Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn

Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia BlackburnDaisy Bates lived and worked amongst the Australian Aboriginal people from 1919 to 1945. During this time she studied their customs, languages and legends. She was given the name of Kabbarli (grandmother) by the Aboriginals and eventually awarded the Order of the British Empire. During her time in the desert, Mrs. Bates lived in a tent on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain, notably at a place called Ooldea in South Australia. She helped feed, clothe and nurse the transient population, using her own money to meet their pressing needs. She died in relative obscurity in 1951. Julia Blackburn has written a book that is in part a biography and in part an imaginary re-creation of the isolated life of Daisy Bates. Blackburn’s attempt to uncover the facts about Bates is interspersed with suppositions and her personal insights and dreams.

What the Armchair Critics Thought:
Blackburn’s unusual biographical technique was not well liked by the group. There was much confusion over which aspects of Daisy Bates life were real and which were invented. The group was also disappointed by the lack of detail about Aboriginal life and Bates’ real relationship with the people she worked with. While her paternalistic attitude was off-putting, Bates was applauded for being genuinely concerned with the welfare of the Aboriginals and for not attempting to convert them to western ways. It was an interesting story that could have been so much more enlightening.


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