Bobby Thornton Remembered

Many legends have come out of Perth—Bon Scott, Heath Ledger, Kevin Bloody Wilson—and Bobby Thornton, the first registered tattooist in WA, a pioneer of the Australian tattoo industry.

BOBBY THORNTON was born and raised in Perth; his life ended in mid January 2009 after three years of fighting throat cancer. Not letting his passion of tattooing suffer along with his sickness, he was still tattooing his mates and family; he even tattooed his nine-year-old granddaughter so she could have some memories of her pop.

Bobby had a colourful career, loved by many, hated but respected by others (the long arm of the law). He started tattooing at the age of 19, opening his first shop at 21; not bad going in any man’s book.

Bobby had many great highlights in his career, spanning over four decades mainly in Western Australia, his favourite was in ’88 where he won Best Australian Cover Up Artist of the year, winning this with fellow artist Les Bowen at the Brisbane Convention Centre in Queensland.

Thornton featured in Ozbike’s own Tit For Tatts video in ’88. He also features in the Freemantle Prison Tour video. He did time in the limestone lodge where he painted a peacock and a dragon on the outside of a cellblock wall; the artwork is still there today.

Bobby has worked and owned many shops along the way, including East Perth, Northbridge, Highgate, Wellington Street, Southside Freo, and Boss Tattooing.

Bobby remained great mates with Basil Jarvis who tattooed for 20 years alongside him. Not forgetting Bobby’s other mates such as Wally Hammond, Dutchy, Billy Philips, Chris Spider Webb, Steve, Dino Miller, Bobby Miller, Rick Luder, Locky Laurance, The Robinsons, Pete Davidson, Terry Green, Stu Lupton, and the list goes on.

However, his long-time friend, John Newton at TJS Tattoo & Piercing in Essex, England, had an annual spot for Bobby in his shop as a guest artist which Bobby loved doing in the later end of his life.

Darky, Frank Thompson, was Thornton’s inspiration and gave Bobby his very first tattoo.

Bobby also sought knowledge and experience by travelling overseas. One time in the ’80s he visited Johnny Two Thumbs in Hong Kong to learn about China’s art of original designs, such as authentic dragons, flowers, key fish, and use of colours.

Along with this knowledge, Bobby was well known for his portraits, free-hand and cover-ups.

Bobby was last seen at the Westdale Rock Tattoo Show and Sandrags where he was a guest as he was at many of WA’s top tattoo shows.

Bobby also designed the process for tattoo removal years ago by using pertanic acid mixed with peroxide to bleach the skin, by tattooing over the old tattoos, even cover-ups of birth marks.

I’m sure Bobby’s legend lives on as he’s helped many tattooists and future artists along his way, passing on his vast knowledge, passion and designs to further the tattoo industry for many years to come.

Many thanks to Danielle, Karl, AJ, Matthew, Damo, Matty, and Ed. Special thanks to two of his favourite clients come friends, Fox & Shaz, who supplied much needed past photos, information, and photos of their own tattoos done by Bobby.

pics by Richie & Gazza; words by Gazza

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