The story of Daisy Bates is extraordinary. Her life was an intricate web of love, betrayal, desertion, re-invention and ultimately heroism, writes Geraldine Du Berry.
Daisy Bates began life as Margaret Dwyer, born on October 16, 1859, in Roscrea, County Tipperary, where her father, James, had a small shop on the Main Street. Her mother died in February 1864, and the following September her father married again and left for America.
Margaret was sent to live with her grandmother, who lived in a cottage at Ballycrine, a couple of miles from town. Unhappy in Ireland, Daisy (as Margaret preferred to be called) headed for Scotland and set her cap at Ernest Baglehole, son of a wealthy land owner.
Daisy was unlucky in love and this was to be a recurring theme throughout her life. Her lover’s family rejected her out of hand, even threatening to disown their son should he marry Daisy.
Ernest, however, was to enter Daisy’s life again, but more of that later. In the meantime, doubtlessly humiliated by his family’s treatment of her, Daisy decided to go to Australia and it was there that the process of re-inventing herself began in earnest.
We know that in 1882 she went to Australia, aged 23, on a Queensland free passage scheme for orphan girls who were supposed to be under 20, and would work as domestic servants. She worked on a property at Charters Towsers, Queensland, marrying Edwin Morant – subject of the film Breaker Morant – the following year.
She gave her age as 2, he was 19- thus the marriage was illegal under state law, as he was under 21. It only lasted a couple of months. Daisy was to quickly marry again, this time to Jack Bates, a 31-year-old cattle drover.
When Jack went off on a long cattle drive, Daisy came to Sydney, and incredibly, married briefly– bigamously – a third time. The groom? Ernest Baglehole! Ernest had come to Australia to seek out his lost love, despite already having a wife and family in England.
During a voyage to England, Ernest died at sea and Daisy returned to Jack Bates, gave birth to a son, Arnold, born in 1886. They were to live together for the next eight years. Placing Arnold in a boarding school, Daisy decided to go to London to become a writer. She found employment on a magazine, Review of Reviews, learning journalism skills. She returned to Australia in 1899 and became interested in the Aborgines, Australia’s native people.