Papers of Daisy May Bates

Scope and Content

Bound photocopied drafts of a treatise on the social organisation of the aboriginal tribes ofWestern Australia).

Administrative / Biographical History

Daisy May Bates (c1861-1951) was born in Ireland, the daughter of impoverishedparents. She was raised in an orphanage near Dublin. At the age of eighteen shefound work as a governess, but after an ensuing scandal she sought a new lifein Australia. In 1883, after her arrival, she worked as governess on a cattlestation in North Queensland, where she was briefly married to a stockman.In c1885 she was again married, this time to Jack Bates, with whom she hada son (for whom she felt little affection). In 1894 she made the journey back to Englandalone, working as a journalist in London on the Review of Reviews.

In 1899 she was commissioned by TheTimes to return to Australia and report on the alleged cruelty to theAboriginal population. After arriving in Australia she separated from herhusband. She persuaded a priest she had met on the boat from England to let her accompany himto his mission at Beagle Bay, North Australia, 1899-1900, and it was here that she first cameinto contact with the Aborigines, who would become the focus of her lifethereafter. While at the mission, she compiled a Broome dictionary of severaldialects and c2000 words and sentences, including notes on legends and myths. In 1904 the government of Western Australia appointed her toresearch the indigenous local tribes, and she established a camp on anAboriginal reserve east of Perth. Here she developed a close relationship withthe Aborigines, returning to the European world only to present papers onthe Aboriginal people at government conferences, to argue for help for theAborigines, and to receive a CBE. She spent most of her time studyingAboriginal life and customs, setting up camps for the aged and fightingattempts at 'westernization'. She was known by the people she worked with as'Kabbarli' (grandmother). Woman's World referred to her as 'The Great WhiteQueen of the Never-Never'.

In 1910-1911 she joined AlfredRadcliffe-Brown's expedition to study the social anthropology of Aboriginalsin the north-west, and in 1912, when her application to becomethe Northern Territory's Protector of Aborigines was rejected on the basis ofher sex, she continued her work, financing it by selling her cattle station.She camped at Eucla, 1912-1914 and Yalata, 1915-1918, but her longest encampment was at Ooldea, onthe Nullabor Plain, South Australia, 1918-1934, where the Aborigines faced the threatof missionaries and an encroaching railway line. In 1919 she was appointeda Justice of the Peace for South Australia, and in 1933 the CommonwealthGovernment invited her to Canberra for advice on Aboriginal affairs. She wrote her autobiography, Mynatives and I (sl., sd., [1940]) in a tent at Pyap, 1935-1940, andlived at Wynbring, east of Ooldea, 1941-1945. In 1945, at the age of 76, she moved to Adelaide, where she spent the lastfew months of her life. She was the author ofThePassing of the Aborigines. A lifetime spent among the natives of Australia,etc. (John Murray, London, 1938), in which she expounded her idea ofthe Aborigines as a dying race.

Access Information

Bodleian reader's ticket required.

Other Finding Aids

Listed as no. 643 in Manuscript Collections in Rhodes House Library Oxford,Accessions 1978-1994 (Oxford, Bodleian Library, 1996).

Conditions Governing Use

No reproduction or publication of papers without the permission of the National Library of Australia. Contact the library in the first instance.

Related Material

Australian repositories hold the following material 

  • Correspondence with various persons, 1900-1951 is held at the Barr SmithLibrary, Special Collections, The University of Adelaide
  • Correspondence withA.J. Vogan, c1930-1951, is held at the Fryer Library and Department of Special Collections,University of Queensland
  • Anthropological notes, vocabularies of the native language, Aborigines andStatistician's Office files, correspondence regarding specimens while atOoldea, 1904-1935, etc. are held at the J.S. Battye Library of West AustralianHistory, Library and Information Service of Western Australia
  • Correspondencewith various persons, c1900-1951 is held at the Mitchell and Dixson LibrariesManuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales
  • Letters to MissWinifred Howie and Mr. and Mrs. Micken, c1900-1951 are held at the MortlockLibrary of South Australiana, State Library of South Australia
  • Diaries,notebooks and fragments of paper containing notes on Aborigines, publishedarticles, correspondence, notes and notebook, photographs, maps, oral historyinterview, etc. are held at the National Library of Australia ManuscriptCollection
  • Correspondence, native vocabulary, newspaper cuttings, photographs,etc., c1900-1951 are held at the South Australian Museum Archives
  • Letters to JohnMathew and W.P. Hurst and other papers, 1905-1946 are held at the StateLibrary of Victoria, Australian Manuscripts Collection
 See also DaisyBates in the Desert: A Woman's Life Among the Aborigines, by JuliaBlackburn (London, Minerva, [1995]).

Additional Information

The original drafts are held at the National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Geographical Names