The last great police tracker - Jupurrurla Curtis

Jupurrurla Curtis. Pictures: NT Police.
Jupurrurla Curtis. Pictures: NT Police.

Former Aboriginal Community Police Officer and Police Tracker, Jupurrurla Curtis died at his home in June.

A much loved family man and community elder, Jupurrurla Curtis was a well respected and recognised Police Officer within the NT Police Force for 19 years.

But Jupurrurla Curtis was more than just an Aboriginal Community Police Officer.

The proud Walpri man began his career with the Northern Territory Police Force initially in the role as a Police Tracker in November 1988 and was stationed in Yuendumu.

On June 11, 1993 he transitioned to the Police Aide program and in October the following year was appointed as an Aboriginal Community Police Officer.

In May 2002, Jupurrurla attained a Certificate II in Public Safety, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Policing.

“He was, in my thoughts, one of the best Police tracker I’ve seen,” said Det Sgt Mick Schumacher who worked with Jupurrurla Curtis at the Yuendemu Police Station for four years in the 1990s.

“He had amazing tracking skills and cultural and traditional knowledge that was invaluable to largely urban police officers trying to manage violent incidents with backup at least three hours away.”

And those skills were relied heavily upon by Police Officers across the Northern Territory who required his help and knowledge in various investigations.

“Depending on the circumstances we sometimes called on Jupurrurla Curtis for difficult jobs, such as murders and sex assaults," said Det Sgt Schumacher

So when a man was murdered on the Stuart Highway a short time after the Peter Falconio case, Police were quick to investigate whether the cases were linked.

“The OIC of the CIB section at that time was Detective Senior Sergeant John Nixon and he asked me who were we going to get to track at the scene. I located a Walpiri woman tracker, and took her to the scene.  To be honest I could see and read everything she showed me so I said to him “There’s more to it, we need to get Egan and Jupurrurla Curtis," said Det Sgt Schumacher.

A police plane was sent to collect the two trackers from Yuendemu and on landing in Alice Springs, they were driven 60kms to the crime scene.

“There was an officer already there taking a plaster cast of a tyre print when we arrived with Egan and Jupurrurla Curtis," said Det Schumacher

“And Teddy comes over and whispers to me “hey, what’s that man doing?”, so I tell him “He’s taking a tyre print of the car of the offender” and he said “Well he’s got the wrong car.

“After surveying the scene the two told me “This is where the car parked, driver has gotten out of the driver’s side door, this is where the passenger has gotten out of the passengers side door. This is where the two have walked together and this is where that man walked to the boot of the car. This is where he killed him.  After the killing the man has walked back towards the car then stood on lump of spinifex to hide because a car went past.

“So I report this information to the Detective leading the investigation at the scene and he seemed a more than sceptical about the spinifex bit.  A Forensics crew came down from Darwin and Luminoled the scene and you know, every part of the story that the trackers said was confirmed," said Det Sgt Schumacher

In June 2003 Jupurrurla Curtis was awarded the Northern Territory Police Medal recognising 10 years of ethical and diligent service to the Northern Territory Community. In October 2003 he was promoted to the rank of Senior Aboriginal Community Police Officer.

On December 28, 2007 after 19 years of service to community, Jupurrurla Curtis retired from the Northern Territory Police Force and eight years later – in recognition of 15 years long and ethical service as a police officer - was awarded the National Police Service Medal on October 25 2015 at the opening of the new Yuendumu Police Station.

On July 23 Jupurrurla Curtis was awarded the NT Police Remote Service Ribbon which recognises is service to remote policing and the National Medal which recognises long and diligent service for protecting the community.

Jupurrurla Curtis worked on a number of missing persons and murder investigations, including the deaths of Peter Falconio and Stuart Rhodes during his nearly 20 years with the police.

He also received a Commissioner’s Letter of Recognition for his work chasing a man who escaped from Alice Springs Prison in 2002 and was recaptured after 13 days.

Jupurrurla found and tracked the man’s footprints for several hours. The then-Commissioner Paul White recognised Jupurrurla’s efforts and dedication, noting that his perseverance in tracking the escapee greatly assisted in the recapture of the man.

“I never second guessed going into a job with Jupurrurla Curtis by my side,” said Det Sgt Schumacher.

“He was quiet, calm and had so much knowledge about not just the communities but relationships within them. To be honest, I would have walked through the gates of hell with him being by my side.”

_courtesy NT Police Media.