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Daisy Bates (1859-1951)

MSS 572.994 B32t

Biographical Note

Daisy Bates was a pioneer in the observation, over a period of 35 years, of the Aboriginal people living in the desert around the Great Australian Bight.

Born in County Tipperary, Ireland as Daisy May O’Dwyer, she arrived in Australia in 1883 and worked as a governess to the Bates family near Nowra, NSW. In 1885 she married the eldest son, drover John Bates. It has since been proven that she had previously married the man we know as Harry ‘Breaker” Morant and possibly another man as well, without ever having had these marriages dissolved. After bearing a son to John Bates, she left alone for London to work as a journalist for the next 5 years.

Daisy Bates returned to Australia in 1899 and consulted with Aboriginal people on language, religion, myths, customs and kinship. In about 1919 she settled in Ooldea SA to live with “her” people for more than 16 years, seeing her role as “smoothing the pillow of a dying race”. She wrote My Natives and I and The Passing of the Aborigines in 1935 in order to publicise her cause and attract funds for her work.

Sources ADB, Obituary

Members of Aboriginal communities are advised that this listing contains images and names of deceased persons. Some titles have been transcribed from original items and reflect attitudes of the time.

Contents Summary

These listings have been derived from descriptions and folder titles provided by Daisy Bates, with some additional explanatory notes.  The box and series numbers given are those assigned by the Library for current retrieval and reference; the numbers given in square brackets are those originally assigned by Bates or by the Library in a previous listing.

Between 1936 and 1940 The Commonwealth of Australia provided Bates with office accommodation and secretarial help to get her papers in order for deposit with the National Library of Australia.The papers held by the Barr Smith Library are the authorised typescript copies of her writings, plus sundry original notebooks, correspondence, photographs and newspaper clippings. The Library listing differs to that of the National Library of Australia.

The personal, tribe and language names used by Bates are not consistent and may not accord with current nomenclature.

Description Series No. Box No.
Lists relating to the Bates papers
[Folder I]
Myths, legends, stories and vocabularies
(notes and other sources)
[Folders II-VIII]
[Folders IX-X]
[Folder XI]
Certificates and medals
[Folder XI]
Manuscript of ‘Native tribes of Western Australia'
[Sections I-XIII]
[Section XIV]
‘Books and pamphlets which have annotated’ [ie. written by others and annotated by Bates]
[Section XV]
Articles contributed [by Bates] to journals, magazines and
other publications
[Section XVI]
Articles contributed to children’s newspapers 
[Section XVII]
Articles contributed to major newspapers: 
Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney etc. 
[Section XVIII]
Articles contributed to major newspapers:
Western Mail and West Australian
[Section XIX]
Articles contributed to major newspapers:
[Section XX]
Memorabilia, miscellaneous articles etc. received from other sources

Digitised Works

Selections from the Daisy Bates' Papers are being digitised and are available through the Daisy Bates Digital Archive
The Barr Smith Library recognises the moral rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the owners of their knowledge. To this end, Special Collections is digitising the Daisy Bates Papers in our collections to enhance access for people who cannot travel to Adelaide.
Please be aware that this site may contain sensitive information, including the names and images of people who have passed away and which may sadden and distress some Aboriginal people. This site may also contain language and terms used by an author that reflect an inappropriate attitude due to the historical context in which these records were created.

Box 1   Lists and Myths, legends, stories and vocabularies

Series 1:  Lists of Bates manuscripts and books
Include general lists and a list of collections compiled as the basis for a proposed publication on The native tribes of Western Australia sent to the publisher John Murray in London.

Series 2:  ‘Native Testaments of old natives’
Personal memoirs, stories and songs, principally relating to the individuals and tribes of the south and south-west.  Informants include Ngilgee/Ngilgi, Jubaitch/Joobytch , Nebinyan, Woolber, Banyap, Genburdong and Jaal.
15 items, typescript and manuscript.

  1. Bibbulmum. The story of the Bibbulmum races and the tragic story of natives. Two typescript drafts, with a few ms. amendments.   4, 4p.
  2. Ngilgi. An aboriginal woman's life story (published in the West Australian, 23/3/1935)   4p.
  3. Ngilgee. Typescript draft with ms. corrections (published in The Western Mail, Feb. 8, 1908)  5p.
  4. The Adventures of Ngilgian. Typescript draft with ms. corrections (published in Australia, 1923)   13p. + 1p. of ms.
  5. Ngilgi's song. ms. notes (3p.) and typescript (5p.)
  6. Songs of the last Wanji-Wanji - Eucla.  ms. (2p.) and dances ms. (5p.)
  7. Nebinyan. Pencilled ms. draft (3p.); ms. draft (9p.); ms. draft (3p.); newspaper clipping n.d.; ms. draft (8p); ms. draft ( 5p);  ms. draft ( 4p); ms. draft ( 4p.).
  8. My natives.  ms.  4p.
  9. Histories of southern and southwestern groups.  ms.  5p.
  10. Jubaitch. Typescript.  6p. + typescript draft, with ms. corrections. (See also article in the Australian (Sydney) May 1923).
  11. Joobytch. Typescript.  2p. + 2nd copy of p. 1 (torn).
  12. Woolber and Banyap, Gingin beliefs. Typescript.  2p.
  13. Woolber. Typescript.  1p.
  14. Genburdong - early notes and pedigree. Typescript.  5p. + 2nd copy of early notes (1p.)
  15. Jaal - last native of tribes belonging to Wiluna.

Series 3:  ‘Odd stories’
On customs and firestick ceremony of the south-west and Eucla.  Item 3 includes a name lists of people to whom clothing and rations given at Eucla, and words and place names from mission natives at Koonibba.
4 items, typescript and original newspaper cuttings.

  1. Manja Boming - firestick ceremony - south west. Typescript.  6p.
  2. Three fine customs - Babbingur.  Typescript. Part of p.1 + p.3-4.
  3. Natives: information from Eucla notebook. Typescript, with ms. notes and corrections.   31 whole and part pages.
  4. The noble dingo, by Robert Kaleski. Newspaper clippings of 2 articles from the West Australian.

Series 4:  Vocabularies [and name lists]
Broome area and Central Australia.  Vocabularies supplied by Billinggi and Mulgarongu, and vocabulary book in Jookan or  Ngoombal dialect (Broome speech).
13 items, manuscript and typescript.

  1. Questions in Billingi's book - Broome.  ms.  5p.
  2. Billinggi - miscellaneous items, relationship terms, dream dances.  ms.  3p.
  3. Billinggi's vocabulary : dialect, Broome area, 1901-2; questions in Billingi's book, miscellaneous items, relationship terms. Typescript.  26p.
  4. Billinggi's vocabulary. Typescript.  19p.
  5. Billinggi's vocabulary. Typescript.  25p., [8]p.
  6. Mulgarongu's vocabulary - Central Australia.  Typescript, with some ms. additions.  49p.
  7. Mulgarongu's vocabulary.  Typescript.  52p.
  8. Vocabulary book - printed book filled in, in manuscript - Broome area, plus 2 ms p.
  9. List of Christmas Day guests.  ms.  1p.
  10. "My Christmas Day guests".  Typescript.  4p.
  11. "Little Wonggurr was named after her grandmother..."   ms.  1p.
  12. List of native names and vocabulary written on old envelopes and scraps of paper.  ms.  15 items.
  13. Names of natives - women arrived with train, April 4 or 5.  Typescript.  1p.  (2 copies)

Series 5:  ‘Notes not for legends or included in Aborigines: Odd notes only’
Include notes on Swan River pronouns; on Bibbulmun language; ‘Yongajarra [Yonguljarra] family tree’; Murray River people; Ooldea names; hymn in ‘Beagle Bay language’;  biographical information on Bates herself (in ‘record of service for the aborigines of Central Australia’); and notes by others.
21 items, manuscript and typescript with some newspaper cuttings.

  1. Suggestions for the betterment of aborigines and castes.  Typescript, with ms. corrections.  23p.
  2. Record of service for the aborigines of Central Australia...  ms.  14p.
  3. Précis: "for which I received quiet unofficial approval..."  ms.  p.2-6.
  4. The burial of Mamman - Swan River pronouns - Eucla area totems.  ms.  4p.
  5. "He's a jolly good fellow" - Bibbulmum rendering.  ms.  2p.
  6. Murray River natives - ms.  4p.
  7. "Dear little friends, I should like you to know...about the little black children who lived on the banks of the Murray..."  ms.  8p.
  8. Australia's one big river and its lost people...  ms.  2p. with 4 press cuttings concerning the Murray River.
  9. Weld written on 13 pieces of used envelopes - concerns Wilgee Mine; and clipping on Weld Range with ms. notes.
  10. Newspaper clipping and brief ms. note on Dr. A. Capell.  1p.
  11. Some Ooldea area natives' names "My natives who helped me carry my boxes".  Typescript.  1p.
  12. Hymn in native language, Beagle Bay. ms.  (not Daisy Bates)  1p.
  13. Yongajarra family tree?  ms.  1p.
  14. Miscellaneous ms. notes concerning aborigines.  14 items.
  15. 8 miscellaneous press clippings : Problem for Whyalla engineers, Citizen rights for natives, Charges of cruelty to aborigines, Control of aborigines, Leichhardt's last expedition, Poems and rhymes, Land and other property for sale (?), Mrs. Napier Banks.
  16. "Pethar Dooley's commentary on America's responsibilities..."  ms.  1p.
  17. "Courtesy & good manners..."  ms.  1p.  (From Belfast news)
  18. The pioneers: H.M. in Spectator.  ms.  1p.
  19. Middle men and Government "Burrows".  ms.  5p.
  20. The blue or fairy wren: poem.  Typescript, with ms. notes from the author - J.F.T., 19/9/28.
  21. The house that Jack built : poem.  Typescript.  2p.

Series 6:  ‘Possibly short stories’ [Ngargalulla/Ngargalula (spirit babies) legends]
Includes stories and notes for possible publication from the north-west and south-west, Esperance, North Kimberley,  Willilambi/Willambi (Twilight Cove), Sunday Island and Broome, a number supplied by Billingee.
22 ms and typescript items (with some variant drafts and copies), plus newspaper cutting.

(Note: these are not Bates' authorised typescript copies but original writings which do not appear to be held in the National Library of Australia Bates collection)

  1. Mrs. Bates to write story of native "spirit babies". Newspaper clipping.
  2. Ngargalulla, the country of the spirit babies ("When I was a very little child...")  Ms (5 p.) plus final typescript prepared for publication [11] p. (publisher's name on verso of final leaf), plus additional typed copy and carbon copy; also 3 draft typescript copies all with varying annotations.
  3. Pen drawings: 10 original illustrations depicting aboriginal children. Two letters to Daisy Bates (signed typescripts) from A.A. Bartholomew, Oxford University Press, dated 11 and 15 October 1945, concerning Ngargalulla sketches.
  4. Ngargalula - "In the Yamminga times..."  Typescript (carbon copy) 6 p., plus second typescript copy p. 5-6 only + original ms. (18 p.)
  5. Pindara ngargalula.  Typescript (carbon copy) paged 7-8, plus second typescript copy of p. 8.
  6. "A man has no ranjee..."  Annotated typescript (some pages are carbon copies) [8] p., + 2 incomplete carbon copies ([4] and [3] p. - not annotated)
  7. Ngargalula - "A special circumstance..."  Typescript, 4 p. + 2 carbon copies. 'Broome' in ms at top of copy 3.
  8. Spirits (North-west) - "There are three kinds of ranjee..."  Typescript (carbon copy) 4 p.
  9. Northern Kimberley - "I cannot find any evidence..."  Typescript draft plus 2 carbon copies with varying ms annotations.  4 p. 'Broome' in ms at top of page.
  10. Ngargalula - Billingee - "When the ngargalula are asked..."  Typescript (carbon copy) 4 p., + original typescript and carbon  copies of first page only.
  11. Ngargalulla - "In the northern coastal districts..."  Annotated typescript [7] p. + 2 carbon copies of p. [6]
  12. Ngargalulla items.  Annotated typescript.  3 p.
  13. Ngargalulla - Ms "Billinggi ... learned all the lessons ..."  Various ms and typescript incomplete stories and fragments. Various page numberings. [25] p. in total.
  14. The story of Wandagarra.  (2 stories with same title) Typescripts (carbon copies),  1 and [3] p.
  15. The queer fish and the queer baby.  Typescript (carbon copy). 1 p.
  16. Leeberr, a great sorcerer.  Annotated draft typescript (carbon copy) - incomplete, p. 1, 4-5 only. Plus final shortened version (carbon copy) [2] p.
  17. Esperance. also Willilambi beliefs. 2 typescripts (carbon copies) 6 p. plus annotated typescript of top part of p. 1 only.
  18. Ngargalula - Sunday Island beliefs.  Ms (1 p.) + typescript (1 p.) plus 2 carbon copies.
  19. Twilight Cove area - "The belief that procreation has nothing to do with conception..."  Typescript (carbon copy), with some ms annotations.  12 p. + ms draft of first paragraph (1 p. )
  20. Billingee's information.  Typescript (carbon copy) [5] p., plus typescript and carbon copy (both lacking first page)
  21. Broome area items.  Typescript (carbon copy) [6] p., + typescript [6] p. (lacks first page but with added p. [4], + incomplete carbon copy [5] p. All with varying annotations.
  22. Ms. notes beginning "Water conserved in tree boles..."    1 part page.

Series 7:  Myths and Legends
7.1   South-west Western Australia
7.2   North-west Western Australia
7.3   Central Australia, Ooldea, Eucla

Series 8:  ‘Drafts, several legends’
Incorporates/duplicates much of the material in Series 7 above -
1.  Introduction  5 leaves.  + 3 copies of 3 leaves.
2.  Legends.  32 leaves.  Some legends are copies of those appearing in other folders.
3.  The legend of Magellan's clouds.  (Willambi legend)  8 leaves ms. + cover note + 2 leaves ms.


Box 2  Series 9-11  Photographs, correspondence, certificates and medals

Series 9:  Photographs

N.B.  Many of the photographs listed in Daisy Bates manuscript lists in series 1 are not held.  No files are held for the Gascoyne, Ashburton, Nullagine and Pt. Hedland area,  the Eastern Goldfields or the Eucla, Esperance and Bight area, or of the Carvings, Paintings etc.  [III,  VIII XI and XIII in original list] and only a few are held for many other districts.  There is evidence from Bates’ annotations of her lists that some were sent to Lord Salisbury in December 1936 and that others  were noted as missing by her in 1938,  after they were collected for possible inclusion in her book ‘The passing of the Aborigines’.

Broome and Kimberley districts - 2 items
Beagle Bay and Derby districts - 4 items
Geraldton district, Victoria Plains - 9 items
Dorré and Bernier Islands, Rottnest Island - 1 item
Herdsman’s Lake - 4 items
Murchison District - 5 items
South-West Area - 21 items
Southern Districts - 5 items
Ooldea - 10 items
Miscellaneous - 20 photographs, also a number of newspaper cuttings


Series 10:  Correspondence 1929-32, 1938, 1944-47

10.1  Copies of letters sent 1930-44, including to George Robertson 1930 re possible publication of her myths and legends - see item listing
10.2  Letters received 1929, 1945-47 and undated - see item listing
10.3  Letters from Bates (at Ooldea) to the Commonwealth Railways Office at Port Augusta, 1931-32
10.4  Draft agreement with publisher John Murray re publication of ‘My Natives and I’ [published as The passing of the aborigines] 1938
10.5   Fragments of letters and envelopes


Series 11:  Certificates and medals

OBE (Order of the British Empire) medal and certificate; certificates of appointment as a Justice of the Peace (South Australia 1920, Western Australia 1926); certificates of appointment as Protector of Natives 1942, 1943 and 1946, with accompanying lists of protectors; set of King George VI coronation medals (1937) and King George and Queen Mary silver jubilee medals (1935); reply from Buckingham Palace to message of sympathy on the death of the Duke of Kent; official letter of thanks August 1940 for donation of gold wedding ring to the war effort.


Boxes 3 - 8  Series 12  Manuscript of ‘Native tribes of Western Australia’

The Manuscript was divided by Bates into 13 sections, plus further sections for source material contained in ‘Notebooks’, ‘Newspaper and Magazine articles’ and ‘Collection of Books and Pamphlets’, for each of which she provided detailed file (and sometimes item) lists.  In this revision the arrangement with the original 13 sub-divisions has been retained, but has been assigned the general Series number 12. The term ‘Manuscript’ is perhaps misleading as this is neither a manuscript nor a polished text but rather a compilation of materials in typescript, some in various revisions.  A note dated November 1940 by Bates on the first folder states this to be a correct re-typing of all her original matter (the manuscript  original and copy being in the Commonwealth Archives, Canberra), as copied for [the publisher] John Murray and housed in the Bank of Australasia in Adelaide.

Section 1  Origin Box 3
Section II Geographical distribution and general geographical notes  
Section III Social organisation (general) Box 4
Section IV Social organisation (Marriage Laws)  
Section V Totems  
Section VI Religious beliefs, magic, superstition Box 5
Section VII Myths and legends  
Section VIII Food  
Section IX Weapons, arts, crafts  
Section X Diseases, remedies, deaths and burials Box 6
Section XI Songs, dances, etc.  
Section XII Language: grammar and vocabularies Boxes 7-8
Section XIII ‘Miscellanea: from early records; treating of  passing of native peoples etc.; Early writers on aborigines, etc. Box 8

Box 8 Series 13.  Maps

Copies of maps of Western Australia, showing geographical distribution and social organization of tribes, where dialects were obtained, totems and, for part of the Murchison River area, the nomenclature of waters, food areas, camping spots and variations in group area names.  5 items. Housed in MAP CABINET

The originals of these maps were sent to the publisher John Murray to accompany the manuscript of ‘The native tribes of Western Australia’.  The first three comprise printed maps with Bates’ information overlaid; the latter two are manuscripts, with no topographical or other background information.  The copies are very poor and detail is very difficult to read.


Box 9 Series 14.  Notebooks

‘Extracts from my earliest notebooks 1900-1935 when in residence at various camps or travelling and lingering in areas where derelicts were to be found’ [Western Australia and South Australia]

Note that these are in fact not the original notebooks but typed extracts from them, collecting together notes on the various districts and/or from particular informants.  For some districts the information is extensive, covering names, genealogies, vocabularies, stories, observations and questions, notes on social relations, rainfall data, descriptions of vegetation and songs, but in many cases the information is very limited.

1.  Nyamel and Mardathoonera district.
2.  Sandstone district
3a. Gascoyne, etc.
3b. Gascoyne and Ashburton (James Cornally’s information)
4.  Rottnest Island (informant Thurada)
5a-5d. Eucla district
6a-6l.  Ooldea notes
contain extensive listings of people at Ooldea camp at various periods 1919-34
7a.  Dorre Island (mostly Talainji information)
7b.  Information obtained at Dorre Island re Peak Hill natives
8.  Notes obtained at Bernier Island of Peak Hill and other natives
9.  Notes from Meekatharra, camp no.5
also, un-numbered, Wirilya Camp diary entries for 12-25 October 1918
11b.  Broome (Billingee’s information)
11c.  Northwest Western Australia (Billingee’s information)
11d.i.  Unclassified notes from the Fitzroy (informant Majjeree)
11d.ii-11f. Unclassified notes on the Broome district
11g.  Unclassified notes from the Southwest and Northwest of Western Australia
include names of fish and birds
12.  [De Grey] (informant Walbarring]
13.  Notes compiled at Guildford 8/6/1912
names, stories, notes on beliefs, dialect, rain songs of the Talainji people, genealogies
14.  Notes of the Katanning and southern districts
including extensive genealogies
15.  [Southwest] Information of Baaba and Nilgee (mostly Vasse district)
16.  Murray district - Ngalyart’s information
17.  Victoria Plains district (Nyeerrgoo) - Monnop’s information
18.  Beverley and York districts - Kajaman’s information
19.  Perth, Gingin district - Woolberr’s information
20.  Perth area - Balbuk’s information
21.  [Guildford]  Jubaitch - questions and answers
22.  Murchison district - Jinguru’s notes
23A-C.  Miscellaneous notes
contents list prepared by Bates to part A
24.  Miscellaneous notes, mainly re Social organisation; also questions to William
25.  [Murray district, southwest Western Australia] Yaburgurt’s information
26A-C.  Miscellaneous notes
including description of Rottnest Island and (scrappy) notes on fossil remains
27.  Beagle Bay
includes article on the mission and correspondence re its foundation, notes on surveying done at the mission, and references to other sources
28.  Paper on Geology of Western Australia [based on visit 1900 by ???]
29.  Information on the New Norcia natives - extracts from Dr. Salvado’s history
30.  Rough notes of journey across the Bight (including some Wanji-Wanji songs)

Note:  ‘notebooks’ 4b. (East of Laverton), 5a. (Eucla and Southern district), 10 (Peak Hill, Tuckanarra) and 11a. (Northern districts, sundries) in original Bates listing were missing in a survey of the collection in 1980.  Copies of the first three are held in the National Library collection as folios 67/111-140, 68/76-91 and 68/219-274, 71/47-48; the listed 11a. does not appear to be held by them.

Series 15.  ‘Books and pamphlets which have been annotated’
Extracts from works by other writers on Aboriginal peoples, languages and other topics, with comments by Bates.  A few of the works are in their original printed form but for most there are only typed extracts of the page or section sufficient to identify the passage commented upon by Bates.
25 items - see Bates item listing

The following series, Series 16-20, comprise articles contributed by Bates to various journals and newspapers.  For each of these series there are item listings and, for series 16 and 18-2, also an additional single classified list of  items relevant to the subject of sections II to XIII of Bates’ Manuscript.

Series 16:  Articles contributed [by Bates] to science magazine, journals and other papers.  1901-1923.
Comprising variously reprints, complete issues of the relevant magazine or pages torn from it, and typescripts.  26 items.
see item listing and classified list


Box 10

Series 17:  Articles contributed to children’s newspapers.  1921-1939.
As published in The children’s newspaper, My magazine and Arthur Mee’s 1000 heroes and comprising variously cuttings from the papers, typescripts and occasionally a whole issue.
see item listing

Series 18:  Articles contributed to major newspapers: Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth etc.  1901-38, 1947.
See Special list Series 18 The Advertiser
Advertiser (Adelaide) 1932-38 and undated [including the serial ‘My natives and I’]
Register (Adelaide) 1921-28
Mail (Adelaide) 1932
Telegraph (Brisbane) 1929
Courier Mail (Brisbane) 1936 [the serial ‘My natives and I’]
Argus (Melbourne) 1921-23
Argus Camera Supplement 1929-30
Herald (Melbourne) 1928, 1933, 1936 [serial ‘White mother to a black race’]
Sydney Morning Herald 1914-35
Sydney Sun 1927, 1936 [the serial ‘My natives and I’]
Evening News (Sydney) 1922
Daily News 1923
Australian Women’s Weekly 1934
Sunday Times (Perth) 1921-34
Morning Herald (Perth) 1901
Star 1934
The Woman 1909
The Social Kodak 1902-3
The Woman’s Record 1920
The Red Cross Record 1920
Church News 1907
Adelaide Chronicle 1947
Unclassified - most undated [including issue of Uplift, March 1939, containing an advertisement for The passing of the aborigines]
see item listing and classified list

Series 19:  Articles contributed to major newspapers: Western Mail and West Australian. 1904-36.
Western Mail 1904-29, 1936 [serial ‘My natives and I’] and undated
West Australian 1906-35 and undated.
see item listing and classified list


Box 11

Series 20:  Articles contributed to major newspapers: The Australasian.  1910-33 and undated.
see item listing and classified list

Series 21:  Church of England Book of Common Prayer and Hymns ancient and modern. 1901?
Bates’ copy, presented by her to the 1st Glen Osmond Girl Guides.

Series 22:  Article by Judith Travers ‘Daisy Bates, an invaluable observer of aboriginal life’ Women’s Weekly 26 May 1982 p. 96-97

Series 23:  James Tulip ‘Daisy Bates: 4 essays for television’.
Printed series outline only, undated.

Series 24:  Uncatalogued newspaper cuttings.

Series 25.  Copy of painting of Bates by Desmond Norman, as featured on the E S Wigg [stationers] calendar for 1984.

Series 26:  Drawings of weapons etc. by Billingee, 1900.  1 v.
[volume sent by Bates to Josephine Wylde in 1935 and presented by her (as Mrs Prescott) to the collection in 1972]

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