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'.
Bates (1863-1951), welfare worker among Aboriginals and anthropologist, was
born on 16 October 1863 in Tipperary, Ireland, daughter of James Edward
O'Dwyer, gentleman, and his wife Marguarette, née Hunt. Her mother died in
Daisy's infancy and she had an unstable childhood. On the death of her maternal
grandmother she was put, aged about 8, in the care of Sir Francis Outram's
family in London.
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.
On 17 February 1885 at Nowra she married
Jack Bates, a cattleman. When he resumed droving she travelled to Sydney where,
on 10 June 1885, she married Ernest Baglehole. Within months she was back with
Bates; they had a son Arnold in 1886. She showed only a distant attachment to
husband and son, leaving both in Australia when she returned to England in 1894
for what turned out to be a stay of five years. In London she worked on the Review
of Reviews, learning the craft of journalism which was to become a crucial
source of income when she lived with the Aboriginals.
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
also saw the start of her inquiries among the local Aboriginals when in 1901
she temporarily rejoined her husband on the cattle-station at Roebuck Plains,
where tribes from the Broome district were camped. Her curiosity about the
camp's disputes and scandals led her to investigate their roots in kinship. She
started to collect vocabularies and saw sacred and secret ritual life. These
eccentric interests further estranged her from her husband, and she finally
left him after a harrowing ride over-landing cattle from Broome to Perth in
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.
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.
In 1912 she
established the first of the harsh, isolated camps for which she became
renowned. She camped at Eucla amongst the remnants of the Mirning tribe on the
southern fringe of the Nullarbor Plain. She was invited to attend meetings in
eastern capitals in 1914 of the anthropological section of the British
Association for the Advancement of Science. To attend, she arranged a crossing
of 250 miles (402 km) over the southern Nullarbor Plain in a small cart pulled
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.
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.
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
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.
had likened her mind to a well-stocked but very untidy sewing-basket. Her
anthropology found little favour with anthropologists and her papers lay
dormant for three decades, though latterly they have received some scholarly
attention. The usefulness of the collection as a resource of anthropological
information lies in the strong empirical thread in her research, coupled with a
precocious manifestation of the anthropological method of living with one's
subject. She had been careful 'never to intrude my own intelligence upon' the
Aboriginals. Her place in Australian folklore has been formalized by the opera,
The Young Kabbarli, written by Lady Casey to music by Margaret
Sutherland. Her achievements remain the subject of sustained controversy.
Clancy's comment: Mm ... Interesting, eh?