Tindale holding a child from Mona Mona Mission in Queensland, 1938
|Born||12 October 1900|
Perth, Western Australia
|Died||19 November 1993 (aged 93)|
Palo Alto, California
|Alma mater||University of Adelaide|
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 where his closest friend was Gordon Bowles, a Quaker who, like him, later became an anthropologist.
The family returned to Perth in August 1917, and soon after moved to Adelaide where Tindale took up a position as a library cadet at the Adelaide Public Library, together with another cadet, the future physicist, Mark Oliphant. In 1919 he began work as an entomologist at the South Australian Museum. From his early years, he had absorbed the habit of taking notes on everything he observed, and cross-indexing them before going to sleep, a practice which he continued throughout his life, and which lay at the basis of the vast archive of notes he left to posterity: he was observed writing by lamplight far into the night long after others had gone to bed, during an expedition to the Pinacate.
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 the formidable Arthur Mills Lea. 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.
Early ethnological expeditions, 1921-1939
Tindale's first ethnographic expedition took place over 1921-1922. His principal aim was to gather entomological specimens for the South Australian Museum, the ethnographic aspect being almost an accidental sideline which developed, as his curiosity was stimulated, into close observation of the indigenous people he encountered from the Cobourg Peninsula to the Gulf of Carpentaria. 
Tindale's family background had qualified him to be taken on by the Church Missionary Society of Australia and Tasmania which was interested in proselytizing in the north. He spent half a year, accompanying the missionary Hubert E. Warren to sound out the area for an appropriate site for an Anglican mission, which as the Emerald River Mission, was subsequently established on west coast of Groote Eylandt. He followed this up with a further 9 months nearby on the mainland around the Roper River. Tindale wrote up his observations for the South Australian Museum in two continuous reports which constitute the first detailed account we have of the Warnindhilyagwa people on that island.
In 1938-39, Tindale teamed up with Joseph Birdsell of Harvard University to undertake an extensive anthropological survey of Aboriginal missions across Australia. The relationship forged between the two developed into a half century of collaboration between the two.
On the outbreak of World War 2, Tindale tried to enlist, but was rejected because of his poor eyesight. When Japan precipitated war with the United States however, Tindale's knowledge of Japanese, rare in Australia at the time, made him an asset for military intelligence. In 1942 Tindale joined the Royal Australian Air Force and, assigned the rank of Wing Commander, he was transferred to The Pentagon, where he worked with the Strategic Bombing Survey as an analyst for estimating the impact of bombing on the military and civilian population of Japan.
In 1942 an Air Technical Intelligence Unit (ATIU) was established under Captain Frank T. McCoy at Hangar 7, Eagle Farm airfield just outside Brisbane, and, on Tindale's initiative it was tasked with examining parts recovered from the wreckage of Japanese airplanes that had been shot down, working out whatever intelligence could be gathered from the manufacturing markings, and reassembling them where possible. Jones states that Tindale's unit's meticulous analysis of the metallurgical débris and serial numbers enabled them to arrive at the companies responsible for producing the components, deduce production figures and infer what crucial alloys the Japan military was beginning to suffer shortfalls in.
Tindale also played a major intelligence role in putting a halt to Japan's balloon bombing assault[a] on the western coast of the United States. His team's forensic analysis of the debris enabled the U.S. airforce to identify and bomb the production facilities in Japan. Jones adds two other key contributions by Tindale to the war effort:
He was instrumental in cracking the Japanese aircraft production code system, which gave the Allies reliable information as to Japanese air power. More importantly, he and his unit deciphered the Japanese master naval code.
On retirement after 49 years service with 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.
The Adelaide Board for Anthropological Research began a programme for filming Aboriginal life in 1926, and was the first to systematically do so. Over an 11-year period they produced over 10 hours of footage concerning many aspects of Aboriginal life, from material culture to hunting and gathering practices, cooking, love-making and even ceremonies of circumcision observed during their field expeditions. Tindale produced the film while the actual camera-work was undertaken by E.O.Stocker.
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 Tindale's helper and interpreter, a Ngandi impressed him with the importance of knowing with precision tribal boundaries. 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.
His salvage ethnography also involved collecting by trade objects for his museum. He was meticulous in making notes on the provenance of each object purchased. Philip Jones writes:
one of Tindale's key tasks was to record the names and sociological details of each of the Aboriginal people participating in the fortnight-long intensive survey. This had a crucial outcome in that each object, drawing, photograph, sound recording or even film record subsequently collected by Tindale during these expeditions could be keyed, not only to place and tribal group, but to their individual makers or owners.'
At the same time, these collections were often made using mere lollies or tobacco as barter goods for precious items, and at times exploited the dire conditions of undernourishment suffered by Aborigines. After one successful expedition at Flinders Island he wrote:
'The Flinders Island people are hungry and in exchange for flour etc have been scouring the camp for specimens. We have pretty well cleaned them up, & nothing of much interest remains'.
In historical context, Tindale's firm insistence on the unit of a tribe, with its set territory and fixed boundaries, flew in the face of A. R. Radcliffe-Brown's dismissal of the idea of a higher integrating reality like the tribe, as opposed the assemblies of hordes. Tribes did not hold land, each of their respective 'hordes' did, and clan-attachment of land was Radcliffe-Brown's basic sociological unit for Australian groups. Neither notion has stood the test of time. In particular Tindale's notion of a fixed tribal territory proved inadequate at least as regards the nomadic realities of the Western desert tribes, as Ronald Berndt and Catherine Berndt implicitly argued as early as 1942,[b] and in more detail almost two decades later by Ronald Berndt.
Tindale made a particular study of the primitive Hepialidae or ghost moth family of the Lepidoptera order. In the 1920s he began to revise understanding of the Australian Mantidae (Archimantis mantids ) and mole crickets. A point of departure was a meticulous analysis of the male genitalia of each species, as a guide to more precise classification, and, starting in 1932, over three decades he wrote several papers reordering the Australian ghost moths.
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.
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. Also in 1993, the South Australian Museum Board's named a public gallery in his honour.
The prevailing criticism of Tindale's influential overview of Australian tribes stresses the dangers in his guiding premise that there is an overlap between the language spoken by a group, and its tribal domains. In short, Tindale thought that speakers of the same language constituted a unified territorial group identity.
It has been argued that Tindale's early familiarity with Japanese affected his hearing and transliteration of words in a number of Aboriginal languages, such as Ngarrindjeri. Japanese is written syllabically reflecting its phonetic consonant+vowel structure, and in writing down words like tloperi (ibis), throkeri (seagull) and pargi (wallaby) he would convert them to toloperi, torokeri and paragi respectively.
Aboriginal Legal Aid lawyer and Land council lawyer Paul Burke, first in his book Law's Anthropology, and in a later essay, argues that Tindale's map of Australian territories had not only achieved 'iconic status', but had begun to exercise a deleterious impact on native title judgements made in suits that have been brought to court by indigenous peoples following the landmark Mabo decision of 1992, and negatively affect their rights to land tenure in a number of cases.
In evaluating claims, there is, Burke argues, a tendency to exaggerate the value of the earliest ethnographic reports of anthropologists like A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, A. P. Elkin, Tindale and others, and privilege it over more recent scholarship although the accuracy of many of these 'classic' texts and papers has, over time, often come to be viewed skeptically by modern anthropologists.
Specifically, Burke noted that in his magnum opus, Tindale had recognized, and mapped in the land of a Djukan people, despite the fact that it was absent from the map of the area prepared by Ernest Wurms. Tindale simply drew on Elkin's authority to do so. Again, Tindale conjured up, or made a separate entry for, a tribe, the Jadira, on the basis of very scant evidence, but there is almost no independent testimony that would allow the inference. Inaccuracies of this type compromise modern native title claims, since the authority of early ethnographers for the 'extinction' of tribes and for their putative territorial boundaries weighs more heavily than modern anthropological studies of their descendants. If, for example, there are no 'Jadira', but their ostensible land was mapped by Tindale, the actual tribes in that area face immense difficulties in proving their links to what is conventionally accepted to be 'Jadira' territory.
Ray Wood argues that Tindale's mapping of Cape York Peninsula tribes is suspect, since there is evidence he disregarded the in situ observations of reliable earlier ethnographers in favour of material he later gathered from informants among the remnants in places like Palm Island.
Other have noted that the editor of Tindale's paper on Groote Eylandt in 1925, Edgar Waite, changed his drawn boundaries as dotted lines, obtrusively insisting that Aborigines were nomadic, and not place-bound. When Tindale finally managed to print, unaltered, his own map, he represented the Aborigines as filling every nook and cranny of what became colonial Australia, avowing their former presence, much to the unease of many cartographers, everywhere. In doing so he placed a disappearing people back 'on the map', much to the later discontent of mining corporations, which fund research that would revise Tindale's approach and restrict Aboriginal territoriality.
Novels for children
- The First Walkabout (1954) with Harold Arthur Lindsay, illustrated by Madeleine Boyce
- Rangatira (1959) with Harold Arthur Lindsay
- 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)
- This device was called a 'balloon bomb' (fūsen bakudan:風船爆弾) or 'dirigible bomb' (kikyũ bakudan: (気球爆弾).
- 'A tribal area is ever varying, although a group of people do through the passing of many years become associated with a particular stretch of country. For example, there is the tendency expressed in cult totemism for a man to desire his son to be born near his own totemic birthplace, that is, the water or stretch of country containing a sacred site associated with a particular totemic ancestral being. Even when the family group is at a great distance from their ancestral country, if a birth be expected, they will travel back. By being born near his father's water-hole (and if his father has married a woman born in a particular country through which the ancestral being associated with him has passed), the child, after initiation, becomes a full member of his father's cult lodge. His fellow tribesmen constitute those who are born along the ancestral route, or adjacent ones which cross or run near the main one.'
- Jones 1995.
- Price 2008, p. 291, n.46.
- Burke 2011, p. 180.
- Hayden 2011, p. 172.
- Matthews 1986, pp. 31–32.
- Macknight 2011, p. 127.
- Tindale 1925, pp. 61–102.
- Tindale 1926, pp. 103–134.
- Frederick & Clarke 2008, p. 157.
- Price 2008, p. 39.
- Smith 2014, p. 27.
- Yoshida 2014, pp. 162–163.
- Bryson 2002, p. 5.
- Tindale 1974, p. 3.
- Jones 2008, p. 318.
- Jones 2008, p. 341.
- Burke 2011, p. 181.
- Berndt 1959, p. 83.
- Berndt & Berndt 1942, p. 327.
- Berndt 1959, pp. 81–107.
- Burke 2011, p. 184.
- Tindale 1932, pp. 497–536.
- Tindale 1933, pp. 13–43.
- Tindale 1935a, pp. 275–332.
- Tindale 1935b, pp. 15–46.
- Tindale 1942, pp. 151–168.
- Tindale 1955, pp. 307–344.
- Hobson 2010, p. 398.
- Burke 2011.
- Burke 2015, pp. 102–126.
- Burke 2011, p. 41.
- Burke 2011, pp. 126,129.
- Burke 2011, p. 123.
- Wood 2016, p. 355.
- Gelder & Jacobs 1998, pp. 56–58.
- Berndt, Ronald; Berndt, Catherine (June 1942). "A Preliminary Report of Field Work in the Ooldea Region, Western South Australia". Oceania. 12 (4): 305–330. JSTOR 40327957.
- Berndt, Ronald M. (December 1959). "The Concept of 'The Tribe' in the Western Desert of Australia". Oceania. 30 (2): 81–107. JSTOR 40329194.
- Bryson, Ian (2002). Bringing to Light: A History of Ethnographic Filmmaking at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Aboriginal Studies Press. ISBN 978-0-855-75382-5.
- Burke, Paul (2011). Law's Anthropology: From ethnography to expert testimony in native title (PDF). Australian National University Press. ISBN 978-1-921-86243-4.
- Burke, Paul (December 2015). Roberts, Amy; McCaul, Kim, eds. "Cartographic Ethnogenesis: Tindale's Invention of the Jadira Tribe in the Pilbara Region of Western Australia" (PDF). Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia. 39 (Special Edition: Norman B. Tindale's Research Legacy and the Cultural Heritage of Indigenous Australians): 102–126.
- Frederick, Ursula; Clarke, Anne (2008). "The mark of marvellous ideas: Groote Eylandt rock art and the performance of cross-cultural relations". In Sutton, Peter; Veth, Peter; Neale, Margo. Strangers on the Shore: Early Coastal Contact in Australia. National Museum of Australia. pp. 148–164. ISBN 978-1-876-94488-9.
- Gelder, Ken; Jacobs, Jane Margaret (1998). Uncanny Australia: Sacredness and Identity in a Postcolonial Nation. Melbourne University Press. ISBN 978-0-522-84816-8.
- Hayden, Julian D. (2011). Broyles, Bill; Boyer, Diane E., eds. Field Man: Life as a Desert Archaeologist. University of Arizona Press. ISBN 978-0-816-52905-6.
- Hobson, John Robert (2010). Re-awakening Languages: Theory and Practice in the Revitalisation of Australia's Indigenous Languages. Sydney University Press. ISBN 978-1-920-89955-4.
- 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.
- Jones, Philip (2008). "The 'idea behind the artefact': Norman Tindale's Early Years as a Salvage Ethnographer,'". In Peterson, Nicolas; Allen, Lindy; Namby, Louise. The Makers and Making of Indigenous Australian Museum Collections. Academic Monographs. pp. 315–353. ISBN 978-0-522-85568-5.
- Macknight, Charles Campbell (2011). "The view from Marege': Australian knowledge of Makassar and the impact of the trepangindustry across two centuries". Aboriginal History. Australian National University. 35: 121–143. JSTOR 24046930.
- Matthews, E. G. (1986). "Lea, Arthur Mills (1868 - 1932)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. pp. 31–32.
- Monaghan, Paul (1974). Laying down the country: Norman B. Tindale and the Linguistic Construction of the North-West of South Australia (PDF) (Doctoral dissertation). University of South Australia.
- Price, David H. (2008). Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-822-34237-3.
- Smith, Peter C. (2014). Mitsubishi Zero: Japan's Legendary Fighter. Pen and Sword. ISBN 978-1-781-59319-6.
- Tindale, Norman (1925). "Natives of Groote Eylandt and the west coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Part I". Records of The South Australian Museum. 3: 61–102.
- Tindale, Norman (1926). "Natives of Groote Eylandt and the west coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Part 1I". Records of The South Australian Museum. 3: 103–134.
- Tindale, Norman (1928). "Australasian Mole-Crickets of the Family Gryllotalpidae (Orthoptera)". Records of The South Australian Museum. 4: 142.
- Tindale, Norman (1932). "Revision of the Australian Ghost Moths (Lepidoptera, Homoneura, family Hepialidae). Part I". Records of The South Australian Museum. 4: 497–536.
- Tindale, Norman (1933). "Revision of the Australian Ghost Moths (Lepidoptera Homoneura, Family Hepialidae). Part II". Records of The South Australian Museum. 5: 13–43.
- Tindale, Norman (1935a). "Revision of the Australian Ghost Moths (Lepidoptera Homoneura, family Hepialidae). Part III". Records of The South Australian Museum. 5: 275–332.
- Tindale, Norman (1935b). "Revision of the Ghost Moths (Lepidoptera Homoneura, Family Hepialidae). IV". Records of The South Australian Museum. 7: 15–46.
- Tindale, Norman (1942). "Revision of the Ghost Moths (Lepidoptera Homoneura, Family Hepialidae), Pt. V.". Records of The South Australian Museum. 7 (2): 151–168.
- Tindale, Norman (1955). "Revision of the Ghost Moths, Part VI". Records of The South Australian Museum. 11 (4): 307–344.
- Tindale, Norman Barnett (1974). Aboriginal Tribes of Australia: Their Terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits, and Proper Names (PDF). Australian National University.
- Wood, Ray (2016). "The problem of 'tribal names' in eastern Australia: the Kuku Yalanji example". In Verstraete, Jean-Christophe; Hafner, Diane. Land and Language in Cape York Peninsula and the Gulf Country. John Benjamins Publishing. pp. 337–359. ISBN 978-9-027-26760-3.
- Yoshida, Kazuhiko (2014). Yami no file: senka no kage ni hisomu ningenzō. PHP Kenkyūjo.
- Jones, Philip, G (1996). "NORMAN B. TINDALE 12 October, 1900 - 19 November, 1993 An Obituary". Australian National University. David Nash, Linguist. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
- Norman Tindale website at www.anu.edu.au
- Dr Norman Barnett Tindale at SA Museum website: Short biography; Provenance; Photo; Archives index. Note that the museum archives contain 2,804 items related to Dr Tindale, and these occupy 36 metres of shelf space.