Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Daisy May Bates

(1863 or 1861-1951)

This Australian anthropologist and welfare worker was born Daisy O'Dwyer in Tipperary, Ireland either in 1861 or 1863. In 1884, she traveled to Australia and a year later she married Jack Bates with whom she had a son, Arnold. From 1894 to 1899, she worked in London as a journalist while her family remained in Australia. Subsequently, she was commissioned by The Times to return to Australia and investigate the alleged cruelty to the Aboriginal population.

Following the separation from her husband in 1902, she spent the rest of her life with the remote tribes. In 1904, the government of Western Australia appointed her to research the indigenous local tribes and in 1910-1911 she joined Alfred Radcliffe-Brown's expedition. She studied the Aboriginal life and customs in addition to working for their welfare by setting up camps for the aged and fighting the attempts to have the native people "westernized." She was known among the native people as 'Kabbarli' [grandmother].

After 1912, when her application to become the Northern Territory's Protector of Aborigines was rejected on basis of her sex, Bates continued her work and financed it by selling her cattle station. In 1938, she published The Passing of the Aborigines and, in 1945, she retired to Adelaide due to failing health. She died in 1951. Daisy May Bates' life was the basis for Margaret Sutherland's opera The Young Kabbarli.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1998.

Larousse Dictionary of Women, edited by Melanie Parry, Larousse, 1996

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