The secret life of Hepburn Tindale


A not very good picture of Hepburn, but the best we could find

Today we go down a rabbit hole. It starts with what we thought was a cute story about (possibly) the first Christian in Perth to convert to Islam and ends with lies at the inquiry into the Forrest River Massacre. If that’s not a rabbit hole, we don’t know what is.

But first, the story we originally thought we were going to tell.

In 1935, Hepburn Joseph Tindale underwent a ceremony at the William Street Mosque to formally convert to Islam. An old Guildford Grammar School boy, he had studied at Oxford University, before taking a degree in theology, working in South Africa, and then coming here as a freelance journalist for Sydney’s Bulletin.

Taking the new name Sadig Akber, he spoke about how all people needed to unite under one God, and this would eliminate war and racism. Which we thought was rather inspirational, even if it’s not a solution to world problems that particularly appeals to us.

So needing to know more about Hepburn’s spiritual journey, we looked him up in the archives. Which is where the Forrest River Massacre comes in, because he was one of the key witnesses during the inquiry in 1927. Only there he held a Masters in Anthropology from Oxford, was a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and, as one of the leading experts on Aboriginal life, he was currently writing articles about them for the Manchester Guardian.

Which is a completely different story to the one he told eight years later.

As it happens, Hepburn was the cousin of Norman Tindale, whose anthropology is still considered masterful today. You’ve probably seen his map of Aboriginal language groups prior to European settlement. But Hepburn was not an expert on anything. In fact, he had no degree from Oxford, no Fellowship from the Royal Geographical Society, and had never written for the Guardian. To be fair, he had gone to Oxford in 1923 but left the same year with no qualifications.

But the inquiry didn’t know this and took him at face value as an expert on Aboriginal life in the Kimberley. Norman Tindale would have been. Hepburn Tindale was not. His testimony on how Aborigines lit fires and their cremation practices made it very difficult for the inquiry to prove beyond all reasonable doubt there had been a massacre.

So, it appears we have a Walter Mitty character, desperate to appear important in the eyes of others, and willing to do anything to be noticed. And the poor worshippers at the Mosque may have been the unknowing witnesses of yet another one of his fantasies. Certainly, we can’t find any more references to a ‘Sadig Akber’ after 1935, but the secretary of the Morowa Road Board in the 1940s was an ‘H. J. Tindale’. Could this be where our man finally ended up?

Dancing, fighting and knickers

Unity Theatre, 1930

Unity Theatre, 1930

In the words of the most influential musicians of the last century, the Spice Girls, “make it last forever, friendship never ends”. Today Dodgy Perth tells the heart-warming story of a friendship that knew no boundaries.

Although once again known as Trades Hall, the Beaufort Street building operated as the Unity Theatre in the 1930s. It was at a dance held there in 1933 that our tale begins.

It should be obvious that two men are not allowed to dance together when partners of the fair sex are available. Not a rule enforced at Connections Nightclub last time Dodgy Perth was there!

But because two young fellows showed scant regard for feminine charms, they decided to dance with each other that Wednesday night.

It must be said that Robert Sleeth and Norman Tindale—aged 20 and 22—had consumed more than a couple of drinks. Perhaps that was the reason for their unorthodox dancefloor moves. Or maybe they just liked grooving with each other.

Whichever, the MC, George Greenway, was having none of it. He told them to dance with the ladies or get off the floor. They resisted, and George told them to sit down and shut up, and began to escort them over to the chairs.

At this point the inebriated Robert took a swing at the MC, knocking him down, breaking his glasses, and causing his nose and face to bleed.

Dances being full of testosterone-fuelled young men, this was all the invitation that a bystander, Norman Mitchell, needed to weigh in. For trying to be a hero, Norm was also punched to the floor, losing blood in the process.

As he got to his feet, other onlookers held him back as he tried to retaliate.

At this point all hell broke loose and the cops were summoned.

PC Trekardo was first on the scene where he found Sleeth and Tindale outside, with their coats off shouting through the door challenging someone to come out and “fight it out like a man”. Boys, eh?

At this point Mitchell, still profusely bleeding, charged through the exit screaming “You punched me” and bravely tried to attack our BFFs. Trekardo arrested all three of them.

Mitchell got off with a caution, while Sleeth and Tindale got two months hard labour in exchange for their Unity Theatre antics.

The next time our besties come to our attention is seven years later. This time they broke into a house at 226 Roe Street, stealing cash, a pair of lady’s pyjamas, a set of lady’s underclothing and a pair of lady’s scanties. All belonging to Gladys Foley.

In case you don’t know, the kind of ladies who worked at that end of Roe Street would probably have owned very attractive scanties and been earning good money for taking them off.

This time our BFFs avoided jail and ended up with a simple fine.

Dancing together, fighting together, and stealing panties together. The kind of things great friendships are made from.