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‘Out Amongst the Natives’: Fieldwork and the Legacy of Daisy Bates, a Controversial Ethnographer in Australia

Edward M. McDonald

Ethnosciences, Palmyra, Western Australia

Bryn Coldrick

Archaeological Management Solutions, Kilrush, Ireland

Référence complète

McDonald, Edward M. & Bryn Coldrick, 2022. “ ‘Out Amongst the Natives’: Fieldwork and the Legacy of Daisy Bates, a Controversial Ethnographer in Australia”, in Bérose - Encyclopédie internationale des histoires de l’anthropologie, Paris.

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Résumé : Considérée comme une « amatrice enthousiaste », le statut de « véritable » anthropologue a longtemps été refusé à Daisy Bates, ses travaux étant discrédités au nom d’opinions moralisatrices sur sa vie privée. En examinant sa correspondance, ses textes publiés et inédits, nous défendons l’idée qu’une grande partie de son œuvre, pénétrante, relève de l’anthropologie et que son travail ethnographique de terrain peut aisément se comparer aux évolutions apportées par Malinowski une dizaine d’années plus tard. En avance sur son temps, elle a évité bien des défauts de l’anthropologie « moderne ». Par d’autres côtés, néanmoins, elle reste une anthropologue pré-moderne, focalisée sur l’ethnologie et une entreprise de recueil encyclopédique de « faits » sur tous les aspects de la culture aborigène – comme il en fut pour nombre de ses contemporains. Une grande partie de la critique adressée à Bates et ses travaux nous semble empreinte de moralisme et d’un jugement « présentiste », incapable de rendre compte de l’histoire complexe du développement de l’anthropologie et du terrain ethnographique. Daisy Bates est une "ancêtre exclue " qui doit être « réhabilitée ». De même, son corpus de matériel ethnographique mérite d’être revisité de manière à permettre une compréhension plus nuancée du développement de la discipline du terrain ethnographique en Australie.

Introduction : Denunciation and Reclamation

Daisy Bates (nee O’Dwyer : born 1859, Roscrea, Tipperary, Ireland ; died 1951, Adelaide, South Australia) is a controversial figure in the history of Australian anthropology. [1] Having conducted anthropological research in Western and South Australia over several decades from the beginning of the twentieth century (Reece 2007a), [2] she has not only been denied the status of a ‘real’ or ‘professional’ anthropologist but continues to be a controversial figure in Australia to this day. Her work is not part of the canon of Australian anthropology. Ronald and Catherine Berndt, for example, contend that “Much of her work did not graduate to what can be considered to be seriously anthropological” (Berndt & Berndt 1988 : 536). Similarly, Annette Hamilton suggests that her work is not taken seriously compared to her contemporaries such as Baldwin Spencer, and suggests that there is “little evidence of a broad-ranging intellectual or genuine passion for her field of study” (Hamilton 1998:64). More recently, Geoffrey Gray (2008), in a review of Bob Reece’s Daisy Bates : Grand Dame of the Desert (Reece 2007a), negatively evaluates both her ethnographic and linguistic skills, suggesting that her research is “of little interest and use” (cf. Reece 2009). Kingsley Palmer contends that “Daisy Bates was little more than a journalist and somewhat less than an anthropologist” (Palmer 2010 : 80). Paul Burke is less negative, suggesting that Bates, like Alfred Cort Haddon, could be thought of as a “proto-anthropologist in the history of the professionalization of anthropology” (Burke 2011 : 106).

Other critics also pass brutal judgment on her character, contending that she was morally flawed : a bigamist (married to the infamous Harry or Breaker Morant, 1884 ; to Jack Bates, February 1885 ; and Ernest Baglehole, June 1885) ; she reinvented herself as Anglo-Irish Protestant whereas she was an Irish Catholic ; [3] she held racist and colonial views ; she was obsessed with claims of cannibalism and propagated the view that Aborigines were doomed to extinction ; she held very negative views about Aboriginal people of mixed descent and discounted their relevance to her studies ; [4] and she was involved in the removal of mixed-race children from their families. Additionally, some critics add, she was probably ‘mad’. They argue that her anthropological work is “based on deception... and lies” and is fundamentally unsound (see, for example, Mohr 1999 : 6, Standish 1999 : 57). Despite these criticisms, many researchers routinely use her notes and manuscripts for academic, heritage and particularly native title research in Western and South Australia.

We contend that though much in Bates’ behaviour and attitudes are now far from acceptable, they are not, as Isobel White (1985 : 16–18) points out, necessarily too dissimilar from those of many of her contemporaries. For instance, Alfred Haddon (1911 : 25), in a report on the progress of the ‘Cambridge Anthropological Expedition’ to Western Australia in Nature, writes :

In the south-west corner of the State the natives are extinct ; the greater portion of the western [sic - eastern] half of the State is unopened, mainly desert country, and the natives are quite wild, and it is at present almost impossible to get in touch with them…. The gold-field blacks are for the most part beggars, and suspicious and treacherous ; they are constantly moving from place to place (emphasis added).

These views are, without doubt, also those of his protégé, Alfred Reginald (Radcliffe-) Brown (1881–1955), the expedition leader, who in several newspaper interviews and public lectures expressed quite evolutionary views and opinions about the demise of the Aboriginal population, including the extinction of the South West tribes. [5]

We do not suggest that the behaviour of Bates’ contemporaries was always exemplary, even by the standards of the day, [6] or that Bates was not a ‘self-promoter’. Bob Reece (2002 : 14) concludes that she was “one of Australia’s more eccentric and self-serving celebrities”, while Tom Gara (2000 : 7) writes “She was eccentric, unconventional and reclusive, but a great self-promoter and never one to miss a photo opportunity”. As Robin Barrington (2015 : 54) argues with respect to the work of Bates and Alexander Morton from Tasmania in the Murchison :

As authoritative voices within institutionalised colonial networks of law and science, they constructed representations of Yamaji through an Aboriginalist discourse that would also serve to further their own reputations.

However, despite these criticisms, we maintain that many assessments of Bates’ work are at times also deeply flawed and ‘presentist’ in the extreme, assuming that anthropology as we know it was the only inevitable version. [7] We argue that much of what Bates wrote was indeed “seriously anthropological” and that she did have “a genuine passion for her field of study”, a passion which is clearly evident in the personal and professional sacrifices she made. [8] She is, we maintain, an “excluded ancestor” (Handler 2001) and we need to ‘reclaim’ her as an anthropologist and ethnographer (Camic 1997).

Bates and Ethnographic Fieldwork : Predating the Malinowskian Revolution

Daisy Bates arrived in Western Australia from Britain in 1899, apparently on a commission from The Times to investigate atrocities against Aborigines in the North West. She had previously migrated to Queensland in 1883, living both in Queensland and New South Wales, and returned to England in 1894 where she worked as a journalist. [9] In 1900, she journeyed to the Trappist mission at Beagle Bay, north of Broome. The following year, she temporarily re-joined her husband Jack Bates on the cattle station (i.e., ranch) at Roebuck Plains, near Broome. It was here in the Kimberley region of Western Australia that she commenced her research into aspects of Aboriginal culture and language, and where she reports : “I was bitten with the virus of research” (Reece 2007a, Salter 1971). Finally leaving Jack, she returned to Perth in 1902 where she undertook assignments for the Western Mail on Aborigines around Peak Hill in the Murchison Goldfields (Reece 2007a, Salter 1971, White 1985, 1993).

In 1904, already recognized as having expertise in Aboriginal matters, Daisy Bates was appointed to undertake research on Aboriginal languages by the Western Australian government, a position she held until 1911, undertaking research in Perth and surrounds, the South West and other parts of Western Australia. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the full extent of her research programme, which extended over many decades. However, it is worth briefly mentioning her participation in what was, from her viewpoint, the ill-fated ‘Cambridge Anthropological or Ethnological Expedition’ to Western Australia. This was an expedition she was intimately involved with instigating and which she hoped would undertake research ‘beyond the frontier’ into those areas, to use Haddon’s words, where “the natives are quite wild” (McDonald et al., 2000).

Following the loss of her employment in 1911, and after camping in various locations around Perth and on Rottnest Island, Bates moved to Eucla on the border with South Australia, one of the areas she hoped the Cambridge Expedition would investigate (McDonald et al. 2000 ; interview with Grant Watson West Australian June 21, 1910) and then to Fowlers Bay in South Australia (1914–1918) and subsequently to Ooldea (see Gara 2000, Reece 2007a and Salter 1971 for a discussion of these periods).

Her primary task in 1904 was to research and write a compilation of the Aboriginal languages of Western Australia, which initially involved her distributing questionnaires and blank vocabularies to postmasters, magistrates, station owners and others in various parts of the state. Of the 500 questionnaires sent out, 120 were completed and returned (Thieberger 2017a). [10] She read avidly the available works on Aboriginal ethnography, at the same time becoming a member of an ‘invisible college’ of anthropologists, corresponding with both Australian and overseas scholars. [11] Bates grew increasingly dissatisfied with her research methods, raising concerns about the inconsistencies and provenance of the linguistic information she was obtaining (McGregor 2012, White 1985).

In 1905, at the age of 45, after obtaining permission from her superiors, Bates set up camp in the Aboriginal reserve (reservation) at Maamba in Cannington (now Hartfield Park, Forrestfield). In part, her move to the field was stimulated by Robert Hamilton Mathews’ suggestion that the best way to collect data was to “go amongst the blacks” (R.H. Mathews to Bates, April 4, 1905 and May 7, 1905). [12] However, as Isobel White (1993 : 52) reminds us, Bates had used participant observation techniques in the Kimberley region prior to her government employment, and Reece (2007a : 37) reports that she had camped at Maamba as early as 1901 in her endeavours to learn about South West Aborigines.

Among her first tasks in getting information directly from Aboriginal people was to interview Joobaitch (also Jutyche and Jubytch, born c.1830, died 1907), a senior Bibbulmun or Nyungar (also Noongar/Nyoongar) man about a range of topics including marriage and social organization (Bates n.d.i, Palmer 2016). Sally Babidge (2000 : 9) refers to these as “‘salvage’ style interviews” and notes that Joobaitch may have spent some time with Bates in her office in Perth. However, as we note below, she also spent time walking with him around his country.

Bates worked with the Maamba reserve residents, who hailed from various groups in the South West of Western Australia, over several months in 1905 and 1906 :

I am out on a native reserve gathering material and making myself acquainted with the system of relationships and individually compiling some blank vocabularies, and I only go to town on Saturday mornings…. I work from 8:45 till 5 and then one of the women comes and continues my education in family relationships. (Bates to John Matthew from Maamba, October 28, 1905)

Babidge (2000 : 9) notes, as is the case of most people working with Aboriginal communities, that Bates was incorporated into the local kinship system. Joobaitch, she reports, designated her a Tondarup (semi-moiety) of the Manitchmat (White Cockatoo) moiety, therefore making her his classificatory wife. She reported to Mathews that this facilitated entrée to the Maamba community and access to information : “Now out at the reserve I told them I was a Tondarup and at once everything was made easy for me and I am obtaining the most wonderful results” (Bates to R.H. Mathews October 6, 1905). She described herself as Balbuk’s, one of her key Bibbulmun or Nyungar informants, kumbart (niece) (Bates 1992 : 22) and reports (Bates 2004 : 108) : “My adopted kinship has ever been the secret of my success with all aborigines” [sic]. Later she would be generally known as Kabbarli (grandmother), a kin term and status she reports she acquired in the Lock Hospital [13] on Dorre Island : “Kabbarli I was to remain in all my wanderings. The name is a generic one and extends far among the western-central and central tribes. Where the name does not extend, its significance went before me” (Bates 2004 : 109).

What was less ethnical were her claims to be supernatural in order to gain access to men’s secret rites. Having gained access to ‘Men’s Business’, she was thereby excluded from ‘Women’s Business’ and Isobel White reports “it appears that she did not even suspect the existence of women’s own secret ceremonies or witness any of them” (White 1993 : 62).

White (1993 : 60) also notes, however, that unlike her contemporaries such as Baldwin Spencer and Frank Gillen, Bates “observed daily life at close quarters” :

How greedily I listened to Joobaitch and Balbuk (his niece) when they spoke of their old kaleep totems.… After some hours of folklore and when we rose to go to our respective “kal” (fires), no one dared leave the place until he had taken a firestick for protection. All Jangga [ghosts] were powerless against fire, and so we go through the bush with our lighted torches, flitting in and out among the trees, jumping at the slightest sound, and ready to throw our firestick in any direction from where an unusual noise might come. (Bates 1992 : 4)

However, her ethnographic methodology is often discounted with comments about her spending “substantial periods of time living in close proximity to Aboriginal people” (Palmer 2016 : 6) or “Some parts of that work resulted from a prolonged association with informants in the field” (Burke 2011 : 106). In our view, such comments obfuscate her deliberate methodological intentions and her ethnography measures up well against at least three of Arturo Alvarez Roldán’s (1995:143–54) six points identified as marking the Malinowskian revolution : ‘living right among the natives’ ; ‘talking among natives’ (learning the vernacular) ; and ‘increasing the number of observations’ (and knowledge of everyday practice and institutions) (see also White 1993).

Bates camped with her Aboriginal subjects in various parts of the South West and other parts of Western Australia. Over eight months in 1907–1908 she travelled thousands of kilometres by train and buggy to research sites (Babidge 2000, Bates 2004, Salter 1971 ; see Figure 1). She concluded early on in her research career while in the Kimberley that to elicit useful data from her informant : “I must think with his mentality and talk in his language” (Bates 2004 : 32). Similarly, despite labelling her draft manuscript chapter on Aboriginal religion ‘Religious Beliefs and Superstitions’, she raised concerns about researchers’ preconceived notions and taking advantage of “accidental resemblances” influencing their inquiries. She proclaims :

The most satisfactory method of inquiry into the beliefs and practice of the aborigines [sic] is to go in amongst them as a learner, devesting oneself completely of one’s own personal beliefs, and to follow as closely as possible the native line of thought (Bates n.d. iv Section VI, 1 (emphasis original) ; also Bates 1985 : 217).

Unlike Alfred Cort Haddon and other contemporaries, who continued to rely on secondary sources for a major part of their data (Urry 1993), Bates refused to rely substantially on such sources. While some of her contemporaries such as Haddon and Spencer undertook observational work in the course of their fieldwork, they did not embark on the type of immersive ethnography that Bates conducted (White 1993). As Beckett (1998 : 25), for example, notes of Haddon, his overall methodology failed to achieve “intense intersubjective engagement”.

Bates constantly refers in her letters and other communications to the necessity of verifying her data from primary ethnographic sources. She became fluent in Nyungar and was fascinated by her linguistic work. Writing to John Mathew (February 28, 1906) about Balbuk’s (one of her key informants in Perth) idiolect, she commented : “Can you imagine the interest attached to that part of my work ?”. Comments such as this show, contra to Hamilton (1998), “evidence of a broad-ranging intellectual [and] genuine passion for her field of study”.

Bates adopted what would now be called an emic approach to her research : “I am only a ‘native’ setting down my laws, customs, etc. without myself being able to explain their meaning. I shall leave the explanation to ethnologists and philologists like yourself” (Bates to Mathew, February 26, 1909), which Gray (2008 : 114) criticizes as “Empiricism at its most pure”. However, as George Stocking (1995 : 311) points out when commenting on the chapters of her manuscript that Andrew Lang (1844–1912) had sent to him, Brown criticized Bates for not having kept “facts” and “theories” separate (see Kuklick 1991 and Kuklick and Kohler 1996 ; see also Urry 1993 on the common separation of data collectors and theorists at the time).

Bates was also aware of the contextual nature of the data she elicited. For example, in her June 12, 1906, letter to John Mathew, she referred to the problems in working with prisoners on Rottnest Island : one prisoner was “too useful in the prison to be spared” and another was “frightened by the chief warder and he simply acceded to everything I said.” She concluded : “there comes the disadvantage of working among prisoners or servants. I must go out amongst them myself … as it is only amongst themselves, and free from any white influences that I can obtain satisfaction”. She did, however, return to Rottnest following the termination of her employment with the State Government, though at the time she was homeless and was allowed to live in her tent on the island and continue her research (Salter 1971 : 178–79).

Fig. 1
Daisy Bates’ South West social organization and some Western Australian research sites.

Bates developed several ways of testing the reliability of her data. One was to feed back to her informant an incorrect version of the information that she had been given and see if she was corrected : “though I frequently mixed the information up in the endeavour to confuse or convict her [Balbuk] of “gossip license”, her recitals never varied” (Bates 1992 : 22). In the letter to John Mathew (June 12, 1906) she reports that when inquiring about kinship and marriage she used the same tactic with informants on Rottnest and they would respond that she was incorrect : “Even that much information is something since it shows me that I am straight in my enquiries”.

She was aware of the need to be flexible in data gathering, with a focus on tacit knowledge :

[…] there is never any time to question in an orderly way, and you really get very little result from any ‘systematic’ digging. My success is due to my readiness to leave off and listen to something else — waiting my opportunity to continue until they are in the mood. You can’t rush… The voluntary information, the unconscious information is the best. (Bates to Fitzherbert September 7, 1931)

In addition to participant observation, Bates pioneered several other research techniques :

1) She was among the first in Australia to collect genealogies.
2) She understood that fieldwork on foot was an important way to connect or establish rapport with Aboriginal people and to understand Aboriginal country.
3) She was among the first to have Aboriginal men draw maps of their country, showing water sources and so on.

As Stocking (1995 : 311) reports, (Radcliffe-) Brown wrote to Bates prior to his arrival in Australia in September 1910 and complimented her on being the “the first student of Australian ethnology who has collected genealogies”, [14] though, as Stocking reports, Brown later claimed to have ‘persuaded’ her to do so. He informed her at the time that they had tried, without success, to get Spencer to record genealogies. Brown did suggest that he would show her how to depict them in a ‘tree’ format rather than the list-like manner in which she was currently recording them ((Radcliffe-)Brown letter to Bates, 1910). Indeed, as Palmer (2018 : 148–49) observes : “Bates’s genealogies are sometimes hard to follow, and the meanings of her many annotations are often unexplained while actual relationships are not always apparent”. Nevertheless, her genealogies remain an important resource for groups claiming native title (Gara 2000, Palmer 2016, 2018).

Bates undertook ‘fieldwork on foot’ ‘(Lee and Ingold 2006). She had, of course, spent part of the daily round of events with Aboriginal people in the bush while in the Kimberley, participating in and observing their activities (Salter 1971, White 1993). She also employed the technique of ‘fieldwork on foot’ with great success in Perth with her key informants Joobaitch and his niece Balbuk, later extending the method to the country of other informants :

[…] the primary object of these walks was to obtain the aboriginal [sic] nomenclature of the various hills, slopes, swamps and valleys and waters frequented by the Bibbulmun group in the days when Perth was not [i.e., before Perth was established][…] (Bates 1992 : 49)

Bates reports that she and Balbuk journeyed around the Perth area “identifying certain spots familiar to her [Balbuk’s] childhood” and they often sat on the slope of Kings Park, overlooking the city of Perth, from where Balbuk would reconstruct the pre-colonial landscape and recount stories about people and places. Bates understood that walking about was a key method in understanding the creation of place and how country “can be understood from the perspective of a life story, tying a personal biography into the perception of the environment” and that this method “results in fieldwork sensitive to the richness and reality of people’s mobility in the world” (Lee and Ingold 2006 : 75, 83). She was also desirous to access data not readily available from a static in-place interview (Kusenbach 2003). As Lee and Ingold (2006 : 83) observe, combining walking with embodied learning with an “awareness of routes … results in fieldwork sensitive to the richness and reality of people’s mobility in the world”.

We suggest that in some respects Bates was ahead of her time, avoiding many of the shortcomings of ‘modern’ anthropology (for example, Norman Tindale (1974) and Ronald Berndt (1979) with respect to the South West) with its focus on Aboriginal ‘cultures’ as discrete and fixed. [15] She understood the interaction of local and regional systems, of the movement of people, objects, and intangible phenomena within and between regions and wrote of ‘roads’ connecting people and places. Kingsley Palmer (2016 : 28), writing of Bates’ (1985) accounts of inter-group cooperation and movement in the South West, notes :

Bates’s account of inter-group movements in her The Native Tribes of Western Australia repeats the emphasis found in her manuscripts on freedom of travel. She considers there to have been ‘constant intercourse from time immemorial’ between the coastal groups living between Jurien Bay and Augusta […]

Bates (1985 : 63) notes, for example, “From all tribal territories roads branched in various directions according to the facilities for food and water to be found along the way”. In the South West, she recorded the existence of the moolyeet or beedawong (initiates) track linking the Porongurup Range north of Albany, [16] via Augusta and Busselton to Karboordup where the Perth Town Hall stands, along which she records a list of key campsites. A similar track heading north from the Swan River area as far as a “spot just south of Cockleshell Gully near Jurien Bay” was also recorded (1985:159). [17] Bates, however, was aware of the impact of colonization on traditional ‘roads’ and intergroup contact : “Certain roads became closed to native traffic owing to the formation of stations, mining towns, etc. within their areas and in consequence the tribes had to open up new roads of late years” (Bates 1985 : 64). Additionally, in respect of the moolyeet track referred to above, she notes her uncertainty about the distances travelled by particular individuals in traditional and pre-colonial times or “whether this [distance travelled] was due to the facilities afforded by white settlement, and the greater ease with which long journeys could be accomplished under white protection cannot be definitely ascertained” (Bates 1985 : 51–52). It is clear from her discussions that one’s network of kin was an important and essential factor in movement (see Palmer 2016 : 25–28).

In a sense, we would suggest that Bates anticipated Keen’s (1997 : 272–73) call to see Aboriginal groups in terms of “A nexus of adjacencies, of chains of connection, and of a dynamic, open, and transforming systemic network, broken here and there by fissures and lesions”, rather than as discrete and fixed societies neatly anchored in place.

Indigenous map-making also became part of her repertoire of research techniques, having her subjects draw maps of their country and its features (see Babidge 2000, Bates 2004 : 118, White 1985). Bates reports :

The map-making method was simple. I gathered the men of the different groups about me, and with a sheet of sometimes brown paper and a pencil, constructed an early history of their home waters and wanderings. I would start from a given point – Meekatharra, Peak Hill, or Wiluna – plan out the district according to its natural features, mark off the waters, put down the tracks to and from father’s camps and grandfather’s camps, denoting localities with their native names by means of elementary questions as to where they “sat down”. Distances were calculated from “how many sleeps ?” allowing so many miles to a day’s journey (Bates 2004 : 118).

According to Barber et al. (2013), these are among the earliest jointly created ethnographic maps of any part of Australia for which the identities of the various Aboriginal authors are known.

Bates’ Legacy

Bates’ fieldnotes and manuscripts were reorganized and retyped with Federal Government assistance between 1936 and 1940. Ninety-nine (99) folios of material, amounting to thousands of pages, were housed in the National Library of Australia in 1941, with copies in the State Library of Western Australia and the Barr Smith Library in South Australia. Much of the latter collection has been digitized. [18] Her vast manuscript remained unpublished until 1985 following a supreme editorial effort by Isobel White (Bates 1985).

Bates’ (1985) material is presented under the headings of Tribal Organization and Geographical Distribution, Social Organization Part 1, Social Organization Part 2, Initiation, Totems, Religion and Magic, Food, Art and Craft, Diseases, Remedies, Death and Burial, Dances, Songs and Ceremonies Part 1, Dances, Songs and Ceremonies Part 2, which as Paul Burke (2011 : 106) notes are “headings familiar from the turn-of-the-century ethnology of Spencer and Gillen, Howitt, and Matthews”. Indeed, White (1985 : 15) concludes that Bates modelled the structure of her book on Howitt’s The Native Tribes of South-East Australia (Howitt 1904).

Until the publication of her book in 1985, Bates was best known for her memoir The Passing of the Aborigines (Bates 1949, originally published in 1938), an abridged version of her series of newspaper articles ‘My Natives and I’ which were republished in their entirety by Bridge with an introduction by Reece (Bates 2004). She also published more than a dozen anthropological articles in the Science of Man, the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute and Revue d’ethnographie among others and some 270 newspaper articles on aspects of Aboriginal life (see, for example, Bates 1992). The proceeds of these newspaper articles provided her with an income.

Bates’ fieldnotes, manuscripts and published material contain a vast corpus of ethnographic and linguistic data. Her unpublished book was an endeavour to create an encyclopaedic compendium about all aspects of Aboriginal culture in Western Australia. As was quite typical of her time, her research focus was not narrowed to specific research questions but endeavoured to capture all regional variations of particular aspects of culture and social organization, and her ethnography is strongest in the areas in which she did the most intensive fieldwork.

White (1985:19) argues that Bates’ ethnographies of the South West “remain her greatest contribution to our knowledge of Aboriginal lifestyles before these were changed by contact with Europeans”. Palmer (2016:13), in his book based on his native title research for the Single Noongar Claim (Bennell v Western Australia [2006] FCA 1243), agrees with White’s assessment. However, he highlights concerns about consistency between what was eventually published by White and Bates’ earlier notes and observations, suggesting that “Bates entertained a conceptual uncertainty with respect to some social structure”. He notes in several places that she ignored the “complexity of the data” and simplified and over-systematized her results. He (Palmer 2016 : 13) recommends that her “work therefore must be treated with caution”. However, he does acknowledge that “Bates attempted a systematic and analytical study, influenced by the new methods and theoretical considerations of an emergent anthropology” (Palmer 2016 : 6). Palmer (2016 : 28) also acknowledges that “Unlike her predecessors, Bates was interested in understanding something of the social interactions which underpinned the society she studied, as well as demonstrating its practical outcomes”.

However, in an earlier article (Palmer 2010 : 81 ; see below) he reports : “Bates remains a controversial figure and the reliability of her ethnography is subject to debate”. As evidence he cites Reece (2007b : 51–52) regarding her dishonesty about her past and her reinvention of herself after arriving in Australia, suggesting “this might cast doubt on the credibility of her other accounts”. However, Palmer fails to mention Reece’s (2007b : 52) conclusions in this regard : “there is no obvious reason why Bates would have sought to misrepresent Aboriginal society. Indeed, her great wish to be seen as a ‘woman of science’ meant that she was scrupulous in her empirical research and in her relations with celebrated ethnographers and anthropologists whose respect she craved.” [19] Bates’ ethnography forms a central element of Palmer’s (2016) description of Noongar (Nyungar) society, kinship, social organization, religion, totemism and so on, and their relationship to country. His book contains 284 references to Bates and her ethnography, in contrast to 47 to Ronald Berndt’s work and 24 to Radcliffe-Brown’s.

We would suggest that Bates’ description of South West social organization, specifically with respect to matrilineal moieties in the west of the region and patrilineal moieties (Manitchmat (White Cockatoo) and Wordungmat (Crow)), with two exogamous clans or semi-moieties in each in the other parts of the South West, as mediated by Radcliffe-Brown (1930–31), in fact underpins orthodox ethnography of the region. Ronald Berndt (1979), for example, does not have any problems using her ethnography, which he essentially derives from Radcliffe-Brown, in his own analysis of organizational types. [20] However, it is interesting that whereas she is criticized for ignoring the “complexity of the data” and simplifying and over-systematizing her results, her (1985 : 53) reports of groups having both matrilineal and patrilineal moieties are ignored by Radcliffe-Brown (1930–31), Berndt (1979), Palmer (2016) and others (see Figure 2). So, in regard to “over-systematizing her results”, she surely is not alone. As Sutton (2018:191) observes of Radcliffe-Brown, “like many others, [he] apparently liked to see that the loose thrums of the warp and weft of the record were trimmed, and the descriptive picture reduced to something systemically rigorous through a little snipping along the fringes”. [21]

Palmer’s work on the Single Noongar Claim is just one of many examples of the role of Bates’ ethnography in native title claims in Western and South Australia. In his (2018) text on “the practice of anthropology in the context of Australian native title claims”, Bates is cited 34 times, indicating the relevance of her work beyond the South West. Burke (2011:106), reviewing the anthropology of the Rubibi claim in the Broome area, compares her ethnography, particularly in respect of male initiations, favourably with later observers and notes that her accounts would become a critical link for Sullivan, the claim anthropologist, in establishing continuity of custom 100 years later in the native title claim.

Fig. 2
South West moieties and semi-moieties after Bates (1985)

In contrast, Palmer (2010 : 70), after reviewing Bates’ fieldnotes, finds that her description of the ‘local totemic clans’ of the ‘Jinyila nation’ located round Eucla, [22] on the South Australia/Western Australia border, “is not evidenced in her data”, which he finds are “problematic in both their diversity and inconsistency”. He (Palmer 2010 : 70) concludes : “It is hard to know how such inconsistencies could have been worked up into the relatively neat texts that she presented in her manuscript for publication”. So, in this regard, we might compare Bates with Radcliffe-Brown (1930–31) who reports that “In the territory of each horde are found a number of totemic centres” (thalu) and specifically in respect of the ‘Talaindji Type’ [Thalanyji] societies, he reports “The totemic system of these tribes is based on the existence of local totem-centres with rites for the increase of the totem” (Radcliffe-Brown 1930–31 : 210 ; 213). Yet his actual fieldnotes and his local group (horde) index cards do not always record a local thalu. For example, with respect to the Maianu local group, a note on the obverse of the card reads : “There is no totem centre, they go to Bibindi” (McDonald and Greenfeld 2006:49). While not rejecting Palmer’s criticisms, we would suggest, having worked with Radcliffe-Brown’s and Tindale’s fieldnotes, as well as Bates’, that all fieldnotes are problematic to a greater or lesser degree and are always fragmentary, replete with contradictions and inconsistencies and that much of the production of an ethnography is in the form of ‘headnotes’ rather than fieldnotes (Atkinson 1992, Sanjek 1990). [23]

Palmer (2010 : 81) also suggests that anthropological theories on totemism of the time framed Bates’ ethnographic enquiries and her published results “were not always borne out by her original field data”. If this is the case, Bates was not alone in this regard either. Totemism was a focus of the Cambridge Expedition, according to A.R.(Radcliffe-)Brown, and he reported that “under totemism a tribe is divided into a number of groups taking its name from some animal or plant or other natural object”.
Totemism was, according to him, an evolutionary stage and Australian Aborigines belong to the “totemic stage of society” (Western Mail September 17, 1910, page 51 ; see also the report on his public lecture, West Australian October 3, 1910). Urry (1993 : 45) concludes that Spencer and Gillen only collected “information which they thought would support the prevailing opinions among leading men back home and little attempt was made to provide a cohesive account of the culture as lived and experienced by the people themselves”.

Muri’s map of sites, waterholes, and tracks in his country, north of Wiluna (Lake Way) in the Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia. Collected by Bates at Rottnest Prison, 1912 (Section II 3ci) (Reproduced with the permission of the University of Adelaide)
Collected by Bates at Rottnest Prison, 1912 (Section II 3ci) (Reproduced with the permission of the University of Adelaide)

Bates’ work figured heavily in the Tjiwarl native title claim (Narrier v State of Western Australia [2016]
FCA 1519 (December 16, 2016) in the Northeast Goldfields of Western Australia. There are some 263 references to Bates in Mortimer J’s 262-page published decision. Bates had undertaken a limited amount of research relating to an area north of the Tjiwarl claim, which included interviews on Rottnest with men such as Jinguru and Muri, whose map is produced above in Figure 3(Bates 2004 : 112–13 ; 1913 ; n.d. ii & iii). [24] She referred to the people of the claim area as ‘Ngaiawonga’. Using her data, the state and its anthropologist, Dr Brunton, asserted that the claimants were migrants to the area in the early twentieth century from further out in the desert after the area had been vacated by its original Ngaiawonga occupants (FCA 1519 @ Paragraph 627). The applicants’ anthropologist, Dr Sackett, argued that Bates’ material could not be relied on to prove such an argument. Mortimer J. noted that “No category of evidence starts with any presumptions of reliability, accuracy or superiority. That includes the materials of Daisy Bates” (FCA 1519 @ Paragraph 404). In the end, the judge rejected the state’s argument on the basis that there were uncertainties about her methods and “We do not know whether she recorded all she was told or was selective” (FCA 1519 @ Paragraph 482). The judge was also concerned about the amount of time she might have spent in the area, “[a] matter of weeks only”, and that this cannot “be measured against contemporary anthropological work”, such as that undertaken by Dr Sackett, “for the purposes of understanding their accounts of laws and customs in the claim area” (FCA 1519 @ Paragraph 483–86). Mortimer J. (FCA 1519 @ Paragraph 487) concluded :

Thus, while historians, and those who write about historical anthropology, may have genuine and valid cause to refer positively to Ms Bates’ fieldwork methods as ahead of her time, and admirable, when a Court determining native title examines such material, it must do so, in my opinion, through the same prism as it deals with any other opinion evidence.

As we note above, Bates’ ethnography is strongest where she did the most intense work, such as in the South West. Mortimer J.’s conclusions about the value of Bates’ work can be compared with those of Wilcox J. who heard the Single Noongar and other overlapping claims :

Very early in the 20th century, Daisy Bates carried out an extensive investigation about Aborigines for the Western Australian government. She left numerous writings, the most significant of which was later published as ‘The Native Tribes of Western Australia.’ The cumulative effect of these writings is to provide an insight into Aboriginal life, including Aboriginal laws and customs, in and about the date of settlement, which is possibly not replicated elsewhere in Australia. (Bennell v Western Australia [2006] FCA 1243 ; 153 FCR 120 : 3)

The uses to which her work was being put of course differed in both cases. It is also the case that Bates was not engaged in the sort of forensic anthropology that is expected in native title legal proceedings (Burke 2011, Palmer 2018). Though her ethnography might be used by anthropologists acting as expert witnesses, she herself was not.

The continuing relevance of Bates’ ethnography, however, is to be found not just in native title research but also in more academic pursuits. Peter Sutton (2018), for example, draws heavily from Bates’ (1913) ‘Social organization of some Western Australian tribes’ and her fieldnotes, in addition to Radcliffe-Brown’s published and unpublished material and material by linguist Peter Austin, in describing ‘Patriclan Subsets’. These are referred to as ‘phratries’ by Bates (1913) and “inter-tribal totemic divisions” by Radcliffe-Brown (1930–31) in the Ashburton River region of Western Australia. Totems are grouped into a limited number of named categories with male and female names. For example, Kadjardu (male) and Ngadjuri (female) division represents water and moisture and related phenomena. Membership is patrifilial (Bates 1913, Radcliffe-Brown 1930–31) and members “enjoyed a commonality of identity” (Sutton 2018). [25]

More recently, Bracknell (2020), with an eye to cultural revitalization, draws on Bates’ ethnography to analyze Noongar [Nyungar/Nyoongar] singing traditions, noting that Bates shows Nyungar “flexibility in dealing with new topics associated with colonization, and their ability to induce nostalgia” (Bracknell 2020 : 142) and that the songs are “integral to the expression and experience of emotion” (Bracknell 2020 : 144). Bates reported : “There is no business in life amongst the natives in which music has not a part : mourning, rejoicing, inciting to battle, mimicry, eulogium of personal prowess, jealousy, revenge, challenge, and abuse, on all occasions music is the medium of expression of their feelings” (Bates 1992 : 31).

Though Geoffrey Gray (2008) claims that “Her skills as a linguist were poor”, such an evaluation is not necessarily shared by linguists today. For instance, McGregor (2012:81) considers it important to review her contribution as “her linguistics has received virtually no scholarly attention”. He (2012 : 99) concludes, following an analysis of her Kimberley material (collected 1900–1901) and cautioning about her hyperbole, that her “documentations of Aboriginal languages were reliable records” within certain limits of transcriptional accuracy and that the “Bates archives provide an immensely rich source of data on the traditional languages of Western Australia”.

The importance of Bates’ linguistic resource has been recognized in a project by Professor Nick Thieberger (2017a) from Melbourne University, which makes available to “Aboriginal people searching for their own heritage languages and by other researchers” over 23,000 pages of wordlists of Australian languages, made up of Bates’ original questionnaires and around 4,000 pages of typescripts, which includes an interactive ‘map of vocabularies’ and other search options. [26] Thieberger (2017b : 103) states that the “Bates vocabularies are extraordinarily valuable as little else was recorded in the same time period and nothing of the same scale has been attempted before or since”. He adds (2017b : 113) that the project has been able to identify the names of over 150 individual speakers from Bates’ papers, and in the order of 40 languages.

Paul Monaghan (2017) describes how, on the West Coast of South Australia, he worked with a group of Wirangu people to repatriate a mythical narrative of the Bilarl (Sooty Bell Magpie) that Bates recorded c. 1912 and translated into English. Monaghan and his Wirangu collaborators created a free translation of the myth into Wirangu and as a result this gives the story a Wirangu ‘feel’ and “it [the translation] gives ownership of the story to Wirangu” (Monaghan 2017 : 562).

These and other works attest to the ethnographic and linguistic skills of Daisy Bates and the continuing relevance of her vast corpus of material.


The view of Daisy Bates in Australian anthropology, to the extent that she is acknowledged at all, has been that she was, at best, a “journalist”, an “enthusiastic amateur” and, at worst, an out-of-touch morally questionable fool, even by the standards of her day. Put differently, she and her work have typically been seen as an embarrassment to the discipline and therefore better disparaged and disowned, to be treated with caution, rather than treated seriously. That has been the prevailing, if not the universal ‘professional’, viewpoint since the beginning of the foundational period of Australian ‘professional’ anthropology, conventionally dated in Australia to Radcliffe-Brown’s appointment to Sydney University in 1926 (Berndt and Berndt 1988 : 537), though as we have highlighted, Radcliffe-Brown himself had absolutely no problem in using her ethnography (e.g., Radcliffe-Brown 1930–31).

We do not suggest that Bates did not reinvent herself and was not morally flawed, holding arch-conservative and bigoted views, nor do we suggest that her behaviour was always ethical and exemplary. However, her views were not necessarily completely out of step with those of many of her contemporaries and ought not be a reason for rejecting her work out of hand.

We are of the view that her ethnography compares favourably with that of contemporaries such as Alfred Cort Haddon and Baldwin Spencer and that her ethnography aligns well with Malinowskian approaches to fieldwork. She, did not, however, narrow her research focus on specific research questions ; her manuscript is a vast, unwieldy compendium (White 1985). Nor did she engage in what Roldán (1995) calls the new ‘ethnographic discourse’, comprising the three elements of ‘fieldwork data’, ‘information about the research process’ and ‘theories’. Her ethnography is a curious mix of a focus on the present and on salvage anthropology and in these ways, she remained a pre-modern Edwardian anthropologist whose research was designed to feed into other scholars’ ‘ethnology’ and ‘philology’.

Native title and other contemporary research processes have brought her work into focus, making it more difficult to be quite so dismissive, as has the growing body of materials that we can now draw upon in coming to a more balanced appreciation of her position in Australian anthropology. Today, the unchallenged view of Bates within the discipline is one of acknowledgment rather than active disownment. However, to a considerable extent she is still effectively edited out of our shared past. In our view, several factors contributed to the disownment, including moralistic views about her personal life, embarrassment about her attitudes, professional jealousies, guilt, and gender, and perhaps most enduring of all, the impulse to define the profession by what it is not. Bates certainly conveniently fitted the bill in the latter respect.

We argue that much criticism of Bates and her work is and has been ‘presentist’ and that the failure to acknowledge her as a figure in our understanding of the history of Australian anthropology and its eventual ‘professionalization’ ignores its multi-stranded origins and complex interconnections. At the time she worked, Bates was an ‘anthropologist’ and acknowledged as such by her contemporaries. As such, she was an anthropologist in the same vein as Haddon, Rivers, Spencer, and Gillen. The last mentioned, like Bates, had no formal qualifications and indeed less formal education. Certainly, for the period she was employed by the Western Australian government, she was not an ‘amateur’ ; rather she was a ‘professional’ in the sense that she was paid, albeit minimally, for her service. We hope we have demonstrated that she also approached her ethnographic work in a ‘professional’ manner, though no doubt changes in her work practices as she aged need to be accounted for. If undertaking her non-paid research today, she would be called an ‘independent scholar’.

We are not suggesting that Bates’ ethnography should be treated uncritically and without caution, especially in a forensic context such as native title. Nor for that matter would we suggest that the work of any of her contemporaries, such as Radcliffe-Brown or later anthropologists such as Ronald and Catherine Berndt (1979, 1988) or Norman Tindale (1974) should be not treated without caution and without an understanding of their assumptions, theoretical perspectives and the context within which they undertook their research.

It can, nevertheless, be argued that Bates is an “excluded ancestor” (Handler 2001), a skeleton in the closet as it were ; however, no longer to be ignored or denied. Though she has no direct intellectual descendants, her work in various parts of Western and South Australia underpins ethnographic orthodoxies. In our view, reclaiming Bates will entail a good deal more than mining her ethnographic and linguistic material for useable bits and pieces. Reclaiming Bates brings into focus the complexities of the histories of anthropology and acknowledges a contribution to Australian ethnography that has long been attributed to others.


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Bennell v Western Australia [2006] FCA 1243 (September 19, 2006) [Single Noongar Native Title Claim]

Narrier v State of Western Australia [2016] FCA 1519 (December 16, 2016) [Tjiwarl Native Title Claim]

[1We would like to thank William Christensen, Bob Reece, Phil Moore, David Trigger, Jaimal Sandhu, Frederico Delgado Rosa and David Tucker for their comments on earlier versions of this paper.

[2Reece (2007a) provides the most comprehensively researched review of her early life.

[3Critics of Bates reinventing herself typically fail to pay attention to the racial stereotypes and discrimination faced by Irish Catholics in the British social system. As Curtis (1997 : 21) points out, from an English perspective the Irish occupied a position on the racial totem pole that was lower than that of Negros. Kuklick (1991 : 114–16) notes the role of British anthropologists, amongst others, in the Irish Home Rule debate. She quotes the well-known ‘social reformers’ Sidney and Beatrice Web, for example, who thought that Irish Home Rule should be implemented “in order to depopulate the country [i.e., the UK] of this detestable race”. Kuklich and Kohler (1996:10–12) show that social identity can be ambiguous in borderland or frontier situations and as a result the reinvention of identity is a common occurrence. A sojourn in South Africa in 1926, after all, allowed A. R. Brown to reinvent himself as A. R. Radcliffe-Brown by adopting his mother’s maiden name (Kuper 1996 : 39) ! To avoid confusion, his early Australian work, prior to his name change, is cited and referred to as (Radcliffe-) Brown.

[4As Palmer (2016) notes, this view pervaded anthropology until well into the 1980s, with Berndt (1979 : 87) stating : “the Aboriginal people of the South West ‘possess[ed] little or nothing of their traditional heritage’”.

[5For example, in his public lecture in Perth regarding the Cambridge Expedition, Brown is reported as saying that the Andamanese are rapidly dying out and as a result there was a loss of information about customs and so on. He continued : “Exactly the same thing is happening in Australia. That was why the anthropologist, even if the Australian aborigines [sic] were less interesting than other races, sought to study them” (West Australian, October 3, 1910, page 2). Brown also publicly expressed evolutionary views which placed Aborigines at the bottom of the evolutionary hierarchy. In a public lecture he gave at the end of the expedition, he opined that Aboriginal hunting and gathering adaptions were the reason “why the aborigines [sic] of Australia had remained such a backward race and so low down on the scale of humanity” (West Australian November 4, 1911, page 12).

[6(Radcliffe-) Brown’s ethnography, for example, is not rejected out of hand because of the apparent plans that he and Grant Watson had to go grave robbing on Bernier Island : “In a few nights Brown and I are going lurking. Dead Mum over this. We go armed with shovels and dig up dead nigger women, pack them in boxes and carry them off”. Interestingly, he clearly states that “Mrs Bates knows nothing of this” (Watson letter to his mother and Jack, November 25, 1910). While Falkiner (2011 : 120) notes there is no evidence that they proceeded with this plan and suggests that Brown “was not known for wasting his time on the pursuits of others”, the plan cannot be simply dismissed and cannot necessarily be attributed to Watson alone. Watson (1968 : 69–70) reports robbing two graves at Geraldton on his return journey to Perth and packing them up as ‘Geological Specimens’.

[7On the problem of presentism in the history of anthropology, see Vermeulen and Roldán 1995 : 4 ; Stocking 1968.

[8In order to attend the 1914 BAAS conference which opened in Adelaide, before moving on to Melbourne and Sydney, for instance, Bates had to make a twelve-day, 390 km journey from Eucla to Fowlers Bay to catch a coastal steamer to Adelaide by camel-drawn buggy (Reece 2007a : 71–72).

[9See Reece 2007a and Salter 1971 for a discussion of Bates’ time in Queensland and New South Wales.

[11Reece, who has made an extensive study of Bates’ correspondence, found that around 3,000 of her letters are extant and held in several repositories around Australia (Reece 2007b : 56) and, one could add, also in places such as Oxford and Cambridge.

[12Babidge (2000) reviews the influence of R.H. Mathews and others with whom Bates corresponded and discusses her research methods but comes to different conclusions regarding Bates’ status as an anthropologist.

[13Established in 1908 and finally closed in 1918, the ‘Lock Hospitals’ on Bernier (for men) and Dorre (for women) Islands, offshore from Carnarvon, were used to isolate and ‘treat’ Aboriginal people who were deemed by the authorities to have ‘syphilis’ or other venereal diseases. Stingemore (2010) concludes that many of those rounded up by the police suffered from yaws or other forms of granuloma rather than syphilis. The Lock Hospitals became a major site of the Cambridge Expedition’s research in late October 1910 until April 1911, much to Bates’ disappointment and horror, places which she (2004 : 103) described as ‘the tombs of the living dead’. McDonald et al. (2000) discuss the tensions around the selection of fieldwork sites for the expedition.

[14However, as Palmer (2018 : 209) correctly points out, George Grey had earlier used genealogies to “show the manner in which a native family becomes divided” (Grey 1841, II, Appendix A, 391–94).

[15Ronald Berndt (1966) rejected the notion of discrete and fixed Aboriginal societies with respect to the Western Desert.

[16The name ‘Porongorup’ is derived from the Nyungar borun-gur which, according to Bates (1992), means totem, literally “older brother”, that is, the place of the “totems”.

[17Interestingly, the Nyungar word for path or track – bidi – also means ‘vein’ (Bindon and Chadwick 1992), thus metaphorically referring to the flow-like nature of human movement in addition to the flow of water and blood (McDonald et al. 2008 discuss metaphors of blood and the human circulatory system in the Nyungar conceptualization of water).

[19Tom Gara (2000 : 28), however, reviewing her later work on the Nullarbor Plain and raising questions about her veracity, also concludes that caution is required, suggesting that “[e]ach piece of data has to be carefully assessed for reliability and accuracy before it is subjected to the critical gaze of the legal system.” However, he (2000 : 25) also reports that “Bates’ data has proved to be a valuable source of ethnographic data for anthropologists involved in native title claims in the far west of South Australia”. Gara highlights the need to distinguish Bates the ‘storyteller’ from Bates the ‘ethnographer’ and be aware of inconsistencies in her reporting, particularly in newspaper stories.

[20Without rehashing the debates that Radcliffe-Brown plagiarised Bates’ work, we note that his (1930–31) published descriptions of social organizational types 5–9 draw heavily on her work. Though in relation to his ‘Type 5’ (Berndt’s ‘Perth’ type’) he (1930–31 : 217) reports on information from his ‘best informant’, implying of course that he had others, (Radcliffe-)Brown was in Perth a very short time prior to leaving for Geraldton on the Cambridge Expedition (arriving in Albany WA on the SS Medic on September 5, 1910 (Albany Advertiser 1910, page 2) and then travelling up to Perth, and departing October 13, 1910 on the SS Hobart for Geraldton (Bates 2004 : 102 ; Falkiner 2011:78)). He returned to Perth for a short period in April 1911 before returning to the North West (West Australian Friday 14 April 1911, page 5). We would suggest that his informants were people Bates worked with and arranged for him to interview. Sydney University Archives contain a file entitled ‘Tribes of the South West of Western Australia’ by D. Bates and A.R. Radcliffe-Brown (Item : C.12), which the archive notes was originally named ‘S.W. of W.A. Daisy Bates_Typescript Notes’, clearly indicating that Radcliffe-Brown was using her ethnography.

McDonald and Christensen (1999) have criticised Berndt’s classification and mapping of South West social organizational types on several grounds. Crucially, it suffers from attempting to marry the broad mapping of Radcliffe-Brown’s social organizational types with Tindale’s (1940) tribal boundaries, resulting in a depiction of the South West that on the whole conforms with neither Bates nor Radcliffe-Brown and geographically mislocates various ‘types’.

[21Radcliffe-Brown’s (1930–31) model of Australian local organization and land tenure has been subject to significant debates and criticism over the years, in part because of his confusion between the land-using horde (band) and the land-owning clan or estate group (Sutton 2003).

[22Bates used the term ‘nation’ to describe a community of ‘tribes’ with a community of interest, similar customs and so on and divided Western Australian groups roughly into six nations (White 1985 : 39).

[23Clues to Bates’ headnotes and to her interpretation of her fieldnotes may be found in various sources, including her correspondence with colleagues, her monthly reports on her fieldwork and other memoranda and in the organization of her retyped and catalogued notes themselves. See, for example, Larcom (1983) for a discussion of her use of Deacon’s letters as a key to interpreting his Malekulan fieldnotes.

[24Interestingly Green and Moon (1997 : 199 and 244) report that neither Jinguru nor Muri appear in Rottnest Island Prison records. In contrast, Barrington (2015 : 45) asserts that Jinguru at least was sentenced to Rottnest “for life with hard labour” and contrary to Bates’ claim that he died in 1912 while she was on the island (Bates 2004 : 112–13), he lived to be “eventually released from Rottnest in February 1922”.

[25Sutton (2018 : 180) suggests that the subsets are “no longer being socially reproduced” and that “[t]he Ashburton patriclan subsets rather look like an experiment in this domain that was shattered by the colonial avalanche, while still on the way to becoming”. However, the system is being socially reproduced in the Thalanyji community, particularly in respect of the Kadjardu (Gajardu) and Ngadjuri (Ngadji) division (McDonald and Greenfeld 2006).