65a[Grant Watson, E. L. (Elliot Lovegood), 1946, But To What Purpose: the autobiography of a contemporary, The Cresset Press, London, Chapter 14]
The Stone Age
The expedition, which finally started eastward from the small terminus town of Sandstone on the Upper Murchison, consisted of Brown, Mrs. Daisy Bates, Louis Olsen and myself. Mrs. Bates probably knew more about the Australian Aborigines than anyone else alive. She was not primarily an anthropologist, but an enthusiast, who has given all her love and sympathy to these outcasts from their own land. Her guiding spirit was not a missionary spirit, but one of charity and compassion, and she presented in her person, so neat and dapper, and so much cut after the pattern of an Irish county lady, a strange example of symbiosis with these stone-age men and women, who accepted her with trust and appreciation. I had first met her in Perth while waiting for Brown’s arrival, and she had hoped that Brown would include her in the forthcoming expedition. Brown was by no means averse to accepting a woman as fellow-member. His modern outlook would not repudiate the possibility of women being able to co-operate with men in the field of anthropology, and he was quick to see that Mrs. Bates was the possessor of a priceless store of knowledge. The trouble was that Mrs. Bates’s knowledge, collected through many years of close contact with the natives, was not in a condition that Brown considered easily available for the ends of science. Indeed, he found it to be in a most hopeless tangle. The contents of her mind, in his estimation, were somewhat similar to the contents of a well-stored sewing-basket, after half a dozen kittens had been playing there undisturbed for a few days. At first he optimistically thought he might disentangle some of that rich medley, but in this he proved mistaken. She was made for his exasperation, as he for hers. This unfortunate coincidence they neither. of them discovered in those early days, and so it was that Mrs. Bates started with us, in spite of there having already occurred more than one of those symptomatic intervals when Brown’s eyes had become fixed on distance, and Mrs. Bates had talked into the silence. ‘A most extraordinary man,’ she confided to me, and I could see her shaking the feathers of her soul in perturbation. It was not many days before she added: ‘and no gentleman, I am sure.’
My position became increasingly difficult. I appreciated the genuine and brave spirit which characterised Mrs. Bates, but unfortunately she considered herself capable of the leadership of the expedition. Brown was determined that such an issue should never be in question, and he well knew how to use his weapons of silence and aloofness: the only weapons, short of physical violence, with which a man may deal successfully in a struggle with a woman:
Beside my liking and sympathy for Mrs. Bates, I had my loyalty to Brown and my growing friendship with him. The situation, as the weeks passed, became increasingly difficult. But this is to anticipate. At the start, things’ looked hopeful enough as we trekked with our wagon, drawn by two horses, towards the wild unexplored bush where a large corroborree was reported to be about to be celebrated.
Louis Olsen was a Swedish ex-sailor whom Brown had engaged in Sandstone to be our cook, and as it proved a most capable handy-man. I was surprised to see how soon he fell under Brown’s dominion. Quite early in the expedition there was a difference of opinion about knots-sailor’s knots. Brown’s universality of knowledge seemed to admit no limits. He held to his point with gentle insistence, and Louis very simply accepted his defeat; there was no further friction. I think Louis came to look on Brown, much as the natives did, as indeed a kind of super-being, not to be questioned or judged by ordinary standards.
Our party was also augmented by two black boys, picked up at Sandstone, and persuaded to come with us to act as interpreters. These natives had a smattering of pidgin-English, since their tribe had been for some years in the neighbourhood of the mines. They and their tribe were, from the anthropologist’s point of view, not of supreme interest, since they had, in all probability, lost the social consciousness which the wild Aborigine would show in a purer, and unadulterated form: but, as interpreters and go-betweens, they might be useful for a time. They had shown some reluctance to coming with us, but once out in the bush; kept close to Brown, as though anxious to make sure of his protection. The corroborree at which we hoped to be spectators was to be the outcome of the meeting of some seven or eight tribes, some of which were men from the eastern interior, and who, we hoped; had so far escaped from the contamination of contact with white men.
In reviewing memories of an expedition of this kind, there are many incidents which suggest themselves for recording. How we established contact with the shy and wild tribes from the interior, our methods of communication, or methods of work, and the aims that the expedition set itself; these, together with our personal contacts with the natives, and indeed, there might be added some personal adventures-all these things suggest themselves, but they fall outside the scope of a book which is seeking to separate, from the totality of the past, those events which seem to present an especial relevancy to the pattern of a life taken as a whole, and carried so far as the brink of the present moment. There are numerous books recording the adventures of ethnological expeditions, in which men may read of the manners and customs of the Australian Aborigines. I seek for the essentials which bear on my own development, and so make no attempt at an historical picture, but rather to give the general impression received by this close contact with stone-age men, when, together with a few others of my race, I found myself falling within the subtle yet penetrating psychic aura of the Australian tribesmen.
Nietzsche has written: he who would hope to get an impartial view of contemporary affairs must separate himself by an act of will from the objects of his study, and place between himself and the present an interval of at least three hundred years. I did not need to make any such gigantic effort. This adventure of separating myself from the consciousness of my race, this feat was accomplished for me, whether I would or no, by the simple fact of being surrounded by aboriginal savages, and absent from civilisation in which I had been moulded. The process was slow and imperceptible, yet it was sure. I entered the bush with a rationalistic, scientific bias. I thought magic to be a kind of infantile make-believe. It might appear real enough to savages, but to civilised people like myself it was not to be taken seriously. That was the initial attitude. The passing weeks and months changed this preconception.
I witnessed daily the power of magic. The social consciousness of these simple and friendly people was a concrete reality, and if I did not actively fear their magic I respected it, and I came to believe in it; and, as I came to fall under the spell of these people, so many thousands of years distant from our European conventions, so did those same European conventions suffer from an objective devaluation, if I may use such a phrase. I was coming to stand not only three hundred years, but perhaps three hundred thousand years away.
The process went so far during those fifteen months amongst the Aborigines (in one place or another) that I only just snatched myself back in time to be able to half-believe ever again in the conventions of Europe. I knew that magic could kill, and that magic, the man-made bending of the universal powers, could make ill or well. I had entered the animism of the savage mind, and had found within those mystical, sympathetic identifications the open doorways to the unconscious. I do not pretend that this was an altogether desirable experience, though I think it has been a useful one, seeing that I was able to balance, at a later date, its strong influence by five years of analytical psychology. It was in a way a unique experience, not so much understood or valued at the time, but valued and partly understood afterwards. It had lifted me, or perhaps sunk me, above or below the orthodox horizon of vision. Through no virtue or merit of my own this accident has happened to me. I have lived for a considerable number of months in the world of magic-sticks and stones, of totem animals, and if I have not actually met and conversed with the Alcheringa, animal ancestors, I have become convinced of their existence in the same way in which Dr. Jung is convinced of the existence of the archetypes. That I have seen wild tribesmen trailing their silent, naked way through the unexplored bush-country still seems to me a possession of the soul. That I have seen stark young women streaming with the blood of a yet living turtle which they were laboriously dismembering with a stone knife, is a picture every bit as significant as the intellectual tea-parties I have attended at Lady Ottaline Morall’s. Such experiences amidst primitive people contribute, perhaps, to odd visions which sometimes float before my eyes. If a conscious balance between such stark experiences and civilisation has not yet been attained, I am aware that it yet might be, and I view the portal of death as possibly leading to such a blending, of conscious and unconscious values.
Thus, only in general terms, do I seek to recount my experiences on the Upper Murchison, on Bernier Island, and on the Gascoyne. Only occasional incidents, whose telling cannot be avoided if continuity is to be given to my story, and those which appear of especial significance, shall be set down. Suffice it to say that I found in Brown a leader of exceptional ability, who seemed always able to establish with the natives a just and firm relationship, one which was distinguished by its humanity, yet which seldom lacked the objectivity of the scientist.
At the, corroborree east of Sandstone, after a few initial difficulties, we settled down to the main business of our task, which was to tabulate facts pertaining to the four-class marriage system. All would have gone well, had it not been for an unfortunate raid made by the Australian police, in a futile attempt to secure some tribal-murderers, who were supposed to be present at this gathering. On a certain morning just before dawn after we had returned to our tents from a night expedition to witness some initiation dances; I was awoken by the sound of revolver-shots and of galloping horse hoofs.
The police had collected a number of likely young men to help them in the task of rounding-up the supposed criminals. Some ten or twelve white Australians were riding through the camp, firing off their revolvers at the native dogs, and shouting and swearing in quite a cinematograph manner. Natives were making off in all directions. Brown was standing at the entrance of his tent, which I noticed was closed behind him. Mrs. Bates was emerging from her tent in the distance: In a few seconds both natives and horsemen disappeared, and we were left to the realisation that after such an outrage the natives would be thoroughly upset, and would probably disperse, vanishing into the bush, as only natives can.
Brown was in one of his silent, angry moods, and when the chief police officer returned a few minutes later, he was at no pains to be polite. He listened to the man’s story about dangerous murderers. Had they caught them? No. If it was any consolation Brown told him, the raid had pretty effectively ruined our work.
In a little while an ancient native was brought in, his arms twisted behind his back by his captors. He did not look a murderer, and he protested that he was not, but after some confabulation he was carried off to be put in jail in Sandstone. The police departed, and the silence of an empty bush surrounded us. Brown lifted the flap of his tent, and out from the interior there emerged two of the murderers, who had taken refuge with their white-man-friend, whom they declared was ‘close up along-side-of-God’.
Despite their trust in Brown, the natives did not return, or rather only one of them did, and he was the white-haired and respectable old gentleman who had been carried off stark naked by the police. The next morning he was sitting beside the embers of our camp-fire holding a glowing fire-stick at a suitable distance to various portions of his anatomy, hoping in this way to warm his shivering person. He explained that the police, having no evidence against him, had let him go. He had run all the way from Sandstone during the night.
This unfortunate incident was the cause of our first breach with Mrs. Bates. Although she was pleased with Brown for having sheltered her beloved natives from the injustice of the law, she differed with him as to the wisdom of staying longer at that place. She said the natives would return. To Brown this seemed unlikely, and so, making completely new plans, he decided to go to Bernier Island, where there was a lock-hospital for venereally-infected natives. Here a large number of men would be collected who could be interrogated. This seemed to him the best thing to be done in the circumstances. Mrs. Bates was opposed to, this, maintaining that the natives would come back, and that she had work she wished to complete. Very well, she could stay, said Brown, but we would go. Mrs. Bates was not pleased at the prospect of remaining alone, without any means of transport, but did not like to yield. I do not think she supposed that he would be so ungallant as to leave her, but Brown contended that if women claimed the privileges of men, they should be treated as men in like circumstance would be treated. So it was that we went our way, leaving Mrs. Bates to follow how and when she would. I urged her to come with us, but her pride was touched, and already she was beginning to hate Brown: a hatred which was not tempered by the misfortunes which came upon her, and for which neither she nor Brown were responsible.
I should here mention that the financial standing of the expedition had become very much stronger since our first landing at Perth. Brown had given, at the Museum at Perth, a free lecture on the Aborigines, and on the purport of the expedition. After the lecture a certain Mr. Sam Mackay had approched him, and explained how much he had always felt indebted to the natives for their work for him on his sheep-farms, and that now he thought that here was an opportunity of paying back past obligations. Would Brown mind receiving a little cheque? Brown said he was not above receiving a cheque for so good a cause. Mr. Mackay, therewith, brought out his cheque-book and wrote a cheque for a thousand pounds! Brown half-suspected that this was a leg-pull, but smilingly accepted Sam Mackay’s generosity. That evening Mackay sailed for Melbourne, and we never heard from him again. The next morning the cheque passed as quite in order. In this way through the generosity of an Australian ‘sheep king’ the funds of the expedition were more than doubled. Henceforth my expenses would all be paid, and we were in that comfortable position in which we could feel we could afford to spend, not rashly, though with ample confidence.
65b[Salter, Elizabeth, 1971, Daisy Bates: “The Great White Queen of the Never-Never”, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, Chapter 17]
“Daisy was made for Brown’s exasperation and he for hers.” —E. L. Grant Watson: But to What Purpose?
In a matter of months it became evident that a work relationship between them was out of the question. “Anarchy Brown”, as he was known at Cambridge, was, at the time of his arrival in Australia in 1910, an astonishingly good-looking and gifted young man in his late twenties whose reputation fluctuated between the “bit of a superman” that he was to his assistant, Grant Watson, and a “fabricator of stories”, regarded with distrust by his more cautious colleagues. By this time his political views had been modified from anarchy to socialism, but he was still far from the nationalism that dominated the thinking of his contemporaries. As strongly individualistic as Daisy herself, he carried a sense of style into the detail of ordinary life. His dress was that of a Paris “savant”. He had even thought out the best posture for sleep.
It was after his triumphal return from the Andaman Islands that he was offered the leadership of the expedition. He had gone alone into a dangerous situation and shown so little fear that the islanders had regarded him as a god and allowed him to gather invaluable data on their social organization. Anxious to repeat his success in what was still considered, anthropologically speaking, the uncharted territory of North-west Australia, he read Spencer and Gillen and dazzled the impressionable Grant Watson, a newly qualified zoologist, with tales of the Aborigines.
Later writers were to agree with Daisy that collaboration with him was difficult.
Towards women, whether they were students or colleagues, he showed a condescension that was to gall more than one among the now distinguished women anthropologists.
Ruth Benedict, in her letters to her colleague Margaret Mead, quoted in Margaret Mead’s The Way of an Anthropologist, describes him as “impenetrably wrapped in his own conceit”.
“I don’t think Brown is fighting for good work over bad, but for work done by disciples over against work done by non disciples,” she wrote. Hortense Powdermaker, one of these disciples, made the more cautious comment that he seemed to need to be worshipped. Margaret Mead was more forthright:
“Brown identifies himself with every idea he has ever voiced and any disagreement, tacit or uttered, with his ideas, he takes as a slap in the face.”
All three women conceded the personal magnetism to which the young Grant Watson succumbed. Where Brown led, Grant Watson was prepared to follow. The two young men became a unit from which Daisy, a woman and a strong-willed one at that, found herself excluded.
At first all went smoothly. It was not in Daisy’s nature to worship, but her letters to Mathew show that she was prepared to learn. She arranged to have an extra desk put in her office so she and Brown could work together on her material; she noted his comments and made the necessary corrections.
In the field it was another matter. Here she was on familiar ground. Experience asserted itself and she was less prepared to follow. Brown, on the other hand, would tolerate no question of his leadership.
Two very different people, they were alike in that they were both egotists with a declared ambition: Brown to occupy the first Australian Chair in Anthropology; Daisy to publish her book. To realize their ambitions, each needed the other. That Brown was successful and Daisy was not, was due, in part, to the generosity of her nature. By giving him access to her material, she was acting in her own as well as his interests. But that the expedition received recognition throughout Australia was very largely due to the power of her prestige.
By 1910 this was considerable. “The epoch-making work Mrs Bates has done amongst the aborigines,” wrote the Western Mail, “the interest she has created in those quaint, lovable and primitive people to whom, when all is said and done, Australia really belongs, entitles her to rank among the women who have accomplished great things in this age.”
Daisy transferred the accolades to her leader, telling the press that she “greatly appreciated the opportunity of cooperating with Mr Brown”. She admitted that “these further investigations must mean considerable amplification of the work I have been doing”, and thereby established their relationship as master and pupil.
Brown appeared to accept such homage as his due. In neither of his two long press interviews is there a mention of her name. What he failed to do, the journalists did for her.
“The interview with the leader of the expedition, A. R. Brown,” said the Mirror, “will have been read with great interest, all the more so because of its confirmation of the facts and views set out by Daisy Bates in her lecture in the Perth Town Hall on the curious class divisions existing amongst the Australian aborigines.”
There is no doubt at all that Brown could have managed without Daisy. As an anthropologist he was brilliant and his ability to pioneer his work had been proved. But to finance his expedition was another matter.
Discovering that it lacked funds, Daisy contacted her old friend and admirer Sam McKay. According to her own account she rang him from her office “and in ten minutes a £1,000 was mine.” This, she said, she handed over to Brown.
One of her newspaper cuttings, however, gives rise to a minor mystery.
It seemed that McKay had already donated the amount to the Aboriginal cause. The cheque was in the keeping of pastoralist Sir Edward Wittenoom, “whose attention had been directed towards the Cambridge expedition”.
Since Daisy herself had kept the cutting, the inference is that it was she who contacted Wittenoom. To add to the confusion was Brown’s story to Grant Watson that McKay had handed him the cheque after a lecture he gave in Perth.
Putting the facts together, the most likely interpretation seems to be that Daisy knew of McKay’s donation and took him along to hear Brown’s lecture so that he would allow the money to be used for the expedition. McKay was impressed enough to write out another cheque there and then. But, as the paragraph pointed out, it was to cover the amount already placed in the keeping of Sir Edward Wittenoom.
As so often happened when she looked back over the years, Daisy’s memory took a short cut. But there seems little doubt that it was she who was instrumental in procuring the thousand pounds—a gesture that she was, in later years, to bitterly regret.
Brown showed his gratitude by asking that she be attached to the expedition for a further six months. Since this was what Daisy wanted most at the time, she considered herself rewarded. He agreed also to continue his revision of her material although, he told Grant Watson, this was becoming more and more difficult.
To Brown, Daisy was an enthusiast rather than an anthropologist. Her book was the work of an amateur. To the man who carried method into every facet of his life, her mind resembled “a well stored sewing basket after half a dozen kittens had been playing there undisturbed”. As his own researches continued, to put her book in order represented a waste of time—the one thing he feared. That he continued to do so is apparent from her complaints about the “mutilated manuscript” handed back to her. But by then their relationship had deteriorated beyond hope of any mutual achievement.
Their differences remained a private matter. The press notices that heralded their departure reported Daisy as “anticipating the journey with intense eagerness”. As a woman in an all-male scientific expedition she continued to be the focus of interest.
“So far as can be called to mind,” wrote the West Australian, “the instance is unique, except perhaps for Eve’s sojourn in the wilderness.”
“Her exceptional and unique knowledge of the natives as well as the mysterious influence she holds over them . . . will be of invaluable assistance to her companions,” purred the Mirror.
There was one dissenting note in the applause, in a cutting kept no doubt to show the kind of opposition that Daisy was up against. It was a paragraph under the heading of “Larks”. What paper it came from is unknown: “Any reader who wants to hear Carr Boyd’s opinion of Daisy Bates’s proposed exploratory trip into nigger infested mulga, first plug your ears with anti-septicised cotton wool and then ask Garr to write it on a slate. N.B. Please disinfect the slate before handing it back.”
On 14th October 1910, two days before her forty-seventh birthday, she set out for Bunbury. There she met the two men and all three continued by steamer for Geraldton, where Louis Olsen, the cook, was engaged. Hiring horses, they rode to Sandstone, pitching camp some miles out of the town near an Aboriginal camp.
Some seven or eight groups had collected for the initiation ceremony which the three “ghosts” were allowed to watch. Work was progressing well until a police raid disturbed it by scattering the natives in all directions.
Just over a month before their arrival, on 11th September to be exact, what were known as the “Darlot murders” had taken place near Laverton. In her report to the Chief Protector, Daisy explained that the murders were spearings demanded by tribal law because of “wrong” marriages. The Chief Protector remained unconvinced and decreed that “Justice be done according to the white man’s laws.”
As a result, their camp was searched by white troopers. “Some ten or twelve white Australians came riding through the camp, firing off their revolvers at the native dogs, and shouting and swearing in quite a cinematograph manner,” Grant Watson wrote.
Brown was angry. Refusing to budge from his tent door, behind which he had hidden two of the so-called “murderers”, he informed the constable that if it were any satisfaction to him, the work of the expedition in that area was ruined. They had no alternative but to cross to the Lock hospitals on Bernier and Dorre Islands. Here the groups were well represented and there would be no fear of interruption.
Daisy approved of his stand but not of his decision to leave. She argued the point. If they waited, she said, the natives would return. Brown listened without reply, his eyes fixed on distance, as was his habit when wishful of putting an end to a conversation. Daisy’s arguments trailed off into silence. She confided in Grant Watson that Brown was indeed a very strange young man and “no gentleman”.
The next day Brown informed her that plans for departure had been made. If she still wished to stay behind, she was free to do so. “And so it was that we went our way,” Grant Watson wrote, “leaving Mrs Bates to follow how and when she would. . . . [she] did not like to yield and I do not think she supposed that Brown would be so ungallant as to leave her, but he contended that if women claimed the privileges of men, they should be treated as men in like circumstances would be treated.”
It was a difficult moment for Brown’s young disciple. Daisy had put herself out for him more than once. He genuinely liked her, admiring her “guiding spirit that was not a missionary spirit but one of charity and compassion”. The obvious affinity between the county Irish lady with her “neat and dapper appearance” and the “stone age men and women who accepted her with trust and appreciation”, struck him as an odd example of symbiosis.
But his loyalties remained with Brown. The party split up. The two men left for Bernier Island, Daisy remained at Sandstone.
This was the first open breach between them. Again, Daisy gave no hint of it, writing cheerfully enough to the Chief Protector that “Brown and Watson have left. I am to follow on Thursday’s train.”
She was later to claim that she had in fact chosen this particular train in order to travel down with the men captured in the raid. Her reports, she said, prevented the death sentence from being passed on them.
If so, she was to pay dearly for her magnanimity. Her journey became a nightmare that began at Carnarvon. From here she was to take the boat to Bernier Island, but she found out, on her arrival, that Henrietta, the captain, was sleeping off a drunken spree from which no power on earth could wake him.
Daisy was forced to wait. The town, filled with squatters celebrating the yearly race meeting, was as disorderly as Broome and offered no accommodation at all. For one night, at least, she had to sleep on a table top. When it did sail, the Shark ran into the tail of a “cockeye bob” and the lugger heaved its way over stormtossed seas, taking a record thirty-five hours in the process. She arrived seasick and exhausted, blaming Brown for her vicissitudes.
In the meantime the two men were well established in their tents, basking in tropical sun on the sandhills of Bernier Island. In his first novel, Where Bonds Are Loosed, Grant Watson described the conditions under which they lived.
The island, about eighteen miles long and never more than a mile in width, was hot by day but cooled by sea breezes at night. Tent life, however, was prevented from being idyllic by the ants, persistent enough to devour underpants or even toenails. To keep them at bay, their nests had to be dug out and filled with hot ashes.
The hospital itself consisted of three walls of tarred canvas and a corrugated iron roof. In its ten beds were “broken and helpless pieces of humanity who lay still all day and looked out across the bleak expanse of sand dunes under which they were destined to be buried.” The scientists carried out their investigations in an atmosphere heavy with death and crackling with tensions. Between the doctor—a young man “more interested in spirochetes than in suffering men”—and the stockman, a vendetta was being fought. They had been seen to stalk each other across the dunes, rifles cocked.
Shortly after Daisy’s arrival on 11th December, they crossed to Dorre Island to celebrate Christmas in retreat from a tornado. This time Daisy experienced the full force of a “cockeye bob”. The women convalescents were tumbled along the sand dunes. The hospital roof was torn away. Her tent was cut to ribbons and she sent an urgent request for a new one.
In the meantime, she wrote, she had been given hospitality by the “devoted medical staff, so much loved by the patients”.
Nothing provides a clearer indication of her change of attitude over the years than her contrasting reports on these “Lock” hospitals, the Government’s misguided attempt to put an end to the venereal disease that was spreading with frightening rapidity among the ranks of the Aborigines.
Acting in their capacity of Protectors, police officers were empowered to examine women as well as men for signs of the affliction. After enduring this humiliation, sufferers were then neck-chained and transported by camel buggy to Carnarvon. Their bodies were very often rotten with sores, suppurating and fly-blown, and many died before they reached the shore hospital at Carnarvon. Those who survived were shipped to Bernier and Dorre, the men to the first, women to the second. In his novel, Grant Watson has left us a horrifying account of this method of transportation as he saw it:
“All the hatches were open, and in the shallow hold were standing some forty natives, pressed close together, their heads just coming above the level of the deck. They looked miserable and suffering pieces of humanity and from their close packed bodies came a pungent odour which permeated the whole boat.”
“The horrors of Dorre and Bernier unnerve me yet,” Daisy wrote in The Passing of the Aborigines. “. . . To question the poor shuddering souls of these doomed exiles was slow work and saddening. Through unaccustomed frequent hot baths, their withered sensitive skins, never cleansed in their natural state save by grease and fresh air, became like tissue paper and parted horribly from the flesh.
“There was no ray of brightness, no gleam of hope.
“In death itself they could find no sanctuary, for they believed that their souls, when they left the poor broken bodies, would be orphaned in a strange ground.”
So she could write when, after twenty-five years, she looked back on the islands. By then she was “thinking black”. But at the time when she stayed on Bernier and Dorre she was still the Government representative, whose duty it was to write objective reports for the benefit of the Chief Protector.
“The work is extremely satisfactory,” she told him, “the women being generally very willing to afford all the information required of them. I have visited the camps of the outpatients several times and found the occupants pretty contented with their position.” At the Carnarvon hospital, “All looked cheerful and happy.”
The only hint she gave of the misery she was later to describe was by her request to act as “postman” or message-bearer between islands.
The Aboriginal had no written language. His “letters” were bamburu, short sticks on which were carved pictorial messages. When Daisy crossed from Dorre Island to the mainland, she carried some of these with her.
“I think these little messages and my reports of the sick natives and their friends will bring kindlier thoughts about the Islands, which to many of them do not now seem so far away nor so gruesome,” she wrote.
Although Brown had extended her period of service, he had also taken the precaution of dividing the work, and Daisy was free to come and go as she pleased. Permission to carry the bamburu was granted, but at the same time she received a stern warning about the limitations by which she must abide in handing out rations.
No bills would be honoured, the Chief Protector warned, except for the list already authorized. She pleaded the case for greater liberality as her “little presents” promoted goodwill. Besides, “one woman on the ration is old and deaf, another is blind. Some have their sans and husbands on the Islands.” Wherever possible, she assured him, “those who can work come into town daily and wash, or chop wood.”
Her appeals were ignored. The warnings grew sterner. But as compensation for official disapproval was the growing affection of her black friends.
“All those whom I had previously met amongst them rushed over to the buggy to greet me. The diseased natives and their women do not avoid me,” she reported with pride.
On 14th April 1911, six months to the day after their departure, Daisy returned to Perth. On the strength of McKay’s donation Brown went north again, this time with two men, his destination “inland from Carnarvon”. Daisy returned to her old camp in the Murchison Bush. The decision to split up had restored her good spirits. She was reported as “brimming over with enthusiasm”; and that, “notwithstanding the loss of weight of something like a stone, she had nothing to say concerning the privations and hardships which must have been endured but spoke only of the work that Mr Brown and she had done and of what it was hoped to do.... As a student of the aboriginal races of the State, Mrs Bates has perhaps no compeer, and yet she herself acknowledges that she has still so much to learn in the matter.”
The pupil was still paying homage to the master. In view of . their differences, this showed a magnanimity that the master did not show towards his pupil. He did, however, utilize a press interview to make known his hope that “the Australian Government would follow Canada’s example and establish a department of Ethnology.”
“For that work,” he pointed out, “[the Canadians] have made a grant of over £800 a year.” This left Australia as “practically the only place which has not a department of that kind”.
The Government took the hint but was slow to realize it. It was more than a decade later before a Chair of Anthropology was created at Sydney University. It was offered to Radcliffe-Brown.
Daisy’s explanation for her return to the bush had nothing to do with ethnology. “The dear people, I simply love them,” she said. “They are just simple children and I would do anything in the world I could to help them.”
Her life resumed a now familiar pattern. She moved from camp to camp, filled in her vocabularies, recorded fragments of legends, noted customs, nursed the sick and comforted the bereaved.
About her book her mind was at rest. One copy remained with Andrew Lang in England. The other was with RadcliffeBrown. Publication had been promised. The raw material that she had taken down by word of mouth would emerge in the pattern of scholarship. Recognition would be hers.
In twelve short months her hopes dissolved. In July 1912 Andrew Lang died. A Labour Party was in power and Brown was on the high seas, on his way back to England and without her MS.
In a letter to Mathew, dated 5th September 1912, Daisy filled in the unhappy details:
Dr. Andrew Lang had a copy of the book in typed MS. and Macmillans say they have only received portions of it from Dr. Lang’s executors. The late Government handed over the only copy I had to Brown and that was mutilated beyond recovery. The present Government has relieved Brown of the responsibility of publishing the book, returns it to me, but will not pay for its publication. . . . Mr Fraser had promised free copies of the book to several hundred contributors on the assumption that it was to be published by the Government. Mr. Brown could not fulfil these promises if the book was to be published by the Cambridge Press ... and so the Government released Mr. Brown from his undertaking and has given me the MS., but the mutilated portions are useless.... I told Mr. Fraser I feared the whole thing would have to be rewritten and his reply was “Oh Lud!”
There was more to the story. Perhaps in defence of his “mutilations”, Brown had showed her a letter written to him by Andrew Lang in which Lang had said that “a red pencil would be needed in [Daisy’s] long and wandering work”. Outraged, she had written at once to Lang, who broke off relations with Brown but did not deny the charge. After Lang’s death Professor Marett of Oxford agreed to take over the job of revision and Daisy decided to take her chance on a separate publication. Brown agreed not to use her material but the manuscript he returned was still in the process of revision and the one in England incomplete.
Her chances of publication were, literally, in ribbons, and Daisy’s final comment to Mathew shows that even her apparently invincible optimism had suffered defeat.
“I had hoped to have been able to go home, but alas! That is another disappointment and as there are so many others I won’t dwell any more upon them.”
Instead she replaced one ambition with another.
The expedition had deprived her of academic laurels but had led to success of a different kind. Her bitter disappointment at the hands of the whites coincided with her total acceptance by the blacks. She understood their needs. As an official representative she could fulfil them.
The first woman to be included in an Australian scientific expedition should be eligible as the first woman Chief Protector of Aborigines.
To achieve such a position she would be up against the prejudice of men who regarded leadership as their right. Daisy decided that her job was to convince them that she would be no rival in their field; that they needed a woman as a doctor needed a nurse.
“The virus of research” remained her chief preoccupation but, though she did not know it, the story of her book had reached its sad and tattered conclusion.
The story of “the life that was service” had begun.