He established a reputation as a world authority on Hepialid moths and this work often connected with his anthropological studies. His archival collection housed at the Museum includes journals, sound recordings, films, photographs, genealogies, crayon drawings, maps and illustrations. Tindale spent the latter part of his life in America and continued to devote '23 out of 24 hours of the day' to studying the material he collected.
Tindale challenged views about the early occupation of Australia, its prehistory and the nature of Aboriginal relationships with the country. Tindale devoted his life to showing that Australia was not 'terra nullius' (uninhabited land) decades before that became a common viewpoint.
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Early Years.
Kamizawa, Japan
Photo: J H Tindale 1915
South Australian Museum Tindale Collection
Young Norman Tindale aged 14 years 9 months holding a butterfly net in Kamizawa, Japan, 1915. He became fascinated with butterflies after visiting the Tokyo Imperial War Museum and began collecting natural history specimens. The classification of this material, ranking and ordering, formed the basis of his taxonomic approach to collecting throughout his life.
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Tindale with a group of Aboriginal Ingura people from Bickerton Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, 1921.
Bickerton Island, Gulf of Carpentaria
Photo: Mr Dyer 1921
South Australian Museum Tindale Collection
In 1921 Tindale received permission from the South Australian Museum Board to undertake an extended field trip to Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Tindale's family background brought him into contact with the Church Missionary Society of Australia and Tasmania which was extending its mission work from a base at Roper River to Groote Eylandt. He was engaged to assist with the establishment of the mission there. The Museum Board recognised the potential for Tindale to collect natural history specimens and Aboriginal artefacts in his spare time and provided him with a 50 grant to assist him in this work.
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Map annotated by Tindale showing the routes taken by the Board for Anthropological Research expeditions between 1924 and 1939.
Map of Australia
N B Tindale After 1939
South Australian Museum Tindale Collection
"The Board undertook annual expeditions to Central Australia until the Second World War, publishing its results in more than a hundred scientific papers. Its members recorded detailed physical data from over 800 Aboriginal people and documented aspects of their lives in some of the earliest ethnographic sound recordings to be made in this country."
Philip Jones,1987, South Australian Anthropological History: The Board For Anthropological Research And Its Early Expeditions, Records Of The South Australian Museum, Vol. 20 May, Adelaide, South Australian Museum.
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Iliaura women collecting, winnowing and grinding grass seed, photographed by Norman Tindale at MacDonald Downs in 1930 while on an expedition organised by the Board for Anthropological Research.
MacDonald Downs
Photo: N B Tindale 1930
South Australian Museum
"After breakfast we walked away westward over the plain to a place where harvester ant nests are plentiful and witnessed the whole procedure of gathering, cleaning, winnowing grinding and cooking the seeds of the grass ('Panicum decompositum') called 'otteta' by the natives. Three women wandered a mile along the grassy area in a depression in the plain and gathered perhaps twenty pounds of seed, husks and shells from the nests, up to a pound from each. Bringing this back to the main party they placed the whole amount in a round hole a foot in diameter and a foot deep. This hole was placed about two feet further from the base of a convenient tree. The woman who was to tread the grain stood in the hole and leaning both hands against the trunk started to rotate her feet in the hole. After some ten minutes of this treading the grain was scraped out by hand onto a large wooden dish or koolaman and the woman started winnowing. The first shaking and rolling of the dishes caused the grain and larger particles to separate from the dust and lighter debris. Much of the further dust was eliminated by throwing up in the air. Finally a further rolling and shaking caused all the large particles, stones and pieces of stick to come together, the good grain being thrown off on to another dish."
Transcription from Tindale's journal.
MacDonald Downs Journal
N B Tindale
South Australian Museum
On the Board expedition to Mt Liebig in August 1932, Tindale met Paru who was 17 years old. Tindale recognised him because he met him the previous year in 1931, exactly a year earlier while on the Board's previous expedition to Cockatoo Creek.
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The genealogy cards for Paru, a young Warlpiri man.
Mt Liebig
Board for Anthropological Research,
University of Adelaide
N B Tindale 1932
South Australian Museum

Tindale noted from Paru's data-card, which he filled out in 1931, that he had acquired a chest scar - an initiation mark - during the twelve months since they had last met. He recorded information about his age, family history as well as physical measurements, weight, colour of hair, etc. A photograph of Paru was taken on both occasions and later attached to the cards.

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Pitjantjatjara people moving camp in the Mann Ranges, winter 1933.
Mann Ranges, Central Australia
Photo: N B Tindale 1933
South Australian Museum Tindale Collection
In contrast to earlier Board expeditions which involved a team of researchers in the field for two or three weeks, Norman Tindale and Cecil Hackett travelled with a group of Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal people through the Musgrave Ranges for two months. They carried their equipment and supplies by camel and only had occasional contact with outside support.
Tindale commented:
"Cecil and I became kind of hangers-on or parasites of the Aborigines, just wandering along, taking photographs and asking questions, recording..."
Interview with Norman Tindale
Philip Jones
South Australian Museum
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Tindale holding a child from Monamona Mission, Queensland, 1938.
Monamona Mission, Queensland
Photo: Dorothy Tindale 1938
South Australian Museum Tindale Collection
"The physical anthropologist and geneticist, Joseph Birdsell collaborated with Norman Tindale for a half-century. They proposed a survey of the so-called 'settled' regions of Australia, looking at what had happened physiologically and sociologically to the Aboriginal people who had borne the brunt of European contact. So they set off on a trip through Aboriginal settlements and missions across Australia during 1938-39."
Philip Jones,1997, Norman B Tindale: His Life as an Archive, ASA Conference Proceedings, Adelaide.
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Tindale looking out over the Devon Downs rock shelter on the Murray River.
Devon Downs Rock Shelter, Murray River
Photo: Harold L Sheard 1926
South Australian Museum Tindale Collection
Tindale looking out over the Devon Downs rock shelter on the Murray River, the site of the first systematic archaeological excavation in Australia, which he carried out with Herbert Hale in 1929.
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Clarence Long (Milerum) and H K Fry in a vehicle out on field work.
Coorong, South Australia
Photo: N B Tindale 1937
South Australian Museum Tindale Collection
During the 1930s Tindale developed a very close relationship with an Aboriginal man from the Coorong, Clarence Long. The two men went on many site-recording expeditions together with the anthropologist H K Fry during the 1930s.
Tindale met an old Ngandi songmaker called Maroadunei from the interior of Arnhem Land while on Groote Eylandt in 1921 and 1922. He introduced Tindale to the idea of tribal boundaries, limits beyond which it was dangerous to move without adequate recognition. Maroadunei's accounts of people and places he had visited formed the basis of the map of southern Arnhem Land tribes and their boundaries that Tindale made in 1925.
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Map showing the locations of Aboriginal tribes based on Tindale's fieldwork. A version of this map was published in 1940.
Aboriginal Tribes
Norman Tindale 1939
South Australian Museum Tindale Collection
Tindale wrote a paper with data to accompany the map but Edgar Waite, the Director of the South Australian Museum at the time, refused to publish it arguing the commonly held view that Aboriginal people roamed at will over the whole country. From this time onwards Tindale focussed his attention on collecting information about territoriality and mapping the boundaries of Aboriginal groups across Australia.
In 1967 Tindale was awarded and honorary doctorate by the University of Colorado in recognition of his academic work in America. A posting to the Australian National University in 1973 enabled him to complete his major work on 'Aboriginal Tribes of Australia' 1974. In 1980 Tindale was awarded his second honorary doctorate by the Australian National University, but by this time he had made his home in America.


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