57a[“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.”
57b[“The Aborigines”, The Daily News (Perth, WA), Wednesday 06 October 1909, page 11]
LECTURE BY MRS. BATES.
Mrs. Daisy M. Bates delivered a lecture in the Perth Town Hall last night in aid of the House of Mercy and the Girls’ Reformatory, upon the manners, customs, and habits of our aboriginal natives, and embellished her remarks by means of lantern slides and phonograph records. His Excellency the Governor, Sir Gerald Strickland, who was attended by Capt. Kerr-Pearse, Private Secretary, presided over a large, representative, and attentive audience. Illustrating her remarks with lantern views, the lecturer described minutely the details of native life from the domestic, the hunting, the social, the artistic, and the natural sides of life, and by her stories of native superstitions, lent an air of mystery to the inner life of the natives that would be quite unexpected from a cursory view of a native camp. The phonograph records, one of a native conversation and the other of a native corroboree, were both rare and thoroughly entertaining, albeit unintelligible. The lecturer concluded with a description of the life of the natives at the missions, at most of which it had been proved that the native thrived best when allowed to live as much as possible that camp life to which he had been accustomed. At the conclusion of her remarks His Excellency the Governor proposed a vote of thanks to Mrs. Bates for having provided such a pleasant and instructive evening. The information which she had gathered was of very great value, and must be of increasing value to succeeding generations. His Excellency then conveyed to Mrs. Bates the vote of thanks, which was generously accorded to her, and the gathering dispersed.
Once again, Daisy Bates in full flight as a public speaker. I have never read a negative review of any Bates presentation.
57c[Salter, Elizabeth, 1971, Daisy Bates: “The Great White Queen of the Never-Never”, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, Chapter 15]
A Tent at Maamba
Everywhere she saw evidence of an implacable Nature that “is ever making and breaking with infinitely slow process. She fits her verdure to the soil, her trees to their surroundings, her plants to their environment and no sooner has she accomplished this work than she proceeds to disintegrate [it].”
The breaking up of the native groups she saw as part of this inexorable process. Her certainty of their eventual extinction provided the incentive for the enormous effort she put into the next few years. It was also her reason for risking the disapproval of the Government, believing that it was necessary to give all that she could of care and comfort in order to “mitigate the guilt of one’s race”, as she put it.
The years 1904-11 were the “Indian summer of her contentment”. For the first and last time, life offered itself on her terms. As a representative of the Government she was accorded her place in the ranks of the ethnologists; as a writer she was recognized as “the authority” on the Aborigines. After one of her many lectures she was reported as “possessing the infinite capacity for detail, which, according to a well known philosopher, is the stuff of which genius is composed”.
On the evidence of the press reports that she so carefully preserved, it would be fair to say that during her term of office Daisy did more than any one individual to interpret black to white in the West. Her lectures were greatly in demand, her subject, invariably, one aspect of Aboriginal life chosen to suit her audience. She spoke on Totemism for the Training College at Claremont, and again for the Geographical Society. She lectured on “Our Aborigines” at each of the country centres she visited, for Perth’s Historical Society and to the women’s political clubs.
According to the West Australian, “this well known lady, authority on the manner and customs of our natives . . . is good company for hours on end.” Her talks were illustrated by lantern slides and phonograph records; and her audiences, stirred out of their apathy by her ability to project her own enthusiasm, were stimulated and sometimes even conscience-stricken.
Her lecture at the Karrakatta Club for the benefit of Lord Northcote, retiring Governor-General, was of some significance, as he took her text with him to answer the questions still being asked in London on the subject of exploitation.
Her arguments in defence of the white settlers, and the controversy that resulted from them, overshadowed two important items. One was a suggestion from her friend, J. G. Meares, ignored at the time, but later adopted by the Government, that a reserve be established for the use of the natives of the Northwest. Meares presented the eminently practical scheme, also ignored, that this be stocked by white settlers to prevent the spearing of their cattle that was the current retaliation tactic on the part of the myalls.
The other was an astonishing statement from Daisy, that the alternative to the extinction of the black race was inter-marriage with the whites. It was not an alternative of which she herself approved but she had the courage to present it and was criticized strongly for having done so.
In 1909 she was given the official backing of the Australian Natives Association and asked to lecture at the Perth Town Hall with the Governor in the chair. Her doings had a habit of finding their way into the columns of the three main Perth newspapers. After this, her starring appearance, their applause reached new heights.
“What Howitt, Spencer and Gillen have been to the vanishing races of Eastern Australia, Mrs Bates has been to the natives of this State,” wrote the West Australian.