The area was settled in the 1840s when graziers moved into the district with substantial flocks of sheep. The 'Tintinara' homestead, including the woolshed and outbuildings, dates from this period.
No one knows how the town got its name. One body of opinion argues that 'tin-tin-yara' was an Aboriginal term used to describe the group of stars Europeans know as Orion's Belt. This explanation, first proposed in 1841, claims that it had the meaning of 'a group of youths who hunt kangaroos and emus on the great celestial plain'.
A more prosaic, but no less fascinating, explanation was published in The Register in 1919. It told the story: 'We had a smart young blackfellow in our employ, with a name that sounded like Tin Tin. We liked the sound of it, and when choosing a name for the [pastoral] station, we put 'ara' at the end of it, and made Tintinara of it. Tin Tin was of the Coorong tribe, and in his white moleskin trousers, blue shirt and cabbage-tree hat, was worth looking at.
Being on the edge of the desert the land was harsh and unforgiving. For many years it was known as the '90 Mile Desert'. The first settlement in the area occurred in 1852 when Police Inspector Tolmer created a track from the Mount Alexander goldfields in Victoria across to Adelaide. One of the stopping points on this track was the place where the old Homestead now stands which was used as a watering spot.
It was mostly covered with mallee scrub and it wasn't until the arrival of the 'scrub rippers' (which ripped the mallee out and ploughed the soil at the same time) that any real agriculture started in the district.