DAISY MAY BATES
1859 (63?) - 1951
Remembered mostly for her work among the Aboriginal people in her later years, Daisy Bates' life would have been one filled with controversy and scandal had her secrets been known during her lifetime.
Born May O'Dwyer on October 16 1863 (other sources quote 1859) in Tipperary, Ireland she was taken in by her maternal grandmother (Grandmother Hunt) when her mother (Marguarette) died. Her alcoholic father (James Edward O'Dwyer) had apparently run off to America with another woman but he died before getting there.
When her granny Hunt died, Daisy May Hunt (as she was then known) aged about 8 , was put into the care of Sir Francis Outram's family in London. (1) From here she moved to Australia in 1884. (2) Later she obtained a position of Governess at Fanny (or Fanning) Downs in northern Queensland or was it Berry, New South Wales, sources seem to differ markedly on the facts about Daisy's life.
Here Daisy met and married Harry Harboard Morant (who also went by the name of Edwin Henry Murrant and who was made famous by the film Breaker Morant.) in 1884. The marriage lasted just 1 month (one source says just one week) before the couple separated. (3)
She then went to work for the Bates family and although her first marriage had not been annulled, she married John (Jack) Bates in 1885. Things get even more complicated here because there are claims that when John went droving, Daisy travelled to Sydney and married Ernest Baglehole in June of the same year. Daisy then went back to John with whom she had a son named Arnold in 1886.
Daisy then went on a trip to England leaving her 7 year old son in boarding school. While she was in England John went bankrupt leaving Daisy with no means of support. She got work writing and later worked in a library. She also worked on a psychic magazine among other things. She passed herself off as a widow and became engaged to Carrick Hoare.
By this time (1899) her husband John (back in Australia) was on his feet again and was pressing her to return. John had acquired a property in the Kimberley and it is at this time that Daisy first seems to have developed an interest in the plight of the Aborigines. She convinced The Times newspaper to accept a series of articles by her on the subject and returned to Australia.
John met her at Port Hedland (one source says Perth and it seems likely that the couple met there before John went north to prepare for Daisy's arrival and then they met again at Port Hedland) and on arriving at the station she promptly names it Glen Carrick after her jilted lover in England. Daisy then sent back a series of articles to London and gained notoriety for her writing and work with the Aborigines.
In 1904 the government appointed Daisy to collect and document Aboriginal languages. The pay was very low but this was the work she wanted to do and she was eventually responsible for documenting much that would otherwise have been lost.
In 1912 the station was sold and John and Daisy parted ways - another source says they parted in 1902 after a difficult overland cattle drove but by now you must be getting used to the many inconsistencies in the 'facts' about Daisy's life.
Daisy went on to become a J.P. in 1914 and wrote the book that she is best known for 'The passing of the Aborigines'. She was alarmed at the treatment of the Aboriginal people and wrote the following after having visited Dorre (Barren) Island off the coast near Carnarvon:
'Dorre and Bernier Islands: there is not, in all my sad sojourn among the last sad people of the primitive Australian race, a memory one half so tragic or so harrowing, or a name that conjures up such a deplorable picture of misery and horror unalleviated, as these two grim and barren islands of the West Australian coast that for a period, mercifully brief, were the tombs of the living dead. When I landed on Bernier Island in November 1910 there were only fifteen men left alive, but I counted thirty eight graves. There were seventy-seven women on Dorre Island, many of them bed-ridden. I dared not count the graves there.'
She is said to have lived on Rottnest, at Eucla and Ooldea in South Australia. In 1914 she attended a conference in Adelaide and she travelled over 400 kilometres by camel in order to get there. The following year she moved from Eucla to Fowler's Bay where she remained until 1918. By this time her health was failing and her money almost gone. The Government sent her money but did not give her the position she wanted as protector of Aborigines. She was always convinced that the Aborigines would die out but this view did not hold sway in government circles.
After a time at Ooldea Soak she went to Perth again to once again try to get a paid position as protector of Aborigines. By this time her ideas were out of favour and she was seen as out-dated and something of an eccentric. Disappointed she went back to Ooldea where she was to stay for a total of 16 years.
In 1934 she was awarded an CBE and soon afterwards an offer to publish her book, which to that point remained unpublished, brought her to Adelaide. The work was serialised in 1936 and finally published in its entirety in 1938. She moved to Pyap on the Murray River at the age of 77. She was hospitalised at Loxton but recovered and went back to her tent.
In 1941 she went to Canberra to donate her life's work to the National Library. She was drawn back to the bush yet again and this time she went to Wynbring Spring.
At the age of 90 she was no longer able to care for herself and entered a home for the aged. Two years later she died in Adelaide on April 18th 1951.
The Aboriginal people she lived with called her 'Kabbardi' which could mean grandmother but it also meant crackpot or crazy person.
1863 - October 16 Born as May O'Dwyer in Ireland. (Other sources quote 1859).
1882 - Moved to Queensland. See note (2) below.
1884 - Married Harry Harboard Morant. See note (3) below.
1885 - Married John (Jack) Bates on February 17th at Nowra NSW.
1885 - Went to Sydney and married Ernest Baglehole on June 10th.
1886 - Daisy gives birth to a son (Arnold Bates).
1894 - Daisy goes to England.
1899 - Returns to Australia after some time in England and goes to Beagle Bay north of Broome.
1901 - Reunites with husband John at Roebuck Plains station.
1904 - Government appointed Daisy to collect and document Aboriginal languages.
1905 - Writes a paper on the marriage laws of Aboriginal tribes.
1912 - Separated from John Bates (other sources say this happened in 1902).
1912 - Moves to an outback camp at Eucla.
1914 - Invited to attend meetings of British Association for the Advancement of Science and rides a camel over 400km to do so.
1914 - Wrote the book 'The passing of the Aborigines' that remained unpublished until 1936.
1915 - Moved from Eucla to Fowler's Bay.
1918 - Moved to Ooldea where she was to remain for 16 years.
1920 - Appointed Justice of the Peace.
1934 - Awarded an CBE. Another source says OBE but CBE is probably correct.
1935 - Returns to Adelaide.
1936 - Sections of what was to become 'The passing of the Aborigines' is published in serial form.
1938 - 'The passing of the Aborigines' published as a complete book.
1941 - Went to Canberra to donate her life's work (99 boxes of papers) to the National Library.
1941 - Went to Wynbring east of Ooldea.
1945 - Returned to Adelaide again.
1951 - Died on April 18th (another source says 15th).
Daisy Bates' life was certainly not ordinary and finding out the real story about it has proven to be almost impossible. There
are many different versions quoted in various sources and they differ from each other in many respects. We have simply
included everything we can find in this article. What the real truth is, we simply do not know. The 'facts' about Daisy Bates
should be viewed with some scepticism because there are simply too many versions to be able to be sure what is fact
and what is fiction. You will note from the first and last links below that even government websites differ on the date
Daisy was born.
Links to more information:
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