28a[“Western Australian Aborigines”, The Western Mail (Perth, WA), Saturday 24 August 1907, page 44]
WESTERN AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINES.
A DOOMED RACE.
THE WOMAN’s LOT.
LECTURE BY MRS. BATES.
At the Karrakatta Club rooms on Monday afternoon Mrs. Bates delivered a lecture on the aborigines of Western Australia. Among those present were their Excellencies the Governor-General (Lord Northcote) and the Governor of the State (Sir Frederick Bedford). Mrs. Bates, in the course of her remarks, said that to save and civilise the race we were now supplanting was impossible, for they were physically uncivilisable, and were inevitably doomed to perish. All that could be done was to render their passing easier. From the personal inquiries she had made in the North-West, she had found no corroboration of the stories of ill-treatment. At the first station she had visited she found that the parents of the majority of the natives had been in the employment of their mistress’s father and mother on the same station, many of the younger natives representing the third generation which had been attached to the place, showing altogether about forty years’ service in one family. All the native girls and women working in the house were members of the family, and they did their work simultaneously with that which the mistresses themselves performed. There were no idle white women on the North West stations. The natives were allowed their midday rest, and in the afternoon they changed their attire and sat and worked on one of the wide verandahs. Six sheep were killed weekly on this station for the household alone, and, as the white members comprised only four grown-up people and five little children,
The House Natives Were Not Stinted
in the matter of food. The rations supplied every four days for man and wife consisted of 12lb. flour, 12lb. meat, ¼lb. tea, 3lb. sugar, 1½lb. tobacco, 1lb. soap. From this station she passed on to others, and, although she found that some station-owners were not as liberal in the matter of food supply as others, yet she never found a single instance to corroborate the allegations of ill-treatment during all her travels in the North-West. She sometimes found all hands, owners and natives, working at a distance from the head station, and in every one of these camps the white man’s food, except that he made a better damper, was the same as that of the natives, viz., damper, meat, and tea. If the natives were indentured as they sometimes were, their masters appeared to feel an indefinite kind of responsibility towards them, which tended in a great measure to foster patience and kindness, while the boys themselves were aware that they enjoyed more protection when indentured. There had, of course, been criminals in the North west, as in other parts of Australia, but those
Miscreant Who Wilfully Mistreated Their Natives,
whether indentured or not, were punished, if not by the law of the natives themselves, then by the censure of their neighbours, or, as she had been told, by a flogging from their own white employees. It could not be supposed that every white man employed on a station would calmly look on at a case of wilful ill-treatment, nor could it be said that the splendid women who worked beside their husbands on these far-off stations would calmly tolerate the practice of cruelty towards unoffending natives. Western Australia, though by no means guiltless in past years with regard to her treatment of the natives, was every year grappling more successfully with the subject, and at the present time no State in the Commonwealth was doing more for the aboriginal population than our own. The expenditure by the Government and by private missionary enterprise since the early years of the States existence amounted to over £250,000, and this was not inclusive of many sums expended by private persons. The Government of the present day was still liberally supporting aboriginal missions. Particulars of this assistance were then given by the lecturer. The Aborigines Act gave ample power to deal with cases of cruelty, and with effective administration by the special department whose duty it was to watch over the interests of the natives, the nearest approach to a perfect system of dealing with the aborigines would be attained. She had been
Camping Amongst Natives
on a Government reserve, some twelve miles from Perth, for more than a year. The rations arrived weekly. The natives each received 10lb. flour 5¼lb. meat, 2lb. sugar, ¼lb. tea, two sticks of tobacco, and soap and candles. Every other week extra rations in the shape of potatoes, onions, and [? ] were given to young and old in the reserve. The last days of the week were days of comparative famine, for everyone got through his supply as quickly as possible, knowing that if it were portioned out so as to last the week, his more improvident neighbours would “happen in” at meal time and quickly consume his reserve store. The sacred duties of hospitality also sometimes resulted in a premature disappearance of the food supply. Then there were the native dogs to be fed, and unless measures were taken to limit the number of dogs there would always be an insufficient supply of Government rations. The lecturer then gave particulars of the bill of fare at the missions and institutions where the natives were fed three times daily. She had spent about four months at the Beagle Bay R.C. Mission, and often saw the food distributed. The breakfast consisted of boiled rice and pumpkin; the dinner of soup or meat, vegetables, and damper; and the supper of damper and tea, the natives being given a certain quantity of flour to make their own damper. At the New Norcia R.C. Mission, and also at the female branch of the native and half-caste (Anglican) mission the girls sat at table and were fed three times daily, the food being soup or meat, bread, vegetables, and tea. She had always found
Abundance of Food
supplied to the natives on the stations. One of the chief complaints made against the station owners’ and others was with respect to the practice of giving the offal of the beast killed to the natives. The native laws obtaining before the advent of the white man regarding the distribution of the game killed ordained that the so-called offal, which she took to mean the whole inside of an animal, must be given to the grandfathers and fathers-inlaw, the most influential men in any camp, to whom the choicest portion of everything had to be given. Notwithstanding the fact that the so-called offal was a favourite native dish, the usual meat food given to the natives was mutton on a sheep station and beef, fresh or salted, on a cattle station. It was the general experience that the natives liked to find their own food - iguanas, roots, grubs, etc. - on Sunday, the change of food being craved by their peculiar constitutions. The native must frequently
Go Back to His Old Life and Ways,
and if he were not given a long annual holiday he would take. She went down to the camp at Beagle Bay several nights, and saw the natives’ sleeping arrangements. They had during the day scooped holes in the sand and had made a fire in the hollow. This fire, when well lighted, they sprinkled gradually with the sand they had thrown out, until they had covered the fire and thoroughly heated the sand. At night they again scooped out the sand and lay in the warm hollow where the fire had been, covering themselves with the still warm sand. They only troubled to do this on the few cold nights of the northern winter. The missionaries gave them blankets frequently, but these became in a short time so very dirty that even the native owners - too lazy to wash them - rejected them for the clean, hot, sandy covering. This was the northern natives’ method of sleeping in sandy soil. To clothe the northern native beyond what decency required was to hasten his end, for whatever clothing he would
wear by day, be it light or heavy, was discarded at night. The articles of clothing distributed among the natives was then described by the lecturer. The northern natives, she went on, only liked clothing to give away, for the law of exchange or barter was binding upon the natives. Several important facts had been overlooked in connection with
The Neck-Chaining of Prisoners.
The plague of flies made it desirable to have the hands and feet absolutely unfettered. It would be impossible for prisoners chained together by the leg to walk through the spinifex, as one or the other would be constantly falling, and the condition of their feet, legs, and bodies, after a journey of any length, would indeed be dreadful. Besides, the unusually small size and excessive suppleness of the aborigines’ hands and feet rendered hand-cuffing and leg-chaining useless for purposes of safety. When travelling long distances, neck-chaining was the most humane method, and though the chaining of native prisoners was to be deprecated, yet, when the constable had to traverse country thick with shrubs and undergrowth, there was no other safe method than that of neck-chaining. It was neither the chaining nor the food that the prisoners dreaded; it was the confinement. Confine them in house, mission, hospital, or prison, and they died like flies. With regard to
The Question of Cattle Spearing,
the squatters were willing to contribute a certain number of sheep or cattle for native consumption. This offer would be taken advantage of were native posts and reserves established at outlying places in the North, in charge of resident protectors, whose duty it would be to teach the natives to respect the property of their white neighbours. Turning to the alleged existence of immorality, the lecturer said that this intercourse would never be stamped out as long as the native women were contiguous to white or coloured men. Measures could be taken to check open immorality in the vicinity of townships, stations, and missions. When a native settlement was contiguous to a township, drunkenness and immorality would follow, not because the whites frequented the settlement, but because the township was easy of access to the native.
The Death of the Old Natives
had removed the only restraint the younger people submitted to with regard to the stringent native laws of marriage and selection. The directors of both the Sunday Island and Beagle Bay missions, stated recently that during the laying up season of the pearling boats, nearly every able bodied man and woman left the missions to join the coloured crews. A stringent law, imposing imprisonment for lengthy periods upon coloured men found in native camps, would be one of the most effective measures towards a mitigation of this most unhappy state of affairs. The loss of the greater part of the luggers’ crews for even one season would cause the white owners of these vessels to see that the boats were in future beached at spots where the natives could not easily reach them. A clause in the new Bill gave the Chief Protector the guardianship of native and half-caste children up to 16 years of age, and when the enforcement of this most important provision was begun,
The Future of the Half-Caste Remnant
of the race would be in a measure assured. There were four institutions now in existence, ready to receive and train these half-caste children. The temporary guardianship of the native and halfcaste children should be given to white women. In their wild state the lot of the aboriginal women was, indeed, a hard one; they were the absolute property of their husbands, to whom they must never cease ministering. They must always be content with the remnants of his meals, and should he consume all the eatables, the women must go without any food. In everything they do, their men must be their first consideration, and according to native law, if a man permanently maimed his woman for some trifling offence, no one amongst her relatives’ had any right whatever to interfere. The woman was the burden-bearer at all times, and except in the hunting of the bigger game kangaroos, emus, etc., she provided the greater part of her husband’s food. Everyone knew that the native man’s principal characteristic was laziness. Since the coming of the white man, and the introduction of his vices amongst the aborigines,
The Native Woman
had become a valuable possession to her husband, who would trade her for anything he might need at the moment—food, tobacco, drink, clothing, or whatever was offered to him. Under these changed conditions, the native woman found much of her old burden removed, for the lowest and meanest white or coloured man in the State could not treat a native woman as cruelly as did some native men, and so the woman’s lot was made easier, and the material wants of her man were also more easily obtained. Was it any wonder then that the natives, both men and women, would use every cunning they possessed to elude constable, white woman, or missionary, in order to reach this, to them, desirable state of things? She had never yet met with one instance of an unwilling victim. There was no one who could accuse her of prejudice against the natives, among whom, and for whom, she had worked for a number of years. If she had held a brief in the matter at all, it would have been for the race whose interests she had at heart. Her affection for, and interest in, the native did not blind her to the character of the aboriginal man and woman, nor to the injustice done to the State by misinterpretation and misrepresentation. The recital of what she had seen in her own experiences might help in a slight measure to counteract the evil fame that had been pressing upon the State of late from all sides.
Bates addresses the neck-chaining of prisoners. It appears from several sources that black prisoners did prefer the leather-lined steel collars to anything that restricted their hands, for several reasons:
- hands needed to be free to brush away flies
- walking was easier if hands were free to push away branches or other vegetation
- prisoners took a liking to playing cards in their idle time.
There is also here an early and atypical summation of the psychological impact of incarceration:
“Confine them in house, mission, hospital, or prison, and they died like flies.”
28b[Salter, Elizabeth, 1971, Daisy Bates: “The Great White Queen of the Never-Never”, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, Chapter 8]
Discovering the Aborigines
“The people of the dream watched the people of the clock come out of the sea and strike their flagstaff firmly into the sand . . . the clock was not a toy but a way of life as the dreaming was a way of life.” —Mary Durack: The Rock and the Sand.
In the difficult weeks before departure, Daisy cast about for an interest to help her face the future. She found it in the drawing-rooms of Bournemouth.
She had gone to the resort to stay with yet another cousin and was introduced to those residents with connexions in West Australia. Of such there was a surprising number, and Daisy found that the conversation tended to drift towards pioneer relatives and their problems of behaviour in relation to the Aborigines. The accusation of exploitation, levelled against the white settlers of the North-west in 1892, had never been forgotten. The press kept it alive, publishing fresh scandals that appeared at intermittent intervals, usually in the form of letters from correspondents abroad.
Daisy, whose pioneering ambitions had been in no way affected by her sojourn in London, took up the cudgels in favour of the settlers. According to her own account she called on The Times and offered to investigate the situation. Since there is no correspondence to mark the occasion and as nothing under her name appeared until her long letter written in 1904, it is unlikely that, as is so often stated, she was an accredited correspondent of The Times. But her experience with Stead and the topicality of the subject would almost certainly have ensured interest.
Her cousin decided that she should consult an expert and took her to meet the eccentric and famous Dr Cunningham Geike, scientist and author of such erudite articles as “The Evolution of Climate” in which he revealed much learning about West Australia.
The meeting was of significance, not because of the doctor’s statement, repeated so often by Daisy as a conversational shock tactic, that “all embryo babies have tails”, but as a preparation for her future.
She wrote her own account of it. The doctor, she said, greeted her as “gracious lady” and led the way through an intricate maze of books into his smoky little den. Clad in a fez and a long coat “half cassock, half dressing gown”, clutching a hot water bottle to his stomach, he discoursed to the accompaniment of singing birds.
The issue, he told her, was not and could not be limited to the question of exploitation. Discovering that she was to sail on the Stuttgart he referred her to a fellow passenger, Dean Martelli, an elderly Catholic priest who had worked alongside Matthew Gibney, Bishop of Perth, in his lifelong campaign for the Aboriginal cause. The voyage would give her ample opportunity to find out what she wanted to know. He would arrange an introduction.
On the Stuttgart Daisy acquired the foundation on which her life work was based. The voyage was shorter but the days were emptier than they had been on the Macquarie. Daisy, older now and fighting the pain of parting from England and her English friends, was only too glad to listen to the dean on the subject of the West Australian Aborigines. A cultured man with terms of reference incorporating civilizations past and present, he was able to give her the facts and yet maintain the perspective of the historian. From Martelli, she learned the history of the white invasion, dating from the military occupation (to circumvent the French) of King George Sound in 1826 and, more importantly from Daisy’s point of view, the arrival of Captain James Stirling and his band of British immigrants in 1829.
Settlement had begun well. The white immigrants were only too anxious to live in peace with their Bibbulmun hosts. Nor was there any show of spears when the detachment of soldiers pitched camp amidst the tangle of trees, scrub and swamp that was Perth in 1829.
Ngal’goong’a, leader of the tribe, as Daisy was afterwards to write in “Oldest Perth”, an article published in the Western Mail in rqoq, “stood up in his native dignity to receive the white invaders, bid them welcome and quietly removed himself and his belongings to another camp.”
Ngal’goong’a believed, as many others of his race had believed, that the white-skinned strangers were the spirits of his ancestors. It was part of legend that when he had crossed the seas to Konnarup, his heaven, the black man would wake to find himself white. Ngal’goong’a’s action was motivated by fear of the jangg’a, or ghosts, returned from the island of the dead.
He could afford to be generous. The word Bibbulmun is said to have meant “many breasts”. His land was rich in woods and water and provided much game. The Swan River groups, numbering at this time about 1,500, were well fed on roots and fruit, kangaroos and emus. When these were in short supply they fell back on the wai’en, or crane, who came to fish on one leg in the estuary. They wandered from spring to spring in splendid nakedness, the men equipped with their spears and boomerangs, the women following meekly behind, carrying household goods and the babies that swung in their gootas (kangaroo-skin bags).
Captain Stirling returned the courtesy of the natives’ greeting by incorporating them into the family of the British Empire: This was not merely a gesture of conquest. It was an honour bestowed by a people convinced of the superiority of their culture.
These early West Australians had braved unknown seas and were building their homes in unknown territory because of their belief in themselves and the way of life they brought with them. The inferiority of the “naked savages” was proved to them beyond doubt by their stone-age implements, their lack of clothing, the absence of technology, even to so simple a form as the wheel. Some of the whites reacted with revulsion; only the exceptional settler appreciated the peace and simplicity of the way of living of this ancient people whose lives were ordered from within and without, who were bound by laws of consanguinity, their roots in the earth, their spiritual life knowing no boundaries, before or after.
Trouble began as it had in other parts of Australia wherever the two cultures met. A white man was murdered by the natives, another severely wounded. In 1834 a third man, young Hugh Nesbit of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, was attacked and killed about fifty miles south of Perth. Sir James Stirling, as he was then, led a punitive expedition which clashed with a band of some eighty natives in what came to be known as “The Battle of Pinjarra”, and some twenty of these were killed.
So began the warfare which was to continue sporadically for many years and, in sad counterpoint, the history of disease and despair which afflicted the Aborigines when they came into contact with the whites.
From the beginning attempts were made to counteract it. But Francis Fraser Armstrong’s attempt to fuse the two cultures, though it met with response from both black and white, failed as the Protestant and Catholic missions of George King and Bishop Salvado were to fail for the same reason.
Enclosed, even in huts, the “naked savage” drooped and died. They complained that, “The smell of the white man is killing us.” It was as though the weight of civilization was pressing them out of existence. Salvado called it a “sickness of the soul” that was a form of nostalgia.
Children entered the mission schools and died from such ailments as measles. Adults developed bronchitis, pneumonia or tuberculosis, diseases that killed them even more effectively than the syphilis they contracted from their white conquerors.
What was also serious, the white man’s cures were very often as fatal as his diseases. Doctors began to warn the colonists that the Aboriginal could not stand up to their remedies.
“With grief I admit,” John Forrest acknowledged, “the native race is disappearing.”
Not, it seemed, fast enough for the more aggressive element in the European community up north. A manifesto drawn up in the Geraldton area was headed by the question, “Are we or the natives to be masters?” The myalls, as the wild blacks were called, kept up a guerilla warfare that roused their opponents to a fury of retaliation.
Things had come to the point, Martelli said, where even educated men believed that if the whites were to survive, the blacks must be exterminated. Any talk of humanity was regarded as sentimental, the charge thrown at Bishop Gibney in the controversy of 1892.
In Perth this took the form of a correspondence that occupied columns in the newspapers and continued for months. In it Bishop Gibney defended the “gentle and docile” people who had led him to safety across the Pindan of the north, neither stealing his provisions nor killing him as they might well have done. Against him were those pastoralists who condemned them as “brutish, irresponsible and treacherous”.
Both attitudes had their foundation in fact. The Aborigines could be docile and brutish, gentle and treacherous, depending on the treatment meted out to them.
Daisy, whose values were those of her compatriots, interpreted what she was told as the dance of death between new and old. The superior energy and adaptability of the British, able to accustom themselves to Arctic cold and tropical heat, was, as Daisy was afterwards to write, “a signal for the disappearance of the indigene”. Martelli’s belief that the Aborigines were doomed roused her scientific as well as compassionate interest. She asked if anything had been done to record the language and customs of the tribes that were left?
Martelli told her that the French abbot of their Beagle Bay Mission in the far north had been compiling a dictionary of the Broome district, and that the present acting abbot, Father Nicholas, was a keen student of their customs.
Daisy glimpsed the hobby that she had been looking for. The dean added that he hoped to accompany Bishop Gibney to the Beagle Bay Mission in the following August. He could not, of course, be sure of gaining the bishop’s consent but if he knew of her interest he might be persuaded to agree to her going with them.
It was an enthralling prospect but it was still twelve months away. In the meantime she must adjust to life as Mrs John Bates, mother of Arnold, who had celebrated his thirteenth birthday while his mother was on the Stuttgart, learning about the Aborigines of her adopted land.