'Almost magical': a tracker at work

TEAM WORK: Former SA Police Detective John Murray worked with tracker Jimmy James in the 1980s. Photo: Supplied

TEAM WORK: Former SA Police Detective John Murray worked with tracker Jimmy James in the 1980s. Photo: Supplied

Former police Detective John Murray worked with famous Aboriginal tracker Jimmy James in the 1980s to find a man who had escaped from Yatala Jail and has admired his skills since.

The three-day search for inmate James Beauregard-Smith took the Special Crimes Squad to the north-eastern corner of South Australia, near Renmark, where police teamed with Jimmy who is mentioned in our front-page report regarding his near-magical skills.

Jimmy told police Smith had entered the bush with a carton of soft drink.

"Jimmy discovered Smith was walking during the night, sleeping during the day and was hiding the empty cans of soft drink in the sand," Mr Murray said.

After about three days, before he could physically see, Jimmy said the escapee was "over the hill, under the tree having a sleep" where Smith was subsequently arrested.

"The police were so impressed that, we paid him special attention after that," Mr Murray said.

Other police transport and tracking technology were disadvantageous in this search and Mr Murray said the best option they had was Jimmy and his tracking abilities.

"Jimmy James was a fantastic human being with an almost magical ability to see the ground where people walked, but also anticipate where they would be in the next half-an-hour as well," Mr Murray said.

He said he saw detectives become over-confident and think they could track themselves. "Jimmy said, 'if you can do it, go and do it,'" he said.

When police identified what appeared to be tracks, Jimmy said "that's not him (Smith), that's two kangaroos having a fight," and his credibility was affirmed.

Jimmy had spoken of training a family member to pass on the skill, but these days there appears to be a shortage of those with the ability.

"It is a skill that is unprecedented and surpasses the technology we have today," Mr Murray said.

"It will always be required, but, sadly, it has been reduced to a scarce human resource."

The late Jimmy worked with police for 40 years to help catch criminals and missing people with an uncanny understanding of the land.