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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Windich, Tommy (1840–1876)

by F. K. Crowley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Tommy Windich (1840-1876), Aboriginal tracker and explorer, was born near Mount Stirling, south of Kellerberrin, Western Australia. He belonged to the Kokar people who spoke the Njaggi Njaggi tongue but was probably also fluent in the inland lingua franca, Kalarmai. Probably detribalized when young through an epidemic, he was brought up in the recently settled Bunbury district. Without formal education, he was well trained by elders in bushcraft and by white settlers in horsemanship. He was a great help to early land seekers and government surveyors, and accompanied Charles Hunt on his expedition into the country east of York in 1866. As a police tracker and native constable he helped in the arrest of the murderers of Edward Clarkson in January.

Windich was on good terms with the Forrest family, who had settled at Picton in 1851, and especially with John and Alexander, sons of William. Both led important expeditions into the interior of Western Australia and both owed much of their success to the assistance of native trackers. John took Windich on three expeditions; first into the north-eastern districts in April-August 1869, next around the Great Australian Bright to Adelaide in March-August 1870, and finally from Champion Bay to the Peake Station on the overland telegraph line and thence to Adelaide in March-November 1874. Alexander also took him on his expedition to the Hampton Plains in August-November 1871. As both John and Alexander Forrest were surveyors accustomed to navigate by astronomical observation they were never in danger of being lost in the inland deserts, but they relied heavily on their Aboriginal trackers in the daily search for drinking-water and for horse feed. Windich usually acted as the scout and was adept at finding either native wells or waterholes in the rocky outcrops. He was an expert rifleman and hunter, but in public ceremonies celebrating the end of expeditions his inarticulate reserve was in marked contrast to the expansive garrulity of his compatriot Tommy Pierre.

Windich received several small gifts from the government for his services and frequent expressions of gratitude from the Forrest brothers. They erected a tombstone over his grave after he died of pneumonia while working with a construction party on the overland telegraph at Esperance Bay in February 1876. On it they inscribed: 'He was an aboriginal native of Western Australia, of great intelligence and fidelity, who accompanied them on exploring expeditions into the interior of Australia, two of which were from Perth to Adelaide. Be Ye Also Ready'. His name is perpetuated by Windich Springs, north-west of the Frere Range, discovered and named by John Forrest on 27 May 1874.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Forrest, Explorations in Australia (Lond, 1875)
  • Lord Forrest Centenary Booklet, 1847-1947 (Perth, 1947)
  • G. C. Bolton, Alexander Forrest (Melb, 1958)
  • F. K. Crowley, Forrest: 1847-1918, vol 1 (Brisb, 1971)
  • West Australian Times, 17 Mar 1876
  • private information.

Citation details

F. K. Crowley, 'Windich, Tommy (1840–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 25 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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