2[Salter, Elizabeth, 1971, Daisy Bates: “The Great White Queen of the Never-Never”, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, Chapter 10]

CHAPTER TEN

Nor’-western Travels

...

Apart from her predisposition in favour of the pastoralists, it was not surprising that her findings should exonerate them, since her information was received from the De Grey, Boudarie and Sherlock stations, three outstanding examples of white settlement.

The De Grey, in particular, was renowned for its success in employing Aborigines. Perth’s Historical Society has documents from this time recording that four hundred Aborigines sheared sixty thousand sheep a year. The statistics are accompanied by a comment from the owner who wrote that “the work would have proved more backbreaking and more heart breaking than most men could endure but for the black man.”

On the De Grey, Daisy said, black servants were treated as part of the family. Each afternoon the women changed their attire and worked on one of the wide verandas. Every Sunday the men hunted for game. After the shearing season was over-Ithey were allowed the pink-hi or walkabout holiday. Corporal punishment was used and justified on the grounds that it belonged to native tradition.

To kill, to spear, to club, were the black man’s ways of enforcing his law. “I do sometimes give them a cut for their laziness,” the owner of the De Grey told Daisy, “but not half so much of a lathering as I give my own boys.”

To answer another accusation, that the white settlers “threw offal to their natives like so many dogs”, Daisy was taken to watch the killing of a kangaroo.

“Before skinning it,” she explained, “they cut it open and extracted the inward parts which they threw on the fire for the first meal.”

Her informants were pioneers such as John Withnell and J. G. Meares. Such men did not close their eyes to the problem but set about finding a workable answer. ...

...

As soon as negotiations for Glen Carrick were completed she left Jack to go South. The first visit she paid on arrival in Perth was to Bishop Gibney, defender of Aborigines.

Since her intention was to present him with her newly acquired facts, their meeting was in the nature of a confrontation.

They got on well from the beginning. Gibney, as Irish as she was, had earned a reputation for courage that could flare into aggression in the face of injustice. Daisy herself illustrated this in her story of the capture of the Kelly gang in which Father Gibney, as he was then, had entered the burning building “fully aware of his danger from fire and bullet, in order to administer his Church’s consolation to the dying bushrangers.”

Gibney listened to her arguments and countered them with personal experience.

He had seen Aboriginal women forced by the pearlers to dive when in the later stages of pregnancy. He had seen some with hands crushed by heavy tools because they had clung too long to the side of the boat between dives. He had passed native prisoners chained by neck and ankle, working in the blazing heat on roads or public buildings. He had come across the bodies of absconders who had died, still in their chains, beside the dried-out beds of creeks in the bush.

Daisy, come to convert, found herself converted. Very well, she would go with him to the Mission. She knew he was planning to leave with Dean Martelli at the end of August. This would give her almost a month to get ready. She would write her impressions for the newspapers. The world would be given the truth about the Aborigines.

Gibney hesitated. He explained that the visit was for a purpose. The Trappists must show the official valuer that they had improved their 10,000 acre leasehold to the extent of £5,000 or they would lose their subsidy from the Government as well as the promise of freehold tenure. It was to prevent this from happening that he had decided to visit the Mission himself. The evaluation was only a few months ahead, it might mean hard work for them all.

This was not a prospect to daunt so energetic an activist as Daisy. She assured the bishop that her articles would ensure justice being done to his Trappists.

That Gibney agreed to her accompanying them is proof of her powers of persuasion. To have taken a white woman with him to a Trappist monastery a thousand miles from civilization can only be described as an act of faith.

That his faith was justified was evidenced, not only by the ensuing three months, but by the next fifty years of Daisy’s life.