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Fraser, Snowy (1891–1953)

by Ysola Best

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Snowy Fraser (1891?-1953), Aboriginal tracker, was born probably in 1891 at Llanrheidol station, Winton, Queensland; his father was Willie Fraser, stockman, and his mother's name has variously been given as Minnie or Lizzie. Early in his career Snowy was attached as a tracker to Kynuna station, near the Diamantina River, north-west of Winton. It is possible that he was the 'Tommy' Fraser who, on 1 January 1915, signed (with his mark) an agreement to work with the Diamantina Lakes police station, in the vicinity of Snowy's birthplace. The duty statement required that he serve as a 'Native Tracker', make himself generally useful and obey all reasonable commands for three years. In return he received a wage, accommodation, some clothing and other benefits.

A noted horse-rider, Snowy Fraser competed in provincial races and had at least one major win to his credit. In 1922 a memorandum from the police commissioner advised his staff that the chief protector of Aborigines was opposed to Aboriginal trackers engaging 'in professional sport of any kind'. Participation in sporting gatherings, he argued, brought trackers into contact with the 'wrong class of people' and prize-money unsettled them 'in their regular avocations'. In the 1920s Fraser spent nine years as a tracker, based at Townsville. After an application to the chief protector of Aborigines had been approved, on 1 June 1927 at St Andrew's Anglican Church, Longreach, he married a housemaid, Nellie West, daughter of an Aboriginal stockman. She had a daughter, Rachel, born in Brisbane in 1922; Snowy's son, Archie, was born at St George in 1928.

On 1 November 1940 Fraser travelled from Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement to take a post with the Police Department as a tracker attached to Oxley station. Described as approximately 50 to 55 years of age, of slight build, about 9½ stone (60 kg) in weight, single, and a fair horseman, he became widely recognized for his exploits. He once amazed Oxley troopers by tracking a safe-blower along a bitumen roadway and leading police to 'his cache of loot under a railway bridge'. At this time trackers were paid between £8 and £10 per month, plus keep. On 1 April 1943 he was promoted to corporal and qualified for an additional five shillings a week. About 1945 he was presented with a radio by the local police inspector as a retirement gift, but was apparently allowed to remain attached to the force and continued to lead periodic searches for missing persons. While visiting Cherbourg, Fraser died of pneumonia on 10 May 1953 and was buried in the local cemetery with Baptist forms. His son survived him. A brief obituary in the Australian Evangel referred to Snowy as a well-known identity; among those who attended his 'very big funeral' were six of Oxley's mounted police and their colleagues from Brisbane. The Courier-Mail paid tribute to Fraser's exceptional skills, acknowledging that 'dozens of children owe their lives to him and his hawk-like vision in bush searches'.

Select Bibliography

  • W. R. Johnston, The Long Blue Line (Brisb, 1922)
  • Austrailan Evangel, June 1953, p 5
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 12 May, 28 July 1953
  • Queensland Police Museum, Brisbane, Aborigines, Memorandum of Agreement and Circular Memorandum, no 1220, 8 May 1922 (A/44883 and 205M, Queensland State Archives)
  • Oxley Tracker Station, A/44867-68 (Queensland State Archives)
  • community and personal history unit, identification cards, Cherbourg (Department of Family Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Brisbane)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ysola Best, 'Fraser, Snowy (1891–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 28 February 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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