Syd Bruce Shortjoe
Original acrylic painting on canvas 61 by 91cm #32-16
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This painting tells the story of my mother's uncle (my great grandfather). His name was Henry Keppel. He was a black tracker for the police. In those days if people had fights with spears then news spread throughout the clans, and eventually large communities like Aurukun and Coen would know all about it. Then they would get black trackers to find them. The trackers knew all the languages including English and speaking with passing clans would help in tracking the offender.
Henry worked as a tracker for many years. He was never paid, but was instead given tobacco, flour, sugar and corned beef. He never killed anyone, but tracked people who were then sent to Palm Island. In the painting, Henry is in the right corner. The chained natives are waving goodbye to their country.
I like to tell stories to my people to keep the stories alive. I learned much from Henry when I was a small child. He had a very hard life and was caught between the old ways and the new changes brought by the Europeans. This is my way of remembering my great grandfather and the many hard challenges of his life. Today we have many challenges as a people too. But these are not as extreme as in Henry's time.