Tommy Walker, or Poltpalingada Booboorowie, was a Ngarrindjeri man from the South East. The little reliable information on his early life suggests that his father was killed in a tribal fight with Kaurna people, that he worked for settlers, and that he may have travelled to the Victorian goldfields in the 1850s. From the 1880s Walker was a leading figure among the community of Aboriginal people who lived on the fringes of white Adelaide society – ‘fringe-dwellers’ as they became known. By the 1890s he was a well-known identity in Adelaide, with press reports on his activities often revealing a man with a sharp wit and acid tongue.

On his death the Adelaide Stock Exchange paid for Walker’s headstone in West Terrace cemetery. But Tommy Walker was not laid to rest. In 1903 it was revealed that the state coroner, Ramsay Smith, had removed his skeleton before the burial and sent it, along with other ‘anthropological specimens’, to the University of Edinburgh. In an era when evolutionary anthropology was ascendant, the best that a board of inquiry could find was that the coroner’s actions had been ‘indiscreet’ and that he had allowed his ‘zeal in the cause of science to outrun his judgment’.  

By Robert Foster

This entry was first published in The Wakefield companion to South Australian history edited by Wilfrid Prest, Kerrie Round and Carol Fort (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2001). Edited lightly. Uploaded 30 June 2015.

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Tommy Walker, or Poltpalingada Booboorowie, circa 1880

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, "Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri" by Graham Jenkin, Tommy Walker, Public Domain

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