can be done. The same goes for the skill of tracking. We have virtually no need of the skill for tracking in this day and age when virtually every piece of ground is covered, so there is very little, if any tracks that are left at the scene of most crimes. So there is not the need for trackers as there was in days not so long ago. Then this now becomes a lost skill, and, again, when we hear of people who can tell things from the tracks that they see, we also treat this with disbelief.

The Kurdaitcha Man

While I have mentioned this here, it is only in the context of tracking, as this was only a small part of aboriginal culture, something that has been given greater emphasis by other commentators, when in actual fact it was only a minor thing in Aboriginal Culture. It was mainly used at times when detection put the person in danger, and a similar analogy might be the art of Spying, and how that is only a minor part of current society.

It is the use of foot coverings to hide the tracks that might be left by normal footwear, or in the case of aborigines who wore nothing on their feet at any time, a method to leave no discernible tracks at all. The aborigines used this form of covering so that they could be tracked effectively. They used feathers that they then stuck to their feet having first dipped their feet in animals blood.

Bony, however can still follow these tracks, as he has the facilities, and the training of both cultures. He also uses this method of foot covering himself when he does not wish to be tracked, or when he does not want the local aborigines to know what he is up to. As well as the feathers and blood method, he also uses sheepskin boots with the sheep’s wool on the outside. Upfield mentions this method in most of the early books, but does not refer to it as the method used by the dreaded ‘Kurdaitcha Man’ until ‘Murder Must Wait’, the sixteenth novel in the Bony series. The aborigines never used sheepskin as a method of foot coverings for this disguise, as the sheep was an animal only introduced by the White settlers in the early years of the 1800’s.

In a few other places, Bony uses the ‘shoes’ of The Kurdaitcha Man to avoid detection. Conversely, this method could also be used by the alleged criminal, or persons covering up an alleged involvement.

If the trackers were not specifically asked to look for these tracks, and seriously, what white Police presence, even at that time, would conceive of such a thing, let alone to specifically ask that the tracker look for these forms of tracks. That being the case, then the aborigine would possibly see these tracks, if that person could discern of them as Kurdaitcha Man tracks, but would not mention them, and here there is possibly a further second reason that the aboriginal tracker would not mention them.

The first would be that he was not asked to look for Kurdaitcha tracks, and the second would further indicate that, upon locating these tracks, the tracker might then think that there might be some form of aboriginal involvement, and this he would not mention for fear of bringing white wrath down on not just the aborigine involved, but on the whole aboriginal people in the area, such was the fear of white wrath, knowing full well that when white wrath was involved, then the whole aboriginal population in that area was in peril. It was almost the normal thing for the white people to treat the aborigines badly, even on the false say so of one person, and because of that, nearly all aborigines were ‘tarred with the one brush’, so to speak. If one was bad, then all of them were bad, the case of one Law for the white people, and an entirely different Law for those who were not quite white.

Bony was sympathetic to this, and when he asked the aborigines to do the tracking, he asked the correct and most specific questions, got the required answers, and then dealt with that in his own way, knowing that he could differentiate between the different form of knowledge to be gained from the tracks.

So as you plainly see here, Tracking was indeed a Science, a very complicated and involved Science, and this is now something that has been totally lost, not only to white society, but lost also from Aboriginal culture.