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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Newton, Walter (1889–1963)

by Jeremy Beckett

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Walter Newton (c.1889-1963), soldier and stationhand, was born about 1889 at Yancannia, a large pastoral station near Tibooburra, New South Wales, son of Walter Newton, a White stockman, and an Aboriginal woman later known as Maggie Tyler. She was a Wanjiwalgu, a people linguistically related to the Barkindji of the Lower Darling River, but whose country was situated around White Cliffs in the north-west corner of the State. Deserted by his father, young Walter was raised by his mother among the Aborigines working on the station.

When he was about 10 his mother moved away, leaving him in the care of the manager, Edward Peter Tapp, who employed him in various tasks around Tarrawingee station. Newton maintained a lifelong friendship with Tapp and eventually worked for him as overseer. They both enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 5 February 1917 and were allocated to the 9th Light Horse Regiment. On 20 April that year at St Peter's Anglican Church, Broken Hill, Newton married Emily Pantony, a 31-year-old domestic servant from Tarrawingee; the marriage was to be brief and childless. He and Tapp embarked for the Middle East in June. Only some four hundred Aboriginal men, most of them of mixed descent, were accepted by the A.I.F. Newton's experience with horses may have recommended him. His duties mainly involved looking after remounts, although he later stated that he had often been under fire. Discharged from the army on 10 September 1919, he took a job in the Broken Hill mines before returning to stock work.

Newton had not been initiated as a boy, but he had heard many of the old people's stories, particularly the myths describing the forming of the 'Corner' country in the 'Dreamtime'. He had attended Church of England services while in the army, and was deeply impressed by seeing the Holy Land. Some time after his return, he began to try to reconcile Christianity and Aboriginal lore. Myths that he had heard as a child he retold in the idiom of the Bible, pointing out parallels between them, such as the feeding of the multitudes and the flood. His wartime experiences also seem to have imbued Aboriginal stories of cataclysms with a new force. He dictated his 'history' to an anthropologist in 1957. Its conclusion consisted of the Aboriginal creator, 'the Guluwiru', announcing the coming of White people, and naming the place (after the British Crown) from which he would ascend into the sky. Newton's history of the Corner country put Aboriginal knowledge and people on the same footing and in the same moral dimension as European knowledge and people.

The last years of his working life were spent in solitary occupations like boundary-riding. After World War II he obtained employment with the Broken Hill Municipal Council. Through Tapp's good offices, Newton received a pension. For some years he was the only Aborigine living in the town. He died about 23 July 1963 at his Broken Hill home; the expenses of his burial in the nearby cemetery were covered by the local branch of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia, of which he had been a member.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Beckett, 'Marginal Men: A Study of Two Half Caste Aborigines', Oceania, 29, no 2, 1958, p 91 and 'Walter Newton's history of the world—or Australia', American Ethnologist, 20, 1993, p 675.

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Citation details

Jeremy Beckett, 'Newton, Walter (1889–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 24 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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