Posted by: nancycurteman | May 2, 2010

Topsy Smith: Australian Pioneer Woman

Topsy Smith, a member of the Aranda Tribe of Alice Springs, is immortalized in a painting by her great granddaughter. Artist, Linda Smith Penangke was a finalist in the 2010 Moreton Bay Region Art Award. Her  painting, ARLTUNGA TO ALICE, honors her great Aboriginal grandmother Topsy Smith who is also celebrated in the National Pioneer Womens Hall of Fame in Alice Springs. When Topsy’s welsh miner husband died in the Arltunga Goldfields, she traveled from Arltunga to Alice Springs (hence the title of the painting).  Arltunga is about 100 kilometres from Alice Springs.  Topsy, though pregnant, made the trip with seven children and a herd of goats. When she arrived in Alice Springs, the local police officer allowed her to live in a small shed that became known as The Bungalow. Later it became a school for fair-skinned, part white aboriginal children. Topsy helped manage the school. She was responsible for the children’s welfare at night and protected the older girls from the unwelcome attentions of ‘white’ men. She dedicated her life to caring for all the children as her own. Topsy spent the rest of her life in Alice Springs with her extended family and died in 1960. She was a true pioneer woman.


  1. Wow! I cannot imagine walking 62 miles, while pregnant, with seven children and a herd of goats in tow.

    Topsy Smith = one tough cookie!


  2. Wow! This is actually Linda Smith, Topsy Smith great granddaughter. I was just looking through the internet when coming across this website about my amazing great grandmother. Thank you for keeping my family history alive just as I am in my artwork.


  3. Linda, What a delight to hear from you. I really enjoyed learning about your great grandmother. I have had a special interest in the Australian indigenous people since I visited Alice Springs and Uluru a couple of years ago. I have since written a mystery novel that involves a protagonist who owns a sheep station near Alice. I’d love to hear more about your great grandmother’s life and the wonderful spirit as well as plight of her tribe.


  4. i am the granddaughter of Topsy Smith, she was a tough lady, bringing her children and many goats to Alice Springs, the goats fed the children and there is a hill in the middle of the town name billy goat hill after my grandmothers goats, her four daughters was taken from her and taken to South Australia to work as domestics. two of the daughters Ada (my mum) and Jean when they were old enough came back to Alice Springs and took their mother out of the Bungalow and looked after her.


  5. Christine, How fascinating to learn from you about Billy Goat Hill in Alice named in honor of your grandmother’s use of goats to feed her children. Also to learn about her four daughters. Are Ada and Jean still in Alice Springs? Do you also live in the Alice? Do you know Linda Smith the great granddaughter of Topsy Smith? I’d love to learn more about the fabulous Topsy Smith.


  6. Hi,
    My married name was Charchalis and I’ve been in touch with several people who trace their family relationship to Topsy Smith; my husband (an Aust.born Greek) was initiated by Walter Smith, Topsy and Bill Smith’s first child, and I, as an adult, of Scottish/Irish/English heritage, was adopted by Walter and Mabel, his second wife. These events occurred in late 1966 after my husband Nick had been spending a lot of time with Walter and being taught Arrernte (Arunta) ways, and in 2008 I first made contact with a member of the Smith family…hi Linda…and am still finding new members nearly every month, mostly now through facebook listings via Connie C. Mabel, Betty Williams and Raelene S. will be having a holiday with me in October (deferred from Nov09 and April 10)and this will be my first introduction to Mabel and the others.
    I’ve read the biography of Walter Smith by Dick Kimber and it brought tears to my eyes because I never met this amazing couple, but I’m catching up now, and always search for new Topsy Smith information…thank you for your article and postings


    • Hi, We are Nanna Topsy’s Greatgrand daughters, Nataline & Jodie. We have been taken buy the way our Grandpa Walter and his wife Aunty Mabel took you in. This story we hadn’t heard before and shows how caring they were. We are Ada Wade( Smith) granddaughters, by her second daughter Barbara( dec) and still live in Alice Springs NT. Grandpa Walter lived with Nanna (Ada) in his later years. Also Nanna Jean also spent time living with nanna in the later years aswell at 10 South Tce. As kids we loved to hear all the old stories from the old people. Alot of those stories we now pass on to our children. We often take them out bush and show them the ways our nanna & mum taught us.
      Nanna Ada was a very strong lady and very proud of her family.
      Alice Springs has been great home for all the families. We are scattered far and wide.
      Thank you for giving us the chance to read your story.
      Nataline Ross can be found on facebook. I would love to hear from you to pass on more information.


      • Nataline, What a delight to hear from you and Gillian. I’m so glad you both commented on my site. I really have a lot of respect for both Topsy and Walter. They remind me so much of the strong men and women who settled the American West. You both must be so proud to be part of such a wonderful heritage.


  7. […] Albert Namatijira: Aboriginal Painter Aboriginal Pride: Topsy Smith and Walter Smith Topsy Smith: Australian Pioneer Woman […]


  8. […] posts about the Aborigines: Aboriginal Pride: Topsy Smith and Walter Smith Topsy Smith: Australian Pioneer Woman Uluru and the Anangu Tribe Australia: The Mystery of the […]


  9. Thats awesome.
    cause that is my great great grandmother,
    shes so awesome

    Thanks for posting this information 🙂


    • How interesting. I love hearing from relatives of Topsy Smith. Please consider providing more information about this great lady.


  10. Hello Nancy my name is Connie Craig, my Grandpa Willie is the 7 child of Bill and Topsy Smith. I read that you have written Topsy was from the Arrernte Tribe (Aranda). I want 2 correct this. My Great Nana Topsy was an Arrabana woman from Lake Eyre area in South Australia. The only descendants from Nana Topsy who are Arrernte by blood are from my Grandpa Willie Smith and my Nana Margaret marriage. My Nana Margaret was a full blood Arrernte woman who Grandpa Willie married and had 6 children together. Grandpa Walter and Grandpa Willie were and still are highly respected, recognised and acknowleged as Senior Arrernte Law Men. Look forward to hearing from you.


    • Hello Connie,

      I’m delighted to hear from a descendant of the wonderful Topsy. I just admire her so much for her courage and strength. I found the information about the Arrernte tribe at the site below. Could the Aranda tribe be a different spelling for of Arrernte? I will certainly research this more in depth. Are you in contact with any of Topsy’s descendants named in the comments above? Might be fun to have a gathering.

      I’d love to hear more from you about her and her family. Thank you so much for sharing with me and my readers.

      The Eastern and Central Arrernte people live in Central Australia, their traditional land including the area of Alice Springs and East MacDonnell Ranges. They are also referred to as Aranda, Arrarnta, Arunta, and other similar spellings.


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