12 October, 1900 - 19 November, 1993


By Philip G. Jones
Curator, Anthropology, South Australian Museum
in Records of the South Australian Museum, Volume 28.2
(December 1995),159-176.

Norman B. Tindale (left) with Joseph B. Birdsell
scientific collaborators for nearly 50 years

At the age of sixty-six, and after a professional career of forty-nine years spent in the service of the South Australian Museum, Norman Barnett Tindale received an honorary doctorate from the University of Colorado in 1967. Among the voluminous manuscripts bequeathed by Tindale to the South Australian Museum is a collection of thirty-nine letters written by colleagues and peers from around the world in support of this award. As more than one letter observed, that such an award was being contemplated by an American university did not reflect well upon the lack of initiative of Australian institutions in this respect. Tindale was eventually honoured with a doctorate by the Australian National University in 1980. But none of those letter writers, assessing the contribution of an anthropologist and scientist in the twilight of his career, could have predicted that Tindale would continue to publish and undertake research for another quarter of a century.
Tindale was an early starter as well as a late finisher. 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. These papers joined a further 100 papers published during his employment at the South Australian Museum, an average output of three papers each year, mostly published in refereed journals. In this sense he was an outstanding product of the British institutional science tradition - trained on the job, self-educated and judged by scientific contributions rather than degrees. That the Australian expression of this tradition also reflected a perennially meagre budget commitment to science on the part of state governments and a general lack of public support in most intellectual areas may have been apparent to Tindale, but was rarely dwelt upon. There was work to do.
Tindale was born in Perth on 12 October, 1900, the eldest of four children. His parents were committed members of the Salvation Army and in 1907 the family travelled to Tokyo, Japan, where his father took up a position as an accountant with the Salvation Army mission operating in China. Tindale's personal and professional life was marked by turning points; this was the first. He grew up with a good knowledge of German and French, as for several years these were the only languages taught in the small private school which he attended with the children of diplomats. One of Tindale's close school friends was Gordon Bowles, later to become Professor of Anthropology at Syracuse University as well as a colleague in wartime Intelligence work. But Tindale spent most time with the children of Japanese neighbours, speaking street Japanese, playing in the semi-rural suburbs of Tokyo (still a largely feudal city), and exploring the countryside nearby. It was these rambles, and resultant trips to Tokyo's Imperial Museum, which introduced Tindale to the world of natural history and to entomology in particular. Through the Museum, his father's library, and his own experience of Japanese customs, Tindale gained a taste for anthropology.
But by the time that the Tindales left Japan during August 1915 to settle first in Perth and by February 1917, in Adelaide, Norman had no doubt that he would pursue a career as a natural scientist. Butterfly and moth collecting had become his passion and he explored the possibility of gaining a job at the South Australian Museum. Aware of a possible impending vacancy there, he took up a position as a library cadet at the Adelaide Public Library in May 1917 working alongside another young cadet, the future nuclear scientist Mark Oliphant. More than thirty years later, Tindale encountered Oliphant again, in the Top Secret area of the Washington's Pentagon, emerging from a section labelled 'Manhattan Project'.
A few months after taking up his cadet's position Tindale lost the sight of one eye in an acetylene gas explosion while assisting his father with 'limelight' photographic work. The accident dulled none of Tindale's enthusiasm or ambition. Just before the explosion he had begun to read Alfred Wallace's 'Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro'; a few days after the explosion he took it up once more and wrote in his diary: 'My mind seems made up about following such a life as his. I hope to take him as my model' (Tindale ms.). In January 1919 he finally secured a Museum position as Entomologist's Assistant under the mercurial Arthur M. Lea. He later recalled that Lea told him, 'Tindale, you'll never make a blind entomologist, but you might make a blind anthropologist!'. Both seemed possible to the young scientist.
The next turning point in Tindale's career came when he received permission in 1921 to undertake an extended field trip to Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The opportunity arose through Tindale's family background in missionary activity. This had 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. Tindale was engaged by the Society for twelve months to assist in the establishment of a home on Groote Eylandt for half-caste children from the mainland. He was to be given time to collect for the South Australian Museum which would purchase his specimens at the completion of the trip. At this stage no Aboriginal objects from the island were preserved in any museum. Tindale's Director, Edgar Waite, recognised the ethnographic potential of the expedition and directed the young entomologist to visit the doyen of Australian anthropologists, Baldwin Spencer, at Melbourne's National Museum, for advice. Spencer's advice was simple; to follow the directions for field observation laid out in 'Notes and Queries in Anthropology' (he gave Tindale his own copy) and to keep a field journal with a daily record under every circumstance, even if the following day's events invalidated a previous entry. Spencer also introduced Tindale to the Geographic I method of language transcription, the basis for Tindale's unique collection of more than 150 parallel vocabularies across Aboriginal Australia.
Tindale followed Spencer's advice to the letter and gathered a remarkable collection of ethnographic data and more than 500 artefacts from Groote Eylandt and Roper River during his twelve months in the field. This was the longest period to that date spent by a scientist in the company of Aboriginal people. During that expedition Tindale's main informant, a Ngandi man named Maroadunei, introduced the young scientist to the concept of bounded tribal territories, 'beyond which it was dangerous to move without adequate recognition' (Tindale 1974: 3). Yet Tindale went to Groote Eylandt and the Roper as a naturalist, and returned as one. The crucial shift in his career took place well after his return to Adelaide, when his synthesis of anthropological data for publication made him aware of the openings and challenges which the new field offered. In particular, when Edgar Waite insisted that Tindale remove tribal boundaries from a map of Groote Eylandt and the adjacent mainland being prepared for publication in the Museum's Records, maintaining that nomadic Aborigines could not occupy defined territories, Tindale realised that a new paradigm in ways of regarding and describing Aboriginal Australia was sorely needed.
The Groote Eylandt expedition revealed Tindale's remarkable appetite for fieldwork. Taken together, his dozens of field trips amounted to more than seven years of his professional career spent in the field, an average ratio of nearly two months of every year. A colleague later observed that Tindale was never quite himself back at the office, and it required very little to entice him out once more. But it was in the field, exposed to the nuances and implications of the natural and cultural environment which he regarded as the unrestricted object of his study, that Tindale came into his own. His broad-based training enabled him to undertake this task confidently and to weave together the diverse strands of natural and human science. Trained in geology (a Pleistocene Stratigraphy course at the University of Adelaide) under Douglas Mawson, geography under Grenfell Price and heavily influenced by the publications of Wallace, it was axiomatic that Tindale would adopt a strongly ecological approach to his field observation and collecting. This approach was greatly reinforced by his contact with Aboriginal people for whom the distribution and habits of plant and animal species were crucial data. Tindale's bibliography reflects this great diversity of interest and its complementary character, particularly in the case of his geological papers which overlap with those discussing Pleistocene archaeology, or his entomological or botanical papers which overlap with interests in linguistics or material culture.
Looking back on Tindale's career it is possible to discern half a dozen research paths which he followed, converging and diverging but persisting across several decades until his death. Few specialists would attempt to emulate such a course today; in Tindale's time, as his colleague and friend Joseph Birdsell put it later, it represented the 'proper breadth of interest'. In entomology, his first love, Tindale selected the study of the Hepialidae, one of the most primitive of the moth families; in geology his particular interest became the study of Pleistocene shore-lines and Tindale was to become recognised as one of the 'foremost workers on the Pleistocene geology of Australia' (Daily 1966). In linguistics as in broader anthropological studies his object was to gather sufficient data to scientifically describe variation in Aboriginal culture and society across the country. The same applied to his physical anthropological surveys. More focused studies, such as an investigation of initiation practice, Western Desert art and mythology, or the detailed description of a coastal and riverine society, followed from this survey data. In archaeology, informed by his geological and ecological training, Tindale's object was to establish the broad canvas on which more specific applied or theoretical investigations could be painted. Tindale's field trips became the testing ground for this tumult of ideas and theories against a background of wide reading in each area and constant rapport with colleagues, nationally and internationally.
The tracks connecting these paths were often of equal interest. For example, Tindale's interest in the primitive Hepialidae led him into the palaeontological field, linking with his geological and anthropological interests. He eventually discovered and described Eoses, considered to be the most ancient fossil lepidopteran (of Triassic age), through a careful examination of the Mt Crosby fossil beds in Queensland. So much for a blind entomologist. Likewise, Tindale's expertise in the Lepidoptera field brought him into contact with scientists and administrators charged with eradicating or controlling insect pests, and with the issue of satisfactorily managing Australia's national parks. Tindale was appointed in 1958 as a member of the national Committee on National Parks and Reserves of the Australian Academy of Science and made active contributions to the growing debate about conservation issues. His input to South Australian legislation on National Parks, enacted during 1966, was also considerable. Through such connections he also became a founding member of South Australia's National Trust committee. As chairman of the Trust's Nature Preservation Committee, Tindale could take much credit for the preservation of the internationally known glacial pavements at Hallett Cove. He was able to doubly underline their significance through his geological expertise with ancient shorelines and through his careful documentation of the massive 'Kartan' Aboriginal stone tools associated with this particular locality.
Tindale's life was full of such connections. The most striking, yet least known, was the use which he made of his intimate knowledge of the Japanese language. At the outbreak of the Second World War Tindale's attempt to enlist in the Australian army was thwarted by his damaged eyesight. With Japan's later entry into the war his value to military intelligence operations was soon recognised; he and his brothers, together with his old friend Gordon Bowles, were among the few Australians fluent in Japanese. During 1942 Tindale joined the R.A.A.F. and was assigned the rank of Wing Commander in England before being transferred to the Pentagon to advise on strategic bombing. There he headed the military intelligence unit charged with deciphering Japan's military codes and with ascertaining the origin and volume of production of munitions and spare parts. Tindale and his small unit spent time combing through the wreckage of crashed Japanese aircraft. They intensively analysed this debris in a laboratory established at his initiative near Brisbane. Through metallurgical and serial number analysis and by deciphering the company marks found on different components Tindale obtained remarkably accurate data on production figures and Japanese shortages of critical alloys. Professor W. V. MacFarlane later wrote: 'this somewhat esoteric complex of knowledge of language, ability to associate minute and apparently unrelated fragments of information to induce patterns of understanding, and to deduce consequences, has been characteristic of his work amongst Aboriginals from every part of the continent and its surrounding islands' (MacFarlane 1966).
Tindale eventually achieved two breakthroughs which altered the course of the war in the Pacific. Both are still unknown to the wider public. 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. Another commander in U.S. military intelligence later wrote that the success of the attack 'upon the homeland of Japan was more effectively measured through the work of Tindale and his group than through any other source of intelligence we had available at the time' (Brown 1966). This fact was established through the Strategic Bombing survey undertaken in Japan after the war.
Just as extraordinary was Tindale's application of his special skills of detection in halting the only enemy attack on the continental United States - the fire-bombing of the Pacific North-West which occurred for a twelve-month period during the war. The attacks caused many forest fires and killed several civilians. Tindale examined the shattered remains of the balloon carriages which transported these bombs from Japan and established not only the rate of their production, but their points of manufacture and release. With this information those sites were bombed and destroyed, ending this form of attack.
Tindale was reluctant to talk about this momentous phase in his career, believing himself, even as late as 1989, to be bound by the wartime British Official Secrets Act. He continued his practice of keeping a daily journal throughout the war period but restricted his observations to natural history and anthropology. He found time to record anthropological detail and collect artefacts during his 'special duties' in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. During spare moments in America he studied and reorganised the Australian osteological collection at the Smithsonian Institution and even discovered a new species of Lepidoptera (Sthenopis darwinii) in Tennessee.
Tindale's entomological career may have been overshadowed by his anthropological achievements but he never lost contact with this first love. This was so in a direct sense; his desk invariably contained a jar of insects or an open file on the subject. On field trips his days usually ended with an examination of the evening's haul of moths and insects caught in his portable light-trap. The same routine was observed, particularly during summer months, at his Blackwood home, overlooking the lights of Adelaide. Both in Adelaide and in retirement in Palo Alto he made his own carefully chamfered wooden boxes for Lepidoptera specimens. But Tindale's entomology did not simply consist of collection and description. As with his anthropological studies, he became interested not only in questions of geographical variation but in origins and early stages, as well as in specific issues of ecology.
Tindale had begun collecting and classifying butterflies in Japan at the age of ten. His professional entomological studies began during his Groote Eylandt expedition of 1921-22. Concentrating upon the Lepidoptera and the Orthoptera on his return, Tindale undertook revisions during the later 1920s of the Australian Mantidae (mantids) and Gryllotalpidae (mole crickets), regarded for decades afterwards as standard works in this field. But it was his interest in the more primitive Lepidoptera, specifically the Hepialidae, which established Tindale's long-standing international reputation as an entomologist. I. F. B. Common observed that Tindale's revision of the Hepialidae family 'represented a new critical phase in the study of Australian Lepidoptera' (Common 1966). Until the Second World War it was the only major revision of the fauna which had taken the male genitalia into account, and thereafter placed the classification of the Hepialidae on a firm footing. This detailed revision, published in several papers over a period of thirty-two years from 1932 to 1964, provided the basis for ecological studies leading to more effective control of several Oncopera species, for example, which are serious pests of high-yielding sown pastures.
Tindale became a world authority on the hepialid moths, a notable achievement considering the difficulties which they present to researchers. In acknowledging this, H. K. Clench of the Carnegie Museum observed that the moths are often rare, and with brief flight periods, difficult to collect in adequate numbers for study; their characters are cryptic and, because of their ancient origins, their distribution poses additional problems for the investigator who requires an intimate knowledge of them across their entire world distribution (Clench 1966). Patiently amassing material and data over several decades, visiting museums throughout the world and collecting in as many regions and environments as possible, Tindale acquired this knowledge and earned the respect of his entomological colleagues. He discovered and described many geographical races of moths, some species, and many life histories, carefully analysing the events which he considered were responsible for each situation. In John Calaby's words, his entomological studies became 'much more than mere descriptions of animals' (Calaby 1966). His attention to the evolutionary implications of his data was of great importance to the much broader fields such as speciation patterns and the general evolutionary history of the Australian fauna as a hole.
As noted, Tindale's entomological work often connected with his anthropological studies. His interest in the Hepialidae and Cossidae was particularly apposite here, since many of them have wood-boring larvae used as food by Aborigines. Several of his papers addressed this subject, providing a vivid example of his attention to the ecological contexts which sustained human and animal life throughout Australia. Already inclined to an ecological approach, Tindale was given great encouragement through his association with the University of Adelaide-based Board for Anthropological Research, and in particular its chairman, J. B. Cleland. The Board undertook annual expeditions during the university's August vacations of the late 1920s and the 1930s with the primary object of recording series of physiological and sociological data relating to Aboriginal groups which had experienced little sustained contact with Europeans. Cleland ensured that these data were recorded within an ecological frame, encouraging Board members to note aspects of geology, flora and fauna. Tindale applied this general approach to the study of Aboriginal territoriality, relating particular groups to specific environments through a range of careful observation, backed up by ethnographic and archaeological evidence. He developed this approach thirty-five years before territoriality and ecology (or even Australian anthropology itself) became voguish fields.
As the Board expeditions progressed during the 1930s Tindale began to correlate his data in ways which few anthropologists had previously done. He collected and documented artefacts with a strong awareness of how their manufacture reflected necessities dictated by the environment and opportunities to manipulate or exploit that environment. Over the years the careful accumulation of such detail resulted in important papers on material culture and the Australian environment, such as his 1976 publication on the Panara or seed-milling technology of the Central Australian grasslands. During the 1930s he paid particular attention to the documentation of social, as well as technological, processes, and was encouraged by other Board members to master the arts of sound and film recording. Tindale first attempted ethnographic film-making during his expedition with Herbert Hale to Queensland's Princess Charlotte Bay in 1926-27. Films made at Hermannsburg (1929), MacDonald Downs (1930), Cockatoo Creek (1931), Mt Liebig (1932), Mann Range (1933), the Diamantina south of Birdsville (1934, assisted by H.K. Fry) and Warburton Range (1935, assisting Stocker) followed. Of these, his Mann Range sequence, four reels comprising 'A Day in the Life of the Pitjandjara [sic]' remains the most compelling. Tindale cleverly edited sequence from dramatic footage shot over a period of several weeks to construct a 'typical' day in the nomadic existence of the Pitjantjatjara as they travelled from water to water through the Mann Ranges. Wax cylinder recordings of ceremonies and song cycles were made separately by Tindale on each of these expeditions; in many cases they represent the only surviving record of their kind.
Tindale's concern was not to preserve an account of culture for its own sake, but to document in sufficient detail to enable further analysis by others. 'Making a useful record' was a phrase he often used, applying it equally to his compilation of 150 parallel vocabularies as to his descriptions of manufacture and use of spears, spear-throwers, dishes, stone tools, resin, hair string, and other essential items of desert life. An artefact could be collected, together with examples of raw materials used in its manufacture, and the process could be filmed. All processes and observations and linguistic terms were recorded meticulously in note form, together with the genealogies and backgrounds of the makers or participants, from whom further mythological detail could be elicited through crayon drawings on brown paper which he distributed and later carefully annotated.
The sound recordings made by Tindale during the 1930s have still not been properly studied. As with film, he continued to make these vital records of Aboriginal life well into the 1960s, in central and northern Australia. On his return to active fieldwork after the war Tindale adopted reel-to-reel tape recorders instead of the wax cylinder machine and began experimenting with colour film. Willing to adopt any worthwhile advance in technology during his working life, Tindale nevertheless stopped short of the computer age. His voluminous shoe-box card files on Aboriginal place names and language terms and his own indexed journals provided a ready entree into most of his research areas.
Tindale's particular duty during the Board expeditions was to note the identities, social and totemic background and genealogical relationships of Aboriginal people. This responsibility provided him with the structure and discipline required to complete his apprenticeship as an anthropologist. In the first place, it brought him directly into contact with Aboriginal people as individuals on a one to one basis. His calm and straightforward manner, leavened with an easy humour but sharpened by an incisive and enquiring approach, elicited data with a minimum of fuss. Aboriginal people remembered Tindale with respect and affection years after his visits. The genealogical exercise also gave Tindale an appreciation of the kinship network as the generative basis of Aboriginal society, in all its different forms across the continent. But in contrast to the social anthropologists trained in the British tradition who were beginning to graduate under Radcliffe Brown and Elkin during the 1930s, genealogies represented far more to Tindale than 'samples upon which to hang kinship terminology' (Birdsell 1966). In the detail recorded by him, they provided concrete evidence of the relationship between individuals, sites and Dreaming sequences.
Additionally, and with major implications for his later research, Tindale's genealogies enabled him to develop a demographic record of Aboriginal Australia as a whole. As with his ambitious work on documenting tribal boundaries and territories, the continental scale of this undertaking was rarely even considered as a possibility by his contemporaries. Tindale first undertook applied demographic studies through his analysis of the Tasmanian Aboriginal descendants of Bass Strait. Published in 1953, the study remained for many years the best total community demographic study in Australia.
The field of population dynamics was almost unknown within Australia when Tindale undertook his Tasmanian study. He was to make a major contribution to it, particularly through his diachronic analysis of the Bentinck Island Kaiadilt people. In a series of papers Tindale demonstrated the effective isolation for approximately 3 500 years of this self-contained population of about 120 people. Through meticulous use of the genealogical method he documented a pre-contact population crash which reduced the island's population by more than 40%. In collaboration with the serologist Roy T. Simmons, and the micro-evolutionist Joseph Birdsell, Tindale demonstrated that the Bentinck Islanders represented a classic case of founder effect, described by Birdsell as the 'most important remaining portion of the Sewell Wright Effect' (Birdsell 1966). Due to the small numbers in the original emigrant ancestors of the Kaiadilt, their descendants differ from mainland Australian Aborigines in some genetic properties as much as do major racial groups from each other in other parts of the world.
Tindale's awareness of the potential of this field was stimulated through his time in the United States during 1936-1937. Following his award of a 1936 Carnegie Research Fellowship (to be followed by a second in 1959), Tindale spent several months studying Australian ethnographic material and lecturing in Europe and the United States. Apart from meeting Birdsell, who became a lifelong friend, Tindale made other friends and contacts in America to the extent that, following the death of his first wife Dorothy during 1969, he was readily able to adjust to life there. Meetings with the environmentally-oriented anthropologists Alfred Kroeber and Earnest A. Hooton, the serologist Carl Sauer, and the geographer T. Griffith Taylor were especially influential, confirming Tindale's anthropological development along lines increasingly distinct from those promoted by social anthropologists emerging from the University of Sydney. In particular, Tindale's meeting with Kroeber at Berkeley refocused his commitment to mapping the tribal distribution throughout Australia, in order to provide a firm basis for the study of culture traits. At Harvard Earnest Hooton further supported this approach, seeing the importance of a well-documented distributional template for the anthropometric and serological studies which he proposed as a project to Tindale and his favoured student, Joseph Birdsell. The result of these meetings shifted the course of South Australian, and Australian, anthropology.
Hooton's influence enabled one of the most ambitious anthropological surveys every undertaken in Australia, jointly funded by the University of Adelaide and Harvard University. During an eighteen month period through 1938-39, Tindale led a data-gathering expedition supported by Birdsell and accompanied by their wives as secretaries and research assistants. The team travelled by road to almost every Aboriginal settlement and mission throughout eastern, southern and south-western Australia. The object was to undertake a comprehensive survey of the Aboriginal population in its interaction with the non-Aboriginal population, several generations after first contact had occurred. As on the previous Board expeditions, the pair gathered an immense range of physiological and sociological data, measuring, blood-sampling, photographing and interviewing more than 3 000 individuals. The project was completed under Birdsell's leadership and with Tindale's active participation during the years 1952-54, when north-western Western Australia and parts of the Northern Territory were surveyed and some earlier ground retraced, resulting in the survey of a further 2 000 individuals. For Tindale and Birdsell, the 1938-39 expedition represented the beginning of a firm friendship and a working partnership which spanned the next half-century.
The photographic and genealogical records was also to serve another, unforeseen purpose, making Tindale's name familiar to many thousands of Aboriginal people across the country decades later. The establishment of the Aboriginal Family History Project at the South Australian Museum during the 1980s made these records accessible to the descendants of those contacted by Tindale and Birdsell during the 1938-39 and 1952-54 expeditions. Tindale lived long enough to appreciate the impact which this historical record was to make upon the lives of Aboriginal people.
Birdsell's detailed genetic studies of Australian Aborigines (discussed elsewhere in this volume) derived from data first gathered during the 1938-39 expedition. Much of this work was directed towards establishing the thesis, still controversial, that Aborigines had arrived in Australia in three chronologically, and physically, distinct groups. It was Tindale and Birdsell's hypothesis that the first of these groups, ultimately stranded in Tasmania by rising sea levels, were represented on the mainland by the 'negrito' population in the 'ecological refuge zone' of the Queensland rainforest near Cairns. This group was contacted and studied by the pair during the 1938-39 expedition. Tindale furthered his interest in genetics, eventually publishing the first systematic study of gene flow for any simple human population. His 1953 paper in 'Human Biology', based upon his massive genealogical data for the Australian continent, remains a classic.
For Tindale, the 1938-39 expedition enabled him to interview many of the last Aboriginal individuals with knowledge of the group structures and territories of those regions of Australia overtaken by settlement and pastoralism. Combining this primary data with that drawn from manuscripts and secondary sources, he was able to realise his long-standing ambition to prove that Aboriginal groups did relate territorially to distinct regions that could be successfully mapped. His tribal map of Australia, first published in 1940 and revised in 1974 together with his encyclopaedic catalogue of Aboriginal tribal groups, was radical in its fundamental implication that Australia was not terra nullius - decades before the Mabo judgement made it a national issue. As importantly, both the 1938-39 and 1952-54 expeditions (the latter accompanied by Tindale only until 1953), resulted in several hundred sheets of genealogical data and more than 6 000 well-documented photographs of Aboriginal people.
If Tindale warmed to any particular Aboriginal group among the hundreds encountered by him during his career it was undoubtedly the Pitjantjatjara. He and the physical anthropologist Cecil Hackett spent almost three months in their company during 1933, observing initiation ceremonies and the minutae of daily life as family groups split and reformed during their travels through the Mann Ranges. Using camels, Hackett, Tindale and their European guide Alan Brumby accompanied the group as 'virtual parasites', making a detailed and unique record of a society on the brink of decisive change. As well as film and sound records, closely documented artefacts and genealogies, Tindale prepared the first detailed vocabulary of the Pitjantjatjara language. He had further opportunities to learn from these people during field trips to the region during the 1950s and 1960s.
If Tindale warmed to any particular Aboriginal individual during his career it was undoubtedly the Tangane man, Milerum (Clarence Long). Tindale subsequently wrote an entry on Milerum in the 'Australian Dictionary of Biography' (Tindale 1986), detailing the coincidence of Milerum's first contact with Europeans, at the age of six, with Tindale's mother's family, inland from South Australia's Coorong. After 1931 Milerum assisted Tindale by recording a substantial corpus of song in his native Tangane and related languages, and participated in intensive site recording throughout the Coorong and Lakes region. In this Tindale was assisted by the social anthropologist H. K. Fry, who had already given Tindale informal training in anthropological theory. At the time of his death, perhaps Tindale's greatest unfinished work was an ethnographic study of the Coorong region as seen through the eyes of Milerum. Much of this data was gathered during Milerum's extended visits to the South Australian Museum, during which he became a 'resident' artefact maker until his death in 1941.
By the late 1930s Tindale's fieldwork had taken him to every geographic and cultural zone of Aboriginal Australia. His 1921-22 fieldwork in tropical Australia was complemented by a ten week expedition to Flinders Island and Princess Charlotte Bay on Cape York during early 1927 in the company of a museum colleague, Herbert Hale (later Director). Tindale's first, successful experiments with ethnographic film-making occurred during this expedition. He made further expeditions to the tropics during the 1938-39 expedition, and in 1960 and 1963, visiting Mornington and Bentinck Islands and the government settlement at Palm Island. In temperate Australia, Tindale undertook numerous trips to the Coorong, the Lower Murray, the south-east of South Australia and Yorke Peninsula, particularly during the 1930s, and to south-western Western Australia during 1968. His arid zone studies began in late 1924 when he and Herbert Hale worked among the Wailpi and Adnjamathanha people of the Flinders Ranges. This expedition also provided Tindale's first introduction to Aboriginal rock carvings and to the iconography of Central Australia. It also provided a solid basis of comparison for his analyses of rock art of southern South Australia, also undertaken during these early decades. From 1928 Tindale's experience of Central Australia grew rapidly. He was a participant on the Board for Anthropological Research Expeditons to Koonibba (1928), Hermannsburg (1929), MacDonald Downs (1930), Cockatoo Creek (1931), Mt Liebig (1932), Mann Ranges and Ernabella (1933), Diamantina River (1934), and the Warburton Range (1935). During 1934 and 1951 he made individual expeditions to Ooldea. A further Board for Anthropological Research expedition to Yuendumu during 1951 signalled the end of these large, team surveys. Tindale's Central Australian fieldwork was completed with expeditions to the north-west of South Australia in 1957 and 1966, Haast Bluff (also 1957) and the Rawlinson Ranges in Western Australia during 1963.
Tindale's participation in the 1929 Hermannsburg expedition provided him with his first close encounter with desert people and their social system. The eight members of the expedition party travelled on the first train to arrive in Alice Springs from Adelaide and reached Hermannsburg at the height of a scurvy epidemic precipitated by the worst Central Australian drought this century. The medical members of the expedition diagnosed the condition and treated it successfully. Perhaps through this solicitude, and the obvious numerical congruence, each of the eight men was assigned a 'skin' name corresponding to the eight sub-class terms used by the northern Aranda groups. Tindale was given the brown hawk totemic affiliation, erukalandja, and was designated as 'Mbitjana' (Tjampatjimpa) skin, a classification which he was able to apply to himself in all subsequent dealings with Central Australian Aborigines.
On the day of Tindale's official retirement from the South Australian Museum he set out with his old friend, the American folklorist, amateur archaeologist and accomplished bibliographer John Greenway, on an expedition to Koonalda Cave on the Nullarbor Plain. It was fitting that this expedition had archaeology as its theme. Tindale's career had been characterised by the relentless search for origins which archaeology expresses as a discipline. From the 1920s Tindale's geological studies under Mawson had trained him to interpret the stratigraphy of an archaeological site and he was the first in Australia to use sea-level changes for dating purposes. As Edmund Gill expressed it, Tindale's archaeological work was remarkable for the fact that he studied sites from 'a number of points of view - anthropologic, geologic and palaeologic' (Gill 1966). This form of analysis at archaeological sites near Adelaide such as Fulham, Pedler's Creek (Moana) and the South Para River had prepared him for his crucial role in Australia's first truly scientific archaeological excavation, undertaken during 1929 at Devon Downs near Swan Reach on the Murray River.
Tindale's emphasis on stratigraphy led him to posit a model of culture succession in Australia, based entirely upon local critieria rather than adopting European models as had been accepted by most other Australian archaeologists. Before Devon Downs, Australian archaeology did not exist as a discipline, largely because it was assumed that Aboriginal people were relatively recent arrivals. Tindale's meticulous excavation established not only that Aboriginal people had lived for several millennia in the Murray valley, but demonstrated that their strategies for subsistence had altered in response to environmental change. He showed how stone tools, animal bones and cultural remains could be used to piece together a previously untold story about Australia's past. His foresight in preserving charcoal samples against the predicted development of C14 dating has received scant recognition. Nevertheless, critics of Tindale's construction of an Australian cultural chronology based on his Devon Downs, Tartanga and Noola Rockshelter excavations, together with his classification of the large 'Kartan' implements, acknowledge the precision of his work and the quality of his data.
Tindale's precise work habits, particularly when applied to the documentation of field collections, have ensured that several thousand Aboriginal artefacts, whether archaeological or ethnographic, may be interrogated by future researchers. Struck by the apocryphal anecdote related to him in the British Museum of a worker who had become unhinged and burnt a large number of collection records, Tindale determined that this would never befall his institution. His careful practice of inscribing each artefact with inked locality data was followed for many years. Many of his specimens are also figured and described in his journals over a collecting period of almost half a century.
These journals, Tindale's collected specimens, and the entire range of his publications, sound recordings, films, photographs, genealogies, crayon drawings, maps and other illustrations will remain as this tireless worker's legacy. The lasting significance of this data lies neither in its bulk nor its scope, but in the fact that it was gathered with a focused goal in mind, to describe the diversity of an entire people before transformation by European contact. Tindale was well aware that his attempt to do this, as symbolised by his 1974 map of 'Aboriginal Tribes of Australia' and its accompanying compendium, would never be fully acceptable and that, indeed, its chances of acceptance would diminish as more and more scholars entered the field. Nevertheless, when he began his task in the 1920s, the number of practising anthropologists in Australia could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and he believed in his ability to complete the task, although he once confided in this author that he didn't have time to die until about 2020.
A side of Tindale's career which his many achievements tend to obscure is that concerned with his role as a public servant. Tindale represented the public face of anthropology in South Australia for almost half a century. He pronounced upon controverial issues and developments in the 'Advertiser' and other Adelaide newspapers, gave lectures and radio talks, and answered innumerable public enquiries about Aboriginal place names, archaeological finds and so on. Tindale had been a founding member of the Anthropological Society of South Australia during 1926 and he continued to participate in its activities and administration. His advice was directly sought by government upon such issues as the creation of a reserve for Pitjantjatjara people in South Australia's north-west during the 1930s, and the policy issues arising out of his survey of what had become known as the 'half-caste problem', documented during the 1938-39 expedition. Tindale also found time to apply his anthropological expertise and experience of other museums to new exhibits. He undertook a full-scale renovation of the Museum's Pacific Gallery shortly after his return from war service during 1946. He superintended the construction of an Indonesian Hall during 1952-54 (since dismantled) dealing with the cultures and history of the Asian-Pacific region., and periodically made important changes to the Museum's long-standing Aboriginal display in the Stirling Gallery. His role as an 'expositor of science' (Day 1966) was best exemplified perhaps by his co-authorship of three popular children's books on the subject of indigenous peoples. 'The First Walkabout' (1954, Longmans), written with H. A. Lindsay, was awarded a prize for the best Australian children's book of the year in 1955. Another successful historical novel, 'Rangatira. A Polynesian Saga', also co-written with Lindsay, was published in 1959 (Rigby), followed by a factual illustrated children's book, 'The Australian Aborigines' (1971, Lloyd O'Neill), co-written with his daughter Beryl. Tindale was a committed bibliophile, but as a user, rather than an owner. His own extensive reference library was often annotated and full of bookmarks. His early exposure to the Adelaide Public Library collection enabled him to save many important reference works marked for the discard pile; these are now incorporated within the South Australian Museum library. Tindale was a great advocate for binding library volumes. He served as honorary libarian to the Royal Society of South Australia from 1952 to 1966, as its Secretary during 1935 and as President during 1949.
There is no doubt that Tindale had developed formidable skills as an administrator and policy-maker during his long career. It was unfortunate that Herbert Hale's postponement of his own retirement made it impossible for Tindale to be considered as an applicant for the job of Director at the South Australian Museum. Tindale acted in this position from 1959 until 1960, having spent the previous year as Visiting Professor of Anthroplogy at the University of California in Los Angeles. The lack of opportunity in Adelaide made the decision to take further American academic postings easier. Tindale spent terms as Visiting Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado from 1966-67 and from 1970-71, and a further term at UCLA from 1967-68.
This academic recognition in America, where Tindale gained a widespread reputation among students and fellow academics for his lecturing skills, culminated in the University of Colorado's award to him of an honorary doctorate during 1967, the result of John Greenway's initiative. Australian recognition was less forthcoming. Through Professor Derek Freeman Tindale was awarded a Research Fellowship to the Australian National University during 1973, in company with his long-term colleague and friend Joseph Birdsell. This posting enabled him to complete the final details for his major work, 'Aboriginal Tribes of Australia: Their Terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits, and Proper Names', a compendium of data dealing with every known Aboriginal group in Australia. Often criticised, both at the level of detail and for its controversial definition of 'tribe', the book and accompanying maps remain incontrovertibly as a classic work of Australian anthropology.
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. During that year also, Tindale was awarded his second honorary doctorate, by the Australian National University. By this time though, Tindale had made his home in America. His wife of forty-five years, Dorothy May, had died of leukemia during 1969. She had accompanied him, together with the Birdsells, across Australia on the 1938-39 Harvard-Adelaide expedition, and had encouraged an appreciation of anthropology in their two children, Anthony and Beryl. In 1970 Tindale married an old family friend, Muriel Nevin, whom he had first met in Honolulu during his 1936 Carnegie Fellowship visit to America. Apart from occasional research trips to Australia and butterfly collecting trips elsewhere in North America, they continued to live at Palo Alto near Stanford University in Muriel's small timber house, bursting at the seams with his research materials, library, and butterfly specimens. An adjacent shed provided more storage space and a workbench for constructing his neat wooden butterfly boxes.
While Tindale relished the relative seclusion of his retirement in the United States, he was never aloof from family or friends. It became almost standard for Australian anthropologists and linguists visiting America to adjust their itineraries to take in a side-trip to discuss points and issues with 'Tinny'. A boyish sense of humour, a readiness to engage with researchers on their own terms, and an enthusiasm for new information sustained him through accidents and episodes of ill health from his mid-80s. He impressed all visitors during his later years with the same qualities recorded by earlier colleagues - an indefatigable commitment to making an enduring record of Aboriginal life before the transformations wrought by European contact. His career's output of several books and more than 200 scientific papers on anthropology and entomology were used as working texts for future papers; he did not preserve bookshelf copies of any of his publications. By 1989 he knew that he would not complete his Milerum book, nor several other projects. Unfazed, he scaled his work programme back and supplied data for Aboriginal place names to the South Australian Department of Lands. He was never happier nor more animated than when confirming a new detail and putting it on the record for others to use.
Tindale remained an Honorary Associate of the South Australian Museum until his death, an association which spanned more than seven decades. During this time all of his former colleagues had left the scene and he observed the gap between museum and academic anthropology develop, widen, but then, encouragingly, begin to close. His letters to the Museum were like those from someone who has stayed away in the field too long: they were always completed with the touching epigram, 'Please give greetings to all those who remember me'. During 1993 Tindale received unofficial confirmation of the award of the Companion of the Order of Australia; this was presented posthumously, to his widow Muriel. But the South Australian Museum Board's 1993 decision to name a public gallery in his honour may have meant most to him - a 'museum man' to the last.
The last word, and most cogent summary of Tindale's achievements, rests with an old friend and scientific colleague, Professor W. V. MacFarlane, writing in support of Tindale's honorary doctorate from the University of Colorado:
It is not common in our time to find men with the skills and insights which Mr Tindale has shown through his active and productive life. He is basically a scientist, while skills with language and human relations fit him for anthropology. His special interests in entomology, geology and botany broadened the scope of his ethnographic studies. As the use of film, tape, carbondating and blood grouping came into anthropological work he readily made use of these for the data that they could bring towards his final synthesis of the cultural history of the Aboriginals in time and space. In addition, Mr Tindale has shown throughout his work a tolerance, humility, honesty and adaptability which made it easy for him to find collaborators amongst both black and white men. (MacFarlane 1966)