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Papers of Daisy May Bates


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


  • [?1939-1945]


3 Volumes

Language of Materials

  • English

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MSS. Austr. s. 15].
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Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Austr. s. 15

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 648

Biographical / Historical

Daisy May Bates (c 1861-1951) was born in Ireland, the daughter of impoverished parents. She was raised in an orphanage near Dublin. At the age of eighteen she found work as a governess, but after an ensuing scandal she sought a new life in Australia. In 1883, after her arrival, she worked as governess on a cattle station in North Queensland, where she was briefly married to a stockman. In c 1885 she was again married, this time to Jack Bates, with whom she had a son (for whom she felt little affection). In 1894 she made the journey back to England alone, working as a journalist in London on the Review of Reviews.

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

In 1910-1911 she joined Alfred Radcliffe-Brown's expedition to study the social anthropology of Aboriginals in the north-west, and in 1912, when her application to become the Northern Territory's Protector of Aborigines was rejected on the basis of her 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, on the Nullabor Plain, South Australia, 1918-1934, where the Aborigines faced the threat of missionaries and an encroaching railway line. In 1919 she was appointed a Justice of the Peace for South Australia, and in 1933 the Commonwealth Government invited her to Canberra for advice on Aboriginal affairs. She wrote her autobiography, My natives and I (sl., sd., [1940]) in a tent at Pyap, 1935-1940, and lived at Wynbring, east of Ooldea, 1941-1945. In 1945, at the age of 76, she moved to Adelaide, where she spent the last few months of her life. She was the author ofThe Passing of the Aborigines. A lifetime spent among the natives of Australia, etc. (John Murray, London, 1938), in which she expounded her idea of the Aborigines as a dying race.

Other Finding Aids

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were donated to the library by Professor Rodney Needham, All Souls College, Oxford in 1990.

Related Materials

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

Australian repositories hold the following material:
  1. Correspondence with various persons, 1900-1951 is held at the Barr Smith Library, Special Collections, The University of Adelaide
  2. Correspondence with A.J. Vogan, c 1930-1951, is held at the Fryer Library and Department of Special Collections, University of Queensland
  3. Anthropological notes, vocabularies of the native language, Aborigines and Statistician's Office files, correspondence regarding specimens while at Ooldea, 1904-1935, etc. are held at the J.S. Battye Library of West Australian History, Library and Information Service of Western Australia
  4. Correspondence with various persons, c 1900-1951 is held at the Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales
  5. Letters to Miss Winifred Howie and Mr. and Mrs. Micken, c 1900-1951 are held at the Mortlock Library of South Australiana, State Library of South Australia
  6. Diaries, notebooks and fragments of paper containing notes on Aborigines, published articles, correspondence, notes and notebook, photographs, maps, oral history interview, etc. are held at the National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection
  7. Correspondence, native vocabulary, newspaper cuttings, photographs, etc., c 1900-1951 are held at the South Australian Museum Archives
  8. Letters to John Mathew and W.P. Hurst and other papers, 1905-1946 are held at the State Library of Victoria, Australian Manuscripts Collection
See also Daisy Bates in the Desert: A Woman's Life Among the Aborigines, by Julia Blackburn (London, Minerva, [1995]).
Papers of Daisy May Bates
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Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom