Norman Tindale Collection

An index for Aboriginal family history researchers to the genealogies and photographs collected by Norman Tindale, Joseph Birdsell and Phillip Epling in Western Australia 1935 to 1966.

The Norman Tindale Collection is a body of work compiled over a number of years by individuals associated with the South Australian Museum, under the leadership of anthropologist Norman Tindale. It includes vast amounts of genealogical information about Aboriginal communities throughout Australia, as well as journals, maps, artefacts and much more.

Tindale, with the assistance of Joseph Birdsell, their respective wives and Phillip Epling, made four major expeditions to WA between 1935 and 1966. During this period, they conducted research in 52 locations, where they recorded thousands of ‘family trees’ (or genealogies) which include the names of over 14,000 individuals. They also collected hundreds of named photographic portraits and sociological data cards along the way. For a full list of the WA locations visited by Tindale, please refer to the location map.

Types of information the genealogies contain

The genealogies were compiled from one-to-one interviews and feature not only the ‘family tree’ of the interviewee, but often their extended family. In most instances, the ‘trees’ extend up to three generations. They also contain a range of individual particulars, from personal information such as birth dates and place of birth, through to tribal affiliations.

Photographs included in the collection

Portrait photographs were taken of the principle interviewees. The existence of these photos is acknowledged directly above the relevant person’s name within the genealogies, using a reference number that begins with the letter ‘R’ or ‘N’ (e.g. ‘N129’). In some instances, ‘data cards’ were recorded instead of a photograph, which contain physical descriptions, personal statements and family details about the individuals. An ‘N’ followed by a number which includes a forward slash indicates the existence of a data card rather than a photo.

Accessing the Tindale Collection

Aboriginal people are advised that the Norman Tindale Collection contains the names and images of deceased people and elements of secret, sacred tradition. The inclusion of words, terms or descriptions used throughout the records reflects the social attitudes of the time.

The South Australian Museum is the custodian of the Tindale Collection, with the AHWA division at the DLGSC holding copies of the Western Australian component under a Custodial Agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, only direct descendants or those with written approval from communities or families can view the genealogies.

To access Tindale records, applicants can select the ‘Request more information’ option when browsing the online index. Applicants can also apply by completing a hardcopy Family History or General Research form available from the Aboriginal History Research Services page. The form should be submitted to ahrs@dlgsc.wa.gov.au, along with a photocopy of identification. Alternatively, you may wish to make an appointment to see one of the AHWA team members who are available to assist with request.

Native Title researchers can request to view the records for purposes related to the resolution of native title claims pursuant to the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) only. Please see the native title researcher page for information on how to apply. These inclusions have been established using departmental records.

Accuracy

The genealogies compiled by Tindale and his associates are, more often than not, acknowledged as being accurate. However, a small number of misinterpretations may exist. When conducting family history research it is important to read information critically and refer to multiple sources.

Aboriginal names and spelling

An ancestor may have used or been known by many names throughout their life (e.g. they may have been known by a traditional name, kinship name, nickname or a European name). Their name may have also changed with marriage, partnerships, adoption or fostering. Often names were changed by employers or missionaries, or when a child was removed to a foster home or training institution.

In viewing the index, it is important to remember that at the time of Tindale’s work in WA, many people in remote locations did not have a surname, and while the recorders endeavoured to be as accurate as possible, some unexpected variations in the spellings of names may exist.

Page reviewed 08 March 2021