Accessibility Tools

  • Content scaling 100%
  • Font size 100%
  • Line height 100%
  • Letter spacing 100%

'Thinking black'

by
April 2008, no. 300

Daisy Bates: Grand Dame of the Desert by Bob Reece

NLA, $24.95 pb, 205 pp, 978064227544

Book 2 Cover Small (400 x 600)

Desert Queen: The Many Lives and Loves of Daisy Bates by Susanna de Vries

HarperCollins, $32.99 pb, 295 pp 978073228243

'Thinking black'

by
April 2008, no. 300

In the wake of the Commonwealth parliament’s apology to the ‘stolen generations’, what are we to make of Daisy Bates (1859–1951) – especially given that, in the past year, two new biographical studies have appeared, indicating, more than fifty years after er death, an enduring fascination with her commitment to ‘render the passing of the Aborigines easier’?

Bates will not ( as Ann Standish hoped) ‘sink like a stone', taking with her with the easy popularisation of some of the most morally and politically debilitating characterisations of the 'plight' of indigenous Australians: that 'full bloods' are doomed to extinction because they cannot cope with 'civilisation'; that 'half-bloods' are, at best, the consequence of that failure, needing to be saved, or, at worst, evidence of irredeemable lasciviousness. 'The only good half-caste,' Bates once confided, 'is a dead one.'

In this guise, Bates has, unfortunately, a ready appeal – as she did for Pauline Hanson. Yet somehow, both these books suggest, we have also to find a place for the Bates whose meticulous observations of Aboriginal people, and whose sensitivity to their stories, languages and relationships, have enduring value. She has, for example, been recently invoked as a useful posthumous witness in Western Australian native title claims. Perhaps we also have to cope with the fact that her story – the prim, proud figure in the desert – is wont to be received elsewhere (as one reviewer of Julia Blackburn's 1995 novel-biography fusion put it) as 'one of the world's most eccentric, lonely and worthwhile women'. Ballets, films ( even one proposed for Katharine Hepburn), an opera, paintings, monuments and many books find Mrs Bates entrancing. Why?

Nicholas Brown reviews 'Daisy Bates: Grand Dame of the Desert' by Bob Reece and 'Desert Queen: The Many Lives and Loves of Daisy Bates' by Susanna de Vries

Daisy Bates: Grand Dame of the Desert

by Bob Reece

NLA, $24.95 pb, 205 pp, 978064227544

Book 2 Cover Small (400 x 600)

Desert Queen: The Many Lives and Loves of Daisy Bates

by Susanna de Vries

HarperCollins, $32.99 pb, 295 pp 978073228243

From the New Issue

You May Also Like

Leave a comment

If you are an ABR subscriber, you will need to sign in to post a comment.

If you have forgotten your sign in details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to ABR Comments. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.