DAISY MAY BATES
Welcome to some interesting facts about another interesting woman. Daisy May Bates, CBE was an Irish Australian journalist, welfare worker and lifelong student of Australian Aboriginal culture and society. She was known among the native people as 'Kabbarli'.
Suspected of having contracted pulmonary tuberculosis, she migrated to Australia in 1884 and lived briefly at Townsville, Queensland, as a guest of Bishop G. H. Stanton. On 13 March 1884, at Charters Towers, Daisy May O'Dwyer married Edwin Henry Murrant. It is almost certain that this was Harry Harbord Morant. Shortly afterwards, he and Daisy separated. Late that year she was employed as a governess at Berry, New South Wales.
Daisy Bates returned to Australia in 1899. Interested in an allegation in The Times about atrocities against Aboriginals in north-west Australia, she went to the Trappist mission at Beagle Bay, north of Broome. Here she had her first long contact with Aboriginals while working at this decaying settlement and its market gardens.
Daisy Bates had already shown such anthropological promise that in 1904 she was appointed by the Western Australian government to research the tribes of the State. Next year this task was temporarily narrowed to a study of the Bibbulmun tribe of the Maamba reserve in the south-west, where she conducted her first concentrated period of field-work. She recorded wide-ranging data on language, myth, religion and kinship.
In an important 1905 paper on marriage laws she showed the equivalences of the four-section system for northern tribes and those to the south. By 1910 she had completed a substantial manuscript on the Aboriginals. Its publication was fatally delayed by the arrival from Britain of an expedition, led by A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, to study the social anthropology of Aboriginals of the north-west. Because of her experience Daisy Bates was appointed a member of this expedition but she turned herself to welfare, moved by the miseries of the sick and elderly Aboriginals enforcedly exiled on the islands of Bernier (the males) and Dorré (the females). Her anthropological knowledge showed her that to physical distress were added the mental agonies of unnatural juxtapositions of tribe and kin. She claimed that it was there that the Aboriginals gave to her the affectionate name 'Kabbarli', meaning grandmotherly person.
She returned in 1915 to the Mirning's area, but this time to the eastern margin near Yalata. In 1918, during a brief stay in Adelaide, she failed to extract from the South Australian government a protectorship and money for medical work. Nevertheless, she set off for a stay of sixteen years at Ooldea, a permanent water-hole on the trans-Australian railway around which Aboriginals had gathered. Here the travelling public could see her remarkable welfare work. In 1920 she was appointed a justice of the peace. Three visits by royalty brought her fame and she was appointed C.B.E. in 1934.
At Ooldea in 1932 Daisy Bates had been befriended by the writer Ernestine Hill, who aided her return to Adelaide in 1935 and the writing of her autobiography, 'My Natives and I', serialized in several newspapers. Those episodes dealing with the latter part of her life were edited into The Passing of the Aborigines (London, 1938). To prepare her papers for the national collection the Australian government had, in 1936, given her a stipend. The sum was insufficient for normal living so she chose to do the work in a tent at Pyap on the River Murray. This episode successfully ended in 1940 with the transfer of ninety-nine boxes of papers to the Commonwealth National Library.
Still with some government stipend, she was living in 1941 in the railway siding of Wynbring, east of Ooldea. Her letters show that old age and failing health were at last making such an austere life untenable. By 1945 she was back in Adelaide, where a secretary who worked with her briefly found her 'an imperialist, an awful snob … a grand old lady'. She died in an old people's home at Prospect on 18 April 1951, leaving an estate valued for probate at £66.
Though applauded for the self-sacrifice of her welfare work, Daisy Bates had no illusion about her own motives, which she privately identified with those that had previously impelled her to enjoy such sports as hockey, tennis and fox-hunting.
She wrote some 270 newspaper articles about Aboriginal life, valuably sensitive accounts of cultures customarily presented in the press as unintelligibly bizarre. However, her repeated, emphatic assertions concerning Aboriginal cannibalism aroused much controversy. She strongly opposed miscegenation; her belief that Aboriginal full-bloods would become extinct unless segregated from Europeans was proved wrong by the population statistics of the years following the Passing. Nevertheless her widely read defeatist views helped prod governments into action in medicine and child care.
Clancy's comment: Mm ... Interesting, eh?