Daisy Bates CBE JP

batesAlthough Daisy May Bates was born 16 Oct 1863 (some biographies suggest 16 Oct 1859) TIP as Margaret May O’Dwyer, the daughter of James Edward O’Dwyer and Marguarette nee Hunt, she was raised in England and migrated to Australia in the early 1880s (some biographies suggest 1882 and others 1884— too late due to her marriage—the vessel, RMS Almora is recorded arr Cooktown 2 Aug 1882 ex-LND Townsville 10 Aug) where, because of poor health, she lived briefly in Townsville before becoming a governess in Berry NSW. In 1884 (13 Mar) she married The Breaker (Edwin Henry Morant or Murrant) in Charters Towers QLD [QLD Marriage Index: 1884/825 Edwin Henry Murrant & Daisy May O'Dwyer] but the couple soon separated. In 1885 (17 Feb) she bigamously married John Bates at Shoalhaven NSW [NSW Marriage index: 1885/7148 John Bates & Daisy May O'Dwyer] and a son, Arnold H was born 26 Aug 1886 Bathurst NSW. [Within months of the Bates marriage, she is reputed to have married Ernest C Baglehole. NSW Marriage index: 1885/2853 Ernest C Baglehole & Daisy May O'Dwyer] Daisy soon tired of her family and returned to London in 1894 where she worked as a journalist. She returned to Australia in 1899 to investigate the poor treatment of aborigines in the north of WA at Beagle Bay. She returned to her family at a cattle station on Roebuck Plains, where aborigines from the Broome district were camped. Here she began collecting vocabularies and observed sacred and ritual life and this self-taught anthropological work came to the attention of the WA Government who employed her to do this work on a state-wide basis. Ever the journalist, she made some rather controversial unsubstantiated claims including that cannibalism existed in the aborigine community.
Daisy Bates moved to Eucla in SA in 1912–1914 and spent the next years working among aborigines in this district moving to Yalata 1915–1918 as Honorary Protector of Aborigines and Oldea 1918–1934. Apart from a brief stay in Adelaide working at the Advertiser, from 1935 to 1940 she lived in a tent on the banks of the River Murrray at Pyap where she wrote her autobiography as a series of newspaper articles, My natives and I. She then moved back to the Nullabor region and lived at Wynbring to the east of Ooldea until old age and failing health led her to return to Adelaide in 1945, where she remained until her death at Prospect on 18 Apr 1951. She was buried in the North Road cemetery.
Daisy Bates clearly gave succour and support to many aboriginal people at a time when it was considered inappropriate, but in a way not supported by many people even at the time. She was variously known as Daiji Bate mamu implying she was a devil, that poor old lady at Ooldea, and Kabbarli meaning grandmotherly person. The latter term was likely self ascribed! There is little doubt that she often wrote as a tabloid journalist with little regard for the facts. She clearly thought herself superior to the aboriginal people and probably did them a great deal of harm merely because she was acknowledged as an authority on their culture and welfare.
In spite of all this, Daisy also provided some insights into the fate of these people brought about by the coming of Europeans; When you see them walking naked out of the desert, they appear like kings and queens, princes and princesses, but standing barefoot on the edge of the railway track, dressed in stiff and stinking clothes, black hands held out to receive charity from white hands, then they are nothing more than derelicts, rubbish that will soon be pushed to one side and removed.She collected a signifcant number of artifacts which have helped later anthroplogists in their studies. Daisy Bates papers and collections are held by State Library of SA, the SA Museum and the National Library.

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