Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Tommy Dodd (1890–1975)

by W. H. Edwards

This article was published:

Tommy Dodd (c.1890-1975), stockman and cameleer, was born about 1890 at Running Waters on Henbury station, by the Finke River in the Northern Territory, about 75 miles (121 km) south-west of Alice Springs. He was one of several men of shared Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ancestry who bore this name in that era, and his life was typical of many of his people. His father was of Afghan and European descent, and came from the Hergott Springs (Marree) region of South Australia. His mother was a Pitjantjatjara woman from a group which, in the early 1900s, had been absorbed by their north-east neighbours, the Matutjara. Tommy was born in a bush camp and raised among the Yankuntjatjara in the Everard Ranges.

A competent horseman by the age of 10, Dodd was taken by a station-owner to ride in bush meetings. He gained a reputation throughout Central Australia as a horse-breaker and broke remounts for the Indian Army. He was short and wiry, and his gait in later life reflected his years in the saddle: bowed legs and a limp resulting from the many fractures he had received. In remote areas in the north of South Australia he worked at mustering, horse-breaking, yard-building and fencing on stations such as Todmorden, Mount Barry, Granite Downs, Wallatina and Everard Park. He drove supply-carrying teams of camels from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs, then travelled west into the Aboriginal reserve to trade food for dingo scalps—obtained by the Pitjantjatjara and Yankuntjatjara people—on which the government paid a bounty. During these expeditions he gained knowledge of a vast area of the country and learned much about the mythological and ritual life of the Aborigines. A Pitjantjatjara woman recounted that, as a girl, she had been surprised to see him dancing with the men in a ceremony.

His first wife Rosie was an Arrernte woman. Their four sons were sent as youngsters to the Colebrook Home for Aboriginal Children at Quorn, South Australia, and their parents had limited contact with them. Dodd had two other wives from Pitjantjatjara-Yankuntjatjara country, Katie Tjungura and Tjunyun, as well as another son and daughter. He spent periods at Ernabella mission (established 1937) in the Musgrave Ranges where he assisted the staff as an interpreter. In the 1950s he lived at Ernabella, before moving west to the Amata government settlement after 1961. In his old age he received a state pension.

Dodd's familiarity with Aboriginal life prepared him for his role as guide, informant and interpreter for government officials, patrol officers and researchers. In 1963 and 1966 he acted as a translator for the ethnologist Norman Tindale when he recorded Pitjantjatjara ceremonies. Dodd accompanied officers on their patrols to protect Aborigines in the area of the Woomera Rocket Range; for this work he was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1970. The Advertiser described him as 'a quiet, decent fellow who knows the North-West better than any other man'. Survived by at least two of his sons, he died at Amata Hospital on 22 January 1975 and was buried in the local cemetery. His gravestone is inscribed: 'A man of two worlds—stockman, camelman, guide and friend'.

Select Bibliography

  • N. B. Tindale, Aboriginal Tribes of Australia (Canb, 1974)
  • W. M. Hilliard, The People in Between (Adel, 1976)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 13 June 1970, 4 June 1971
  • private information.

Citation details

W. H. Edwards, 'Dodd, Tommy (1890–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Running Waters, Northern Territory, Australia


22 January, 1975 (aged ~ 85)
Amata, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.