Rolf de Heer's 'The Tracker'. Its Role in Australian Postcolonial Narratives and the Concepts of Mimicry and Primitive

Term Paper, 2014

13 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Content

1. Introduction
David Gulpilil

2. What is a Tracker?
Trackers in History - Edward John Eyre

3. Concept of Mimicry
Concept of Primitive

4. Characters: the Fanatic, the Follower, the Veteran, the Fugitive
Image of the Tracker’s role

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

This term paper deals with the film The Tracker and will focus on the representation of the black tracker role as a subversive person and character and not as a victim. The film was produced and directed by Rolf de Heer in 2002. It is set in 1922 in the Australian outback where three policemen follow their chained aboriginal tracker. He is not presented as a victim but as a suppressed black man who tricks the white men. The man uses his tracking abilities to find the man who apparently raped a white woman who the policemen thus want to capture and execute. The names of the men refer to their characters and not their names. There is the Fanatic, the Follower, the Veteran and the Fugitive. The film takes a look at a fictional tracker’s everyday working life and is based on Aboriginal tracking skills, which they learn from a very early age. Particular information about Trackers will be given further on.

There are many reasons to deal with the film and the topic; in the first place it recaptures how Aboriginal people were used by the white Australian government. The topic of the film is also essential for the Australian population and the Aboriginal people, since the British settled down in Australia in 1788. The indigenous people were not always treated in a humanitarian manner. The first contact between black and white people was in the beginning sometimes peaceful, as the story of Bennelong shows. Bennelong was “the first Aboriginal [man who was] introduced to [the] English culture” (Jose 2009:60). Nevertheless, the first contact between the settlers and the Aboriginal were also marked by brutality and repression, “physical and cultural violence’’ (Brittan Alice 2007: 74).

The paper will also deal with the concepts of Mimicry and Primitive, since these are important effects of the Colonization. Likewise, they play a role for the black tracker character in the film, which will be demonstrated further in the paper. Also, it will show the contrasts and similarities in clothing between the tracker and the officers, which will give evidence for mimicry.

Furthermore, the paper will point out what trackers do and the importance of tracking in the aboriginal culture. Trackers are of huge importance in the aboriginal culture. Also it gives an outlook into their culture and living.

David Gulpilil

The Tracker is played by David Gulpilil, an aboriginal actor. He was born on July 1st in Maningrida, Arnhem Land, which belongs to the Northern Territory of Australia. Gulpilil is the most famous actor in Australia who is of aboriginal descent. He is well- known from films like Crocodile Dundee, Rabbit Proof Fence and Walkabout.

As one watches these films one can see that he plays aboriginal characters.

2. What is a Tracker?

“Aboriginal men were introduced as guides to serve the explorer parties that ventured out across the continent to survey the land that had been declared a possession of the Crown, and they survived as a special class of indentured assistants to police well into the twentieth century, some serving in Victoria as late as the 1960s” (Langton 2006: 55-56).

Trackers are persons with the ability to find other people without any electronically equipment or other aids. They only rely on their tracking abilities which they are taught as children. To white people in Australia their abilities are “legendary” ( After the British settlement from 1788–1850, aboriginal tracking skills became essential for the settlers. The trackers were used to help the settlers on journeys and in the search for those who had got lost. It was compulsory to have them, hence they could find their ways in Australia and in case they were searching individuals, the trackers could help.

The aboriginal children learn about the tracking skills from an early age by their parents or other family members. They start, for example, with a footprint and are taught different information about it, as well as how to use this information while tracking. The importance of following the rules is noted in the article “Tracking skills’’ on the webpage of the Australian Government (

However, trackers must be able to know about the types of tracks, such as to whom it belongs, for instance whether to a male or female, a child or an animal or to have information about its freshness. What is also of importance for a tracker is to find the way back to the starting point as fast as possible, otherwise they would waste their time (cf.

Trackers in History - Edward John Eyre

One of the first persons who made use of trackers was Edward John Eyre. He was an English colonizer, and the son of an English Minister. An explorer of the new land, Eyre and an aboriginal man named Wylie were the first who crossed South Australia. In the 1800s aboriginal trackers were used to find criminals who escaped into the bush. Later, the Port Phillip Native Police Corps were built. This Corps was made of white officers and black aboriginal troopers. Their methods were in some way contradictory because the policemen provided methods to restrain people from attacking aboriginal people but on the other hand they also used violence “to settle conflicts with other Aboriginal people.”

The Corps were present for nearly eleven years before they were disbanded. Later, aboriginal trackers who had worked for the white men became a part of unofficial police forces (cf.

3. Concept of Mimicry

As one of the key concepts in Postcolonial Studies, Mimicry describes “the ambivalent relationship between the colonizer and the colonized” (Ashcroft et al. 2000: 124). The colonized, for example aboriginal people, imitates and copies the language, habits, politics and values of the colonizer (cf. Ashcroft et al. 2000: 125). Motifs for mimicry are diverse. They vary from protection over adaption to mockery. Occasionally, mimicry is used by the colonized to parody the powerful colonizers, for example when they make fun of the foreign people.

On the other hand, one goal for the imitation which can be seen as mimicry is used to earn the “same’’ power as the colonizer. Hence it is possible to lose one's own identity during the action of mimicry. This need not be the case but it seems that the imitation of the colonizers can increase the aboriginal cultures suppression, for instance when aboriginal people teach their ancestors the same values as the colonizers used to have.

Concept of Primitive

“The idea of primitivity [is] a significant category of the cultural process emerged during the Enlightenment” Wilhelm Dupré claims (Dupré 1975: 16). Primitivity “was idealized on the one hand as a state of freedom and equality, of virtue and simplicity” whereas, on the other hand “, it was interpreted as the embodiment of rudeness and savagery” (Dupré 1975: 16).

The term primitive refers to many areas, such as primitive science, primitive religion, primitive economics, primitive mentality, primitive people. In this term paper the focus lies on the last one. The Oxford University Dictionary gives following four definitions for the word primitive: “1 relating to the earliest times in history or stages in development: primitive mammals. 2 referring to a simple form of society that has not yet developed industry or writing. 3 offering a very basic level of comfort. 4 (of behavior or emotion) not based on the reason; instinctive” (Oxford 2012: 570). Applied to people, one can say the word primitive describes the simplicity of a person.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Rolf de Heer's 'The Tracker'. Its Role in Australian Postcolonial Narratives and the Concepts of Mimicry and Primitive
University of Cologne  (Philosophisches Seminar)
In the Wake of First Contact: Australian Postcolonial Narrative
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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rolf, heer, tracker, role, australian, postcolonial, narratives, concepts, mimicry, primitive
Quote paper
Belgin Yücel (Author), 2014, Rolf de Heer's 'The Tracker'. Its Role in Australian Postcolonial Narratives and the Concepts of Mimicry and Primitive, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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