70[“Study of Native Races”, The West Australian, Friday 14 April 1911, page 5]

STUDY OF NATIVE RACES.

RESEARCH IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA.

THE CAMBRIDGE EXPEDITION.

Mr. Alfred Brown, leader of the Cambridge Ethnological Expedition, which is at present making a study of the native races of this State, and devoting attention also to zoological research, returned to Perth from Carnarvon a few days ago. The object of his visit to Perth is to transact certain business associated with his work, and he will leave again on April 24 by the Koombana for the North-West. He will go inland from Carnarvon, but will devote his attention chiefly to the Ashburton district. The expedition consisted originally of Mr. Brown, Mr. Grant Watson (who devoted himself principally to a study of zoology, and who has returned to England), and Mrs. Daisy Bates, of this State. On his next trip it is understood that Mr. Brown will be accompanied by two men, including a native.

Speaking to one of our representatives yesterday, Mr. Brown stated that on his next trip he would be away for about six months—a period similar to that which he had already occupied in connection with the work of the expedition. Mr. Brown added that he had made a close study of the natives in those parts of which he had centred his work, and had got together a good deal of information, reports dealing with which would be published later in book form. “I do not know how far north I will get on my next trip,” remarked Mr. Brown. “This to some extent will depend upon the weather conditions at the latter end of the year. I have had the assistance of the Government in my work, but I am working independently of the Government, the expedition being under the direction of a committee of the Cambridge University. We are hopeful, however, that the Australian Governments may be persuaded to take up this work. Those directly associated with the expedition endeavoured at the outset to get the English Government to take up the work of studying the natives of different parts of the British Empire. The British Government, however, pointed out that they could not do anything alone, and they left it to the different colonial Governments to do what they would, each in its particular case. I may say that the Indian Government has established an Ethnographical Department, and in some way the English colonies in West Africa have done the same thing. Similar action is contemplated also in South Africa. As a result of the representations of the committee of the Royal Anthropological Institute, of which I am a Fellow, it has been decided by the Government of the Dominion of Canada to establish a department of ethnology, and for that work they have made a grant of over £800 a year. Australia, therefore, is practically the only place which has not a department of that kind for undertaking work similar to that which I am now engaged on. It is felt that it is essential that somethine should be done and we are trying to do it on subscribed funds. As regards the North-West natives, they appear to be dying out very rapidly. So far as I can tell at present, tuberculosis appears to be pretty rife amongst them and to be killing them off in numbers. It will be interesting to see how tuberculosis affects the blacks generally. I have not been amongst the absolutely wild natives for the simple reason that I could not talk to them and could not, in that connection, do anythiing in furtherance of my work. Furthermore, they will keep, so to speak, for they are probably not dying out so quickly as the others.”

MRS. DAISY. BATES INTERVIEWED.

When seen yesterday by a representative of the “West Australian” Mrs. Bates was brimming over with enthusiasm over what had already been accomplished. Looking, as she herself expressed it, “as fit as a fiddle,” notwithstanding a loss in weight of some thing like a stone, she had nothing to say concerning 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 when they returned to their task at an early date. As a student of the aboriginal races of the State, Mrs. Bates has perhaps no compeer, and yet that she herself acknowledges that she is almost startled by the discovery that she has still so much to learn in the matter, is an indication of the extraordinarily wide field that has to be covered. It had, she explained, been the intention of the expedition, after travelling by boat to Geraldton, to take train to Meekatharra and from thence work north, east, and west accordingly to the situation of the various tribes upon which they had to work. Unfortunately, however, what are known as “the Darlot murders” took place somewhere about that time, with the result that on their arrival in that locality they found that most of the tribes had decamped. They got into touch with some Wiluna, Lake Way, and Peak Hill natives and pursued their investigations for a while, but it was then decided that the party should proceed to Bernier and Dorre Islands, where there were representatives of so many of the tribes with which they wished to come in contact. During her stay in Sandstone Mrs. Bates met quite a number of her old friends and several married couples, the men and women of which were single when she had known them before. These all, welcomed her as “mother,” and showed the greatest delight in her reappearance among them. It was a time of trouble for many of them, because of the searching inquiries which were being made by the police, and they seemed to turn to her for comfort and protection. “The dear people,” she explained with feeling, “I simply love them. They are just simple children, and I would do anything in the world I could to help them. One poor old fellow was so terrified by the sight of the police constables that he promptly ran away from the tribe. He was, of course, pursued and clapped into prsion though he had had nothing whatever to do with the murders. The other natives came to me and asked me to help them. So I went to the police authorities and explained matters to them and they released the old man. The trouble, however, was that the natives immediately came along and asked me to get the others off, too. I told them I would do what I could, and I believe they were afterwards released at the Laverton trials. Perhaps, therefore, my ‘children’ give me the credit of that, too.”

Mrs. Bates proceeded to explain that she is known to the natives by the name of “Nyangi,” and that they have given her as her totems, “Fire” and “Water.” Many of the totems are edible, that is to say some have an emu, some a kangaroo, a rat, and so forth; and yet they think nothing of eating their totems whenever they run short of food. “I had an amusing experience at Sandstone one day,” Mrs. Bates went on to say. “I was singing the little song which has to do with the “Water” totem, and some of the natives in the camp heard me and asked me why I sang it. I replied, ‘The rain is coming.’ The following day, as luck would have it, the rain came in deluges, and I walked down to the camp just to see how they were getting on and to give my serge skirt a chance of being washed by the rain. When I reached the camp I was of course wet through, but said, ‘You see I have brought the rain.’ ‘Oh, yes,’ they replied, ‘him too much feller rain.’ The other members of the party went off at the same time as the prisoners and a large detachment of sick natives who were bound for the hospitals on the islands. I could not help feeling that if I went with them I should be shaking their confidence in me, that they would look upon me as having had something to do with the arrests. So I stayed behind for two or three days to reassure them, but I found to my delight that there had never been any need for that, and that they trusted me implicitly.”

On the islands most of the time had been spent in individually questioning the natives of the various tribes, and the result of this method had on the whole apparently been very satisfactory. Unfortunately, however, many of the natives had become contaminated or spoilt by contact with the whites, or at all events had lost a great deal of their native ways, and were not so easy to handle as others. On one occasion Mrs. Bates went across to Carnarvon, and on that day there arrived a detachment of Peak Hill natives, who were all in chains lest they should run away. “They were looking intensely miserable,” said Mrs. Bates, “but immediately they saw me in the buggy they crowded round with their manacled arms outstretched and begging for recognition at my hands. I knew many of them, of course, and spoke to them and told them I was going across with them. From that moment they became quite reconciled and seemed to feel that they had someone who could sympathise with them. They really are a grateful, simple people and are easily touched. If you could but see the affection in which they hold the brave nurses of the hospitals who tend them and care for them you would readily believe what I say. Men and women alike revere their nurses, and I am convinced that when the time comes for the natives to return to their tribes this affection will be found to be a happy means of inducing other affected men and women to go to the hospitals before they become very bad. The nurses, too, although they lead a lonely life, seem to be throwing themselves heart and soul into the work, and their attention and devotion to the sick natives is every bit as marked as the attitude of the natives towards them. Nothing more could, I am sure, be done for the natives than is now being done there.”

”It was interesting to note,” explained Mrs. Bates. “how the natives sort themselves out as soon as they reach the islands. At the natives of one tribe will keep together, and all those of another also keep to themselves. There is a certain amount of rivalry between the tribes in that if one gives a corroboree another will on the following day also hold one, and endeavour to make it more magnificent than that of the preceding day. But the natives are at all times courteous to one another, and in watching each other’s performances will never openly criticise or say hurtful things. Contact with the whites has extended their vocabulary in the direction not at all desirable. They do not realise that the words they are using are unfit to be spoken. When, however, I explained to them that such expressions were only used by the ‘bad white fellow’ they tried hard to drop them, and when I came away there was hardly a native who would make use of a swear word in my presence. I was inundated with presents when I left, and amongst other things I received a number of bambooroo sticks, or visiting cards, as they might be called. Jarl, the King of Meekatharra, gave me one to his head woman, indicating that she was to be my maid and do everything that I asked her to do. I have also a number of such introductions to many of the Peak Hill natives, which will be most useful to me when I return. I must go back very soon, lest all these things should be forgotten. It is necessary to strike while the iron is hot, and already I am feeling impatient to be off.”

Mrs. Bates will probably return in three or four weeks’ time, and then she will pursue her investigations around the Peak Hill district, and to the south of the Ashburton. Mr. Brown, she explained, will take the Ashburton district, and will work that with teams. She has not as yet arranged what form of locomotion she will make use of. She is glad to gratefully acknowledge on her part the munificent gift of £1,000 donated by Mr. S. McKay towards the expenses of the expedition.

AB notes:

Both Daisy and Radcliffe-Brown were both in town and interviewed for The West Australian on 14 April 1911,

but probably returned to Perth independently.

Daisy makes excuses for the separation at Sandstone, but one assertion is probably correct: that Radcliffe Brown and Grant Watson left the district with some arrested prisoners and some sick natives bound for the islands.

Bates shows some self-aggrandisement:

“They were looking intensely miserable,” said Mrs. Bates, “but immediately they saw me in the buggy they crowded round with their manacled arms outstretched and begging for recognition at my hands. I knew many of them, of course, and spoke to them and told them I was going across with them. From that moment they became quite reconciled...”

“The other natives came to me and asked me to help them. So I went to the police authorities and explained matters to them and they released the old man. The trouble, however, was that the natives immediately came along and asked me to get the others off, too. I told them I would do what I could, and I believe they were afterwards released at the Laverton trials. Perhaps, therefore, my ‘children’ give me the credit of that, too.”

Interesting also that Bates’s opinion of the islands in 1911 and the opinions she expressed much later are completely irreconcilable.

“The nurses, too, although they lead a lonely life, seem to be throwing themselves heart and soul into the work, and their attention and devotion to the sick natives is every bit as marked as the attitude of the natives towards them. Nothing more could, I am sure, he done for the natives than is now being done there.”