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 Norton 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


  1. I was Bobby’s last apprentice at Applecross Tattoo… back in 2008/2009.
    Lots of Fond Memories. Have photos of the Old shop, would post but I don’t know how ahaha
    RIP Tattoo Wizard

  2. Bobby did all my cover ups while at Applecross Tatoos. He was a gentleman and a friend. RIP


  3. We love and miss you Pop. Wish you were here with us all.
    Your memory is forever like the ink on our skin
    Thank you to everyone for sharing and honouring Pop to this day.
    Legends never die
    Love always Shani

    1. I’m the tattooist that Bob used to visit in the UK,, TJs Southside tattoo Co my name is John Norton,,not John Newton like the peice has stated,and I wondered where your name Norton originated from I worked with Bob at Aberdeen st, Ruth st, in the 70s&80s I then swaped my seat in Bobs shop with Deano miller for the Subway tattoo shop Mt Lawley then moved to the UK,

  4. He’s definitely in my teenage memories, everyone went to him spoke about him.
    Dino Miller is my first husbands cousin which would be how he got introduced to him. Essex England is where my husband was born so they have a little in common.

    1. I’m the tattooist that Bob used to visit in the UK my name is John Norton,TJs Southside tattoo Co who your end had the Essex conection? Do they still have the connection,, I used to have the Subway tattoo company in Mt Lawley befor that I worked with Bob in the 70s&80s Aberdeen St & Ruth St ,, my name is spelt wrong it’s not Newton its Norton

  5. Got my 1st piece of skin art from Bobby 42 yrs ago when he had the shop in freo just up from Tarrantella’s
    RIP Bobby

    1. Bob took a dislike to a American sailor in tarrentellas and a brawl broke out sailors against tattooists John Norton Bob Miller Steve Ward It was Bobs birthday his brother Mark was also there Les Whearham Adrian Reed and other followers got stuck in to I was the only one that got nicked,, for choking a Detective who I thought was a sailor ,,,but I beat the wrap ,,they (cops) were spewing

    1. Can remember when Bob had the tattoo shop 7 forrest ave East Perth when i was over there from Melbourne top man taught my mate Brett how to tattoo sadly both gone

      1. I knew Brett from Forrest Ave , it was where I got my first tattoo in 1972 my name is John Norton I worked with Bob in Aberdeen St, Ruth St, and I had the Subway tattoo company in Mt Lawley I then moved to the UK ,TJs Southside tattoo Co where Bob came to each year from 1999_2008

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