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Biographical entry Tindale, Norman Barnett (1900 - 1993)


12 October 1900
Perth, Western Australia, Australia
19 November 1993
Palo Alto, California, U.S.A.
Entomologist and Anthropologist


Norman Tindale was best known as an anthropologist but was also a pioneering Australian archaeologist, expert on the Pleistocene geology of Australia, and a distinguished entomologist. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Aboriginal tribal groups and consistently refuted the notion that Aboriginal people, being nomadic, had no enduring relationship with the land. Tindale was among the first to challenge the orthodoxy that Aboriginal presence in Australia was relatively recent. His 1929 excavation with Herbert Hale of a rock shelter at Devon Downs on the Murray River demonstrated prolonged Aboriginal presence and their changing strategies for subsistence in response to environmental change. American physical anthropologist Joseph Birdsell was a long-time collaborator. Tindale bequeathed to the South Australian Museum his voluminous field diaries, genealogical records, drawings and maps, photographic materials, sound recordings and artefacts. His first interest, entomology, was pursued alongside his other professional activities. He published on the on taxonomy, biology and evolution of the more primitive Lepidoptera and Orthoptera, and earned an international reputation for his work on Hepialidae moths. The South Australian Museum also holds his insect collections.



1919 - 1928
Career position - Assistant Entomologist, South Australian Museum
Career position - Founding Member, Anthropological Society of South Australia
1928 - 1962
Career position - Curator of Anthropology, South Australian Museum
Education - BSc, University of Adelaide
1942 - 1946
Career position - Served with the Royal Australian Air Force deciphering Japanese military codes
Career position - President, Royal Society of South Australia
1952 - 1966
Career position - Honorary Librarian, Royal Society of South Australia
Award - Verco Medal, Royal Society of South Australia
1958 - ?
Career position - Member, Committee on National Parks and Reserves, Australian Academy of Science
Career position - Visiting Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles
Life event - Retired
1965 - 1993
Career position - Honorary Research Associate, South Australian Museum
1966 - 1967
Career position - Visiting Professor of Anthropology, University of Colorado, U.S.A.
1967 - 1968
Career position - Visiting Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles, U.S.A.
Award - Australian Natural History Medallion, Field Naturalists Club of Victoria
1970 - 1971
Career position - Visiting Professor of Anthropology, University of Colorado, U.S.A.
Award - John Lewis Medal, Royal Geographical Society of Australasia
Award - DSc honoris cause, Australian National University
Award - Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) (posthumous) for service to anthropology, particularly through the study of traditional Aboriginal society

Related Corporate Bodies

Archival resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Norman Barnett Tindale - Records, 1930 - 1960, DeB 65; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

South Australian Museum Archives

  • Norman B. Tindale Archives, 1921 - 1991, AA338; South Australian Museum Archives. Details

Published resources


  • Musgrave, A., Bibliography of Australian Entomology, 1775-1930, Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales., Sydney, 1932, 380 pp. Details

Book Sections

  • Jones, Philip, 'The "Idea behind the Artefact": Norman Tindale's Early Years as a Salvage Ethnographer', Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 2008, pp. 315-46. Details
  • Tindale, N. B., 'Anthropology', in C. R. Twidale; M. J. Tyler and M. Davies (eds), Ideas and Endeavours - The Natural Sciences in South Australia, Royal Society of South Australia, Adelaide, 1986. Details
  • Tindale, Norman B., 'Milerum (1869?-1941), shearer and Aboriginal ethnologist', in Bede Nairn and Geoffrey Serle (eds), Australian Dictionary of biography, vol. 10, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1986, pp. 498-499. Also available at Details

Conference Papers

  • Jones, Philip, 'Archivists in Museums: Norman B. Tindale: His Life as an Archive', in Preparing for Tomorrow: Proceedings, Australian Society of Archivists Conference, Australian Society of Archivists, Adelaide, SA, 1997, pp. 198-206. Details

Journal Articles

  • Erckenbrecht, Corrina, Fuary, Maureen, Greer, Shelley, Henry, Rosita, McGregor, Russel and Wood, Michael, 'Artefacts and collectors in the tropics of north Queensland', Australian Journal of Anthropology, vol. 21, 2010, pp. 350-66. Details
  • Jones, Philip, 'Obituary for Norman Barnett ("Tinny") Tindale born Perth, October 12, 1900, died Palo Alto, California, November 19, 1993, aged 93', Aboriginal History, vol. 18, no. 1/2, 1994, pp. 5-8. Details
  • Mulvaney, D. J., 'Two remarkably parallel careers', Australian Archaeology, vol. 10, 1980, pp. 96-101. Details
  • Smith, M.A., '"The Opening Chapter of the Romance of Excavation in Australia": Reflections on Norman Tindale's Archaeology', Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 13, no. 2, 2000, pp. 151-160. Also available at Details
  • Tindale, Norman B., 'A South Australian Looks at the Beginnings of Archaeological Research in Australia', Aboriginal History, vol. 6, June/December, 1982, pp. 92-110. Details


  • Walter, Karen D., '"The proper breadth of interest": Norman B. Tindale, the development of a fieldworker in Aboriginal Australia 1900 - 1936', MA thesis, Australian National University, 1988, 244 pp. Details

Online Resources

See also

  • Griffiths, Billy, Deep time dreaming: uncovering ancient Australia, Black Inc., Carlton, Vic., 2018, 376 pp. Details
  • Jones, Philip G., 'Norman B. Tindale - 12 October 1900 - 19 November 1993 - an obituary', Records of the South Australian Museum, vol. 28, no. 2, 1995, pp. 159-76. Details
  • McIntyre, A. K., 'Walter Victor Macfarlane 1913-82', Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 6, no. 2, 1985, pp. 247-265. Also available at Details

McCarthy, G.J. and Helen Cohn