Norman Tindale

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Norman Tindale
Tindale holding a child from Monamona Mission in Queensland, 1938
Born 12 October 1900
Perth, Western Australia
Died 19 November 1993 (1993-11-20) (aged 93)
Palo Alto, California
Citizenship Australian
Nationality Australian
Alma mater University of Adelaide
Notable awards

Norman Barnett Tindale AO (12 October 1900 – 19 November 1993) was an Australian anthropologist, archaeologist, entomologist and ethnologist.[1]

Born in Perth, Western Australia, his family moved to Tokyo and lived there from 1907 to 1915, where his father worked as an accountant at the Salvation Army mission in Japan, and Norman attended the American School in Japan.[2] The family returned to Perth, and in 1917 moved to Adelaide where Tindale took up a position as a library cadet at the Adelaide Public Library. Shortly after this, Tindale lost the sight in one eye in an acetylene gas explosion which occurred while assisting his father with photographic processing. In January 1919 he secured a position at the South Australian Museum as Entomologist's Assistant to Arthur Mills Lea.[3] He had already published thirty-one papers on entomological, ornithological and anthropological subjects before receiving his Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Adelaide in March 1933.[1]

Tindale is best remembered for his work mapping the various tribal groupings of Indigenous Australians. This interest began with a research trip to Groote Eylandt where an Anindilyakwa man gave Tindale very detailed descriptions of which land was his and which land was not. This led Tindale to question the official orthodoxy of the time which was that Aboriginal people were purely nomadic and had no connection to any specific region. While Tindale's methodology and his notion of the dialectal tribe have been superseded, this basic premise has been proved correct.

After his retirement (after 49 years service) from the South Australian Museum, Tindale took up a teaching position at the University of Colorado and remained in the United States until his death, aged 93, in Palo Alto, California.[1]

At the University of Adelaide he had a 50-year collaboration with Joseph Birdsell of Harvard University and performed an anthropological survey in 1938-39 and 1952-54 on Aboriginal missions across Australia.[1] Quite a number of now-important record films were made by Tindale.

In 1942 Tindale joined the Royal Australian Air Force and was assigned the rank of Wing Commander. He had previously tried to enlist in the Australian army at the outbreak of WWII but was rejected due to his damaged eyesight.[1]

Tindale was awarded the Verco Medal of the Royal Society of South Australia during 1956, the Australian Natural History Society Medallion during 1968 and the John Lewis Medal of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia during 1980. In 1967, at the age of sixty-six, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Colorado. He was eventually honoured with a doctorate by the Australian National University in 1980.[1]

During 1993 Tindale received unofficial confirmation of his appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO); this was presented posthumously, to his widow Muriel.[4] Also in 1993, the South Australian Museum Board's named a public gallery in his honour.[1]


Tindale published extensively, both as sole author and collaborator. Lists of his publications can be found at the websites of the American School in Japan and the ANU.

Novels for children[edit]


  • The Land of Byamee : Australian Wild Life in Legend and Fact (1938)
  • Aboriginal Australians (1963) with Harold Arthur Lindsay
  • Aboriginal Tribes of Australia : Their terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits and Proper Names (1974)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Jones, Philip G. (December 1995). "Norman B. Tindale - 12 October 1900 – 19 November 1993 - An Obituary". Records of the South Australian Museum. South Australian Museum. pp. 159–176. Retrieved 16 July 2015. 
  2. ^ Tindale links, American School in Japan
  3. ^ E. G. Matthews, 'Lea, Arthur Mills (1868 - 1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, MUP, 1986, pp 31-32. Retrieved on 2009-07-17

External links[edit]