Warren Mundine: a life in black and white

warren-mundine-in-black-and-whiteWarren Mundine has lived an adventurous and complicated life. The former ALP president is now a Liberal candidate in the next election for the seat of Gilmore on the New South Wales south coast, parachuted in by prime minister Scott Morrison over local objections. A proud Bundjalung-Gumbaynggirr man from Grafton Mundine has never been afraid of controversy. His autobiography Warren Mundine: in Black and White was written in 2017 before he stood for election as Liberal but after his departure from Labor and charts his political journey and his Aboriginal heritage. The book is also painfully honest about his personal life and his relationship with three wives and his wider family.

Mundine was born in 1956 in a separate wing of Grafton Hospital for Aboriginal mothers and babies. Segregation was commonplace in regional Australia before 1967 and Mundine begins with how his ancestors went from being masters of their country to slaves in under a century. When their land was stolen survivors were removed to reservations and missions, and their lives were controlled by police and Protection and Welfare Boards who removed children to institutions and white families.

Mundine carried Irish heritage on his mother’s side through Corkman William Donovan who married Yuin woman Catherine Marshall in 1870 and moved to Kempsey. The Mundines called the Donovans the Black Irish as they too lost their land to the British. The Donovans left another characteristic, they were Catholic, a trait passed down to Warren’s mother Dolly who married father Roy in Bowraville Catholic Church. Roy laboured at Naryugil near an asbestos mine which employed – and later killed from mesothelioma – Warren’s uncles.

With his union’s help Roy got equal wages with whites and the family bought a house in Grafton where they raised 11 children. Roy had the infamous “dog tag”, a certificate of exemption which allowed him assimilate in white society, but Dolly scratched out the photo, believing her husband shouldn’t need the tag to do what others took for granted. The couple passed on this determination not to be treated like second-class citizens to their children though Warren darkly remembers being with his father when two policemen strip-searched him beside his car for no apparent reason. “You might own a house, but to us you’re still an abo,” they told Roy.

When older siblings got scholarships to Sydney, the family moved there in 1963. Warren was seven. They lived in Auburn which he called “an exemplar of multiculturalism – long before any politician dreamed up the name”. Racism was rife against all minorities but they were no longer under the stultifying control of the welfare boards. Warren was introduced to football and players would not believe he came from Grafton until he told them of his Bundjalung heritage. “Ah! So you’re a real Aussie, an original!” they replied.

Through his older sisters, Warren became politically aware and watched the 1967 referendum at home on television. They cheered each result and Warren was proud of his siblings who worked in the campaign. Despite his own growing interest, Warren’s grades were poor and he ended up in a trade not in university like his sisters. He became an apprentice fitter and turner and studied at TAFE. When he was cycling home one day he was hit by a truck and suffered a spinal injury which laid him off work for a year. In that time Warren moved into a rental house and discovered drugs and women.

Aged 19 he met Jenny Ross, 17 and she fell pregnant after a couple of months. They married, Jenny gave birth to “Little Warren” and Nicole was born three years later. Warren was a labourer with the Water Board, more focused on his future as a dad. He completed his HSC, sat the public service exams and got a job at the tax office. The couple bought a house in St Mary’s and Warren took a second job bartending at Bankstown town hall. With two of his sisters he returned to Baryulgil on weekends and joined a board that managed Aboriginal land rights in the region.

The tax office offered Warren a university scholarship in Adelaide and with his parents’ support who offered to look after the children, he left alone and the marriage disintegrated. At SAIT in 1982 Warren became politically active, describing himself as “radical and left wing”. He was also exposed to the free market ideas of Milton Friedman, though he still believed solutions should be driven by communities and governments not individuals. He was helped by Don Dunstan’s programs to train Aboriginal students and studied everything from leadership to negotiation. In 1982 he was part of the Aboriginal protests against the Brisbane Commonwealth Games and met other emerging leaders from Aboriginal communities such as Marcia Langton, Gary Foley, Charlie Perkins and Michael Mansell.

He also met Kevin Cook who headed up Tranby Aboriginal college in Sydney. Cook taught him business and enterprise in a cooperative model was the key to moving people out of poverty. Warren learned about the worldwide movement of indigenous and black activism and worked with Cook on land rights. He was influenced by New Caledonian Kanak independence leader Jean-Marie Tijbaou who wanted to embrace the best of the modern world. Modernisation was not a threat to independence and culture but essential to its survival.

Mundine’s second wife Lynette Riley was a friend of his sister Olive who was working on an Aboriginal teachers’ program with NSW Education. They met again at an education conference and it developed into a relationship. They worked together at Tranby and travelled the state promoting land rights and the Aboriginal Land Rights Act passed by NSW’s Labor government in 1983. They got married and had children of their own and moved to Armidale where she worked for the university and he for the land council. His political vision crystallised about the need for commerce, private ownership, jobs and education to improve the lot of poor people. “I realised government could only do so much,” he said.

Back in regional NSW he saw that segregation was gone but Aboriginal kids were not going to school and people were surviving on handouts. Welfare dependency and “sit down money” had replaced low-wage jobs and land rights alone would not solve the problem. Inexperienced land councillors were not up to running businesses and managing land as an economic resource. Mundine felt activists were no help blaming problems on the past and looking to governments for assistance.

In Canberra, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were enacting economic and structural reforms which “resonated” with Mundine. He ran unsuccessfully as an independent for Armidale City Council in 1991 but was elected as an independent in 1995. He called council a “hothouse learning in the art of politics” and learned the importance of authenticity and “speaking with the right people through the media”.

He ran for the state seat of Dubbo in 1998, a notionally safe Nationals seat. But Mundine polled high for Labor, and independent mayor Tony McGrane won the seat by 14 votes in a three-way split. Mundine’s strong performance brought the attention of party bosses like Karl Bitar and Mark Arbib. Mundine was named number three on the Labor Senate ticket for New South Wales for the 2001 federal election.

Labor usually won three seats in a half-Senate election but this was not a normal election. After the Tampa crisis and the events of 9/11 Prime Minister Howard increased his majority, the Labor vote collapsed in NSW and they only won two seats in the Senate. Mundine looked elsewhere for a career and returned to Aboriginal roots.

For him “Mabo changed everything”. The High Court judgement handed down in 1992 eventually led to PM Keating’s native title legislation a year later. Ten years later Mundine moved to Sydney to take a job as NSW Native Title Services Ltd’s CEO representing holders and claimants across the state. He was also selected as the Labor right candidate for national president and finished third which meant he served two years as vice president and became national president in 2006.

His term as president brought him a national profile, notably with his interview with ABC’s Kerry O’Brien where he spoke out against party disunity memorably peppered with several uses of the word “bloody”. By this time the tide was finally turning against Howard and Labor looked likely to win in 2007.

Mundine’s career took a new turn under the influence of Bob Carr’s advisor Walt Secord. Secord grew up on a Canadian reservation and believed Aboriginal land should become economic assets. Mundine developed the idea to move away from communal land ownership and non-profit community businesses and take up home ownership, economic land development and profiting businesses. It was an incendiary idea and it made him “one of the most loathed people in Indigenous Affairs, a puppet of white establishment and a conservative government, wanting to stop land rights”.

Mundine said he didn’t believe land rights or native title should be abandoned but could be leased out with the head title staying with traditional owners. He saw this as a way of removing dependency on handouts and becoming “full participants in all that Australian society had to offer.” That was not music to the ears of the National Native Title Conference in 2005 where he was heckled and booed. But the Howard government was interested in his ideas of individual rights and home ownership.

Around this time he had an affair and his marriage to Lynette broke up. Professionally things went awry as his hopes of being preselected for the Sydney seat of Fowler for the 2007 election fell apart without explanation gradually leading to his falling out with Labor. Howard had already appointed him on the National Indigenous Council and while Mundine was critical of his handling of the Apology he supported Howard’s policies to remove disadvantage and poverty. Mundine said for true reconciliation Aboriginal people also needed to forgive, draw a line in history and “feel a part of Australia as a nation, in addition to their own first nations”.

Mundine supported Howard’s Intervention in the Northern Territory. He thought it would enable people to own homes and Aboriginal communities could operate like towns with small businesses and commercial activities. He also supported the needs of Aboriginal women and children victims of violence and the objective of getting Aboriginal children back to school. The reason the intervention failed, said Mundine, was it was an “invasion of bureaucrats”.

Mundine was initially excited about Kevin Rudd coming to power in 2007 and worked well with his Indigenous Affairs minister Jenny Macklin. He supported the 2008 Closing The Gap initiative as a scorecard to show if programs were working. Though he believed the way to close the gap was through economic participation and “governments don’t create jobs”.

He supported the Rudd-Gillard era work to shift Indigenous mindsets from welfare dependency to jobs and education. But on other matters he was disappointed in Labor. He said the carbon tax, the mining tax and increased workplace regulation put the brakes on growth and productivity. He made one final attempt to secure a Labor seat in 2012 when Mark Arbib left the Senate but the casual vacancy went to Bob Carr instead despite numerous denials, further damaging his trust in the Labor machine. He resigned his Labor membership that year.

Mundine’s drift to the right continued when he met Elizabeth Henderson at an event organised by the Sydney Institute – run by Elizabeth’s parents, Gerard and Anne Henderson. They worked together and developed a relationship. Mundine also developed a professional relationship with opposition leader Tony Abbott and his chief of staff Peta Credlin accompanying them on a three-day working bee to renovate Aurukun’s library. Aurukun was a tough community with 120 times more murders than the Queensland average. Mundine saw a communal-run town with no commerce, agriculture or tourism and a community “locked in some kind of social and cultural museum”.

In 2012 Mundine had major heart surgery, a “brush with death” the media painted as leading to his departure from Labor. Mundine used his new platform of CEO of Generation One, an Indigenous jobs finding organisation funded by Twiggy Forrest, to frame arguments on home ownership and Aboriginal land. When Abbott was elected in 2013 Mundine chaired a new Indigenous advisory group and pushed his ideas that special governance was only needed for use of traditional lands, native title rights. community assets and heritage but not for regular municipal services.

Mundine spoke weekly with Abbott and they were both focused on practical outcomes in schooling, jobs, business and community safety. An early initiative was Remote School Attendance Strategy which employed attendance officers to work with families to reach the crucial 90% attendance threshold for effective education. But Mundine was frustrated state governments would not provide the information. Mundine also supported cashless welfare. He called encouraging people via welfare payments into long-term poverty “cruel” and authorities needed to stop payments if people refused to participate in job programs.

Abbott went the way of the two previous prime ministers and Mundine found it harder to connect with his replacement Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull was uninterested in Indigenous affairs. When Turnbull called a Royal Commission into the Don Dale detention centre following an ABC report but did nothing over the 75,000 cases of domestic violence in the NT in three years, Mundine said whichever “dickhead” came up with the idea was wasting taxpayers money. Turnbull warned him to back off. In the end Mundine offered his resignation from the Indigenous Advisory Committee, which Turnbull accepted.

Mundine’s book came out before Turnbull went the way of Abbott, Gillard and Rudd. But it was clear Mundine’s ideas were increasingly in tune with the Liberals despite his lack of rapport with Turnbull. Scott Morrison did not merit a mention in the book but it is not hard to believe they saw eye to eye on economic development. It’s also not hard to believe Morrison liked the cut of Mundine’s jib. “I like to talk in a way people understand, say sensible things and inject common sensse into a political debate that has become too focused on vested interests and not focused enough on regular people,” he wrote. The people of Gilmore will now have a chance to judge for themselves.





Raymond Chandler and Waterford

Raymond Chandler

This year, 2019, marks the sixtieth anniversary of the death of the great American crime writer Raymond Chandler, creator of the fictional detective Philip Marlowe. Chandler had a close association with Waterford as his mother came from the Irish city and both the mother and her only son spend many summers in the city at the turn of the 20th century.

In his book “Brief Encounters: Meetings with remarkable People”, Waterford-born author and radio documentary maker Bill Long (who also wrote a history of Irish lighthouses) wrote about his meetings with Chandler in London in the summer of 1958. The pair were neighbours; they met several times that summer and became friends largely due to the Waterford connection. On their first meeting, Chandler correctly picked Long’s Waterford brogue which pleased the American greatly as he deemed himself a “great judge of accents”.

Chandler’s mother Florence Thornton was from an old established Waterford Quaker legal family. The Thorntons had offices in Waterford and Raymond inherited Thornton as his middle name. He told Long his mother was one of the Thorntons of Cathedral Square. According to Long he was grinning at the time “with the shadow of a cynical smile and the slightest edge of mockery in his tone”. Chandler enjoyed describing the family with mock pomposity: “I. Thornton and sons, solicitors and notaries public,” he intoned.

Chandler first went to Waterford with his mother after his father deserted the family when Ray was just seven. Maurice Chandler was a railway engineer, a lapsed Quaker and an alcoholic. Like the Thorntons, the Chandlers were one of many Quaker families to flee England for Ireland during Oliver Cromwell’s persecutions in the 1650s. They lived in Waterford until they moved to America with the Quaker leader William Penn in 1682.

Maurice worked the prairie lines as a railway engineer. Aged 28 he was working in Omaha, Nebraska, when he met and married Irish girl Florence Thornton. Ray was born a year later. The marriage disintegrated quickly. Maurice drank aggressively, the atmosphere became bitter and the couple had no more children. In 1895 they divorced and Maurice Chandler disappeared from his son’s life entirely. Florence refused ever to speak of him again. With no money of her own, she decided to return to Ireland with her seven-year-old son.

After a short period in Waterford with the Thornton family, they settled in London with a grandmother and aunt. For many of his pre-teen and teenage years, Chandler and his mother spent every summer in Waterford. “Uncle Ernest – my mother’s brother that is – was the head of the family then, and of the legal practice. Ruled both with an iron hand in an iron glove,” Chandler told Long. “A regular old tyrant was uncle Ernest! Upper middle class Protestants the Thorntons and god-awful snobs! Not just Uncle Ernest but the whole family were god-awful snobs. Full of bloody righteousness. Tension in the house all the time. And every goddamn thing had to be Protestant. The maids, the cook, even the man who worked in the garden.”

Since the early death of Florence’s father, the head of the family had been Chandler’s “arrogant and stupid grandmother” guided by his uncle Ernest Thornton. The family law firm had offices in Waterford, Cork and Dublin. As Tom Hiney wrote, it was a rarefied Anglo-Irish world of servants and quasi-gentility; quite removed from late-nineteenth-century Nebraska. It was also a world preoccupied with religious and social snobbery. Hiney quoted Chandler, “My grandmother was the daughter of an Irish solicitor. Her son, very wealthy later on, was also a solicitor and had a housekeeper named Mrs Groome who sneered at him behind his back because he wasn’t a barrister. The Church, the Navy, the Army, the Bar. There was nothing else. Outside Waterford in a big house with gardens … lived a Miss Paul who occasionally, very occasionally, invited Mrs Groome to tea on account of her father had been a canon.”

Ireland was ruled from London in 1895 but the Irish Home Rule movement was making life uncomfortable for the Anglo-Irish like the Thorntons in Waterford. This exacerbated anti-Catholic feeling, an atmosphere Chandler remembered, “An amazing people the Anglo-Irish. They never mixed with Catholics socially. I remember playing on a cricket team with some of the local snobs and one of the players was a Catholic boy who came to the game in an elaborate chariot with grooms in livery; but he was not asked to have tea with the rest after the game. He wouldn’t have accepted of course.”

Chandler admitted the Thornton snobbery had rubbed off on him. He hated to be called an Irish American because in his estimation that usually mean “Catholic and working class”. The Thorntons, he said, “saw to it that I grew up with a ferocious contempt for Catholics and to this day, I have a problem with that”. He continued, “the only Irish patriots with any brains came from the professional classes”. To Chandler, this meant being Protestant, but Long thought the real issue was not religion but class and education. Chandler thought it was more important where people came from rather than where they were going.

Despite the snobbery, Chandler was happy on his holidays. “I always had a good time in Waterford,” he told Long. Chandler loved to reminisce about the upper-class Waterford families. There was the Dawneys, the Grubbs, the Carews and the Congreves, mostly Quaker or Protestants at whose homes he played tennis and croquet. Long noted Chandler’s childhood experiences in Waterford made an indelible impression. Summers with the Thorntons gave him an appreciation of social distinctions in a society which Long described as “neither urban nor rural but county”.

During his holidays, he enjoyed walking around the Mount Congreve estate a few miles outside Waterford on the banks of the River Suir. The Congreves were fellow upper-class Protestants and clients of the Thorntons. Chandler preferred some of the homelier aspects of the estate. “What I remember best,” said Chandler, “is the smell of the tobacco the old bothy-man smoked in his enormous bent-shank pipe. I remember resolving when I was ten or eleven at Mount Congreve to smoke a pipe when I grew up. And by God, I did and still do!”

The city also left an indelible imprint on the writer. He and Long swapped childhood memories of a long-gone bookshop in Cathedral Square. The shop was called Stickyback Power’s. Power is a common Waterford name but neither Chandler nor Long could remember why this Power gained his unusual nickname. Chandler loved the bookshop and told Long about the germ of an idea to set a Philip Marlowe novel using Waterford and the bookshop as locales. The storyline had Marlowe on holidays in Ireland and in a pub on the quays in Waterford. There he witnesses a sailors’ brawl. Later he hears one of the sailors has been murdered in the brawl and his body has been found slumped in the corner of a bookshop. Marlowe agrees to the captain of the ship’s request to investigate the murder which leads him into the low life of the city and he discovers a vicious prostitution racket.

Having given Long an outline of the plot, he asked him whether there was ever much prostitution along the quays. Long said Chandler wasn’t really interested in the answer and the project never came to fruition. Chandler’s health was poor in 1958 and his workrate was low. Long never met him again after that summer and he found out that Chandler died a year later of pneumonia at his villa in La Jolla, California. Chandler never returned to the city of his childhood but never forgot it. “You know of all the places – and I mean all the places – I’ve lived in,” he told Long, “Waterford is the place, that in the mind, draws me back all the time.”

Around Cardwell

The fires that followed me as I drove north up the Bruce Highway in November were well evident around Cardwell. They were obvious in the hills at the back of the town and they were also prominent on Hinchinbrook Island, as seen from the Cardwell jetty. The island is accessible by ferry from Cardwell and is home to the beautiful 32km Thorsborne Trail along its eastern seaboard which takes about four or five days to complete. Though some of the island remains closed due to the fire damage, the Trail is still open despite a further major rain event on December 16 from ex-tropical cyclone Owen.cardwell2

The fires were also visible in the hills behind Cardwell but when I went to the visitors’ centre, they told me that Murray Falls, about 40km north of town, was still open. The Seaview Deli Cafe was most certainly open as when I asked them what time did they close, they told me they don’t close. It is a rare 24 hour cafe which caters for the Bruce Highway bus stop traffic throughout the night. They may or may not be aware they are under attack from a giant crayfish.


I set off 20km north up the highway before finding the turn-off to Murray Falls and then another 20km to get to the carpark. The area was deserted and the falls looked cool and inviting.


The falls are in the Girramay National Park tumbling 30 metres down the mountain. A short walking track through the rainforest leads to a lookout above the falls. Murray Falls are unhappily named. John Murray was a senior officer in Queensland’s notorious Native Police and was direct and indirectly involved in many deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Aboriginal people as the Queensland frontier moved north and west. After one massacre, Murray wrote they had been “taught a lesson which will show them their inferiority in war”. The Girramay People have successfully reclaimed native title over the region. I prefer the Girramay word for the falls, Jibirrji.


In November 1848, an exploration party led by Edmund Kennedy landed north of what is now Cardwell. Kennedy wanted to travel norths along the coast to Cape York but he was was immediately frustrated by the thick rainforest, swamps and rivers of the area. After two months, his party found an inland path through the mountains to the west of Cardwell and Tully. Kennedy maintained friendly relations with the Cardwell tribes but he was speared to death just 20km short of the Cape.


The Queensland Government officially opened the Kennedy district in 1861. George Dalrymple took up a pastoral run in the Valley of Lagoons in 1863 and established a port settlement on Rockingham Bay a year later. The port was originally known as Port Hinchinbrook, but was renamed for British secretary of state for war, Edmund Cardwell.  Though the first port in the region, Cardwell was quickly superseded by Townsville.


The region has yet to fully recover from the damage of Cyclone Yasi which made landfall near Cardwell in 2011. Yasi damaged three quarters of the town’s buildings, destroyed the marina and wiped out crops. Attractions like Girramay National Park remain mostly unknown to the wider public despite Cardwell’s obvious attraction as one of the few towns on the highway that fronts the ocean.


The Girramay story is that Jibirrji falls were created by Guyurru, the brown pigeon. Guyurru cut a steep wall out of the rock with a tomahawk turning it into a circular falls. The pigeon then filled the plunge pool at the bottom with tasty witchetty grubs wrapped inside leaves. I didn’t see the pigeon or the grubs it feasted on, but I did enjoy a cool dip in the croc-free waterhole. The fires seemed a million miles away.


Afterwards I went back to town and enjoyed the 5km-long coastal front walk from Port Hinchinbrook in the south to the war memorial in the north. Cardwell was an important supply depot for the Battle of the Coral Sea which took place 800km offshore in 1942. The town’s monument celebrates the actions of the USS Lexington which was sunk during the battle. In 2017 a 92-year-old survivor from the ship, led Cardwell’s 75th year anniversary commemorations.


That evening as I returned to the cafe for some fish and chips I looked out over Rockingham Bay and Hinchinbrook Island. The sky and sea were basked in eerie shades of blue and purple as the fires eased into the evening with smoke still wrapping the island. The photo below is exactly as I took it on my phone, like Cardwell itself, needing no filters or enhancements.


Daisy Bates, the enigmatic Kabbarli of the desert


An independent Edwardian Irishwoman who lived 40 years in the desert with Aboriginal people a century ago should be a modern day heroine in Australia and Ireland, but Daisy Bates’ reputation remains troubled almost 100 years on. The “Great White Queen of the Never-Never Lands” was a household name during the decades she spent in exile from European comforts at a remote railhead near the Western Australian and South Australian border, but her extreme views on race caused her reputation to plummet and only now is her vast ethnographic output getting the attention it deserves.

Bates (1859-1951) lived a vast life spanning a century of intense social change. She saw herself as a woman of science but her views on cannibalism, extinction and caste discredited her within the academic community. She lived a remarkable spartan existence in a hot desert tent for many decades. As the Irish Times said in October, “she grasped opportunities for reinvention with both hands and carved out a niche for herself, claiming her place in Australian folk history.” Bob Reece’s 2007 biography Daisy Bates: Grand Dame of the Desert remains the best text on her life and I’m indebted to his research for this article.

Bates’ 40 years in the desert is highly unusual but her backstory is also colourful. In 1936 as an old woman she told a tale to journalist Ernestine Hill of her upper-class Irish protestant background that was almost entirely false apart from the setting. She was born Margaret Dwyer in Roscrea, Co Tipperary in 1859 to alcoholic Catholic shopkeeper James Dwyer and wife Bridget. Bridget died when Margaret was four and she was raised with her siblings by maternal grandmother Catherine, of wealthier farming stock than the Dwyers. Catherine died four years later and Margaret was sent to Britain before returning to an uncle in Roscrea and educated by the nuns as an “orphan”.

After school she moved to England where she styled herself as Daisy May O’Dwyer. In 1882 aged 22, she moved to Australia in a well advertised Queensland government scheme of free passages for bonded farm labourers and domestic servants. She landed in Townsville and moved to a station near Charters Towers where she married horse boy Eddie Murrant in 1884 in an Anglican ceremony. “Breaker” Morant, as he later became famously known, was also an assisted immigrant and younger than Daisy. The courtship was swift but the marriage unravelled just as quickly. Eddie was arrested for theft of pigs and Daisy swiftly ditched him.

It was the start of an astonishing period of three marriages in 12 months – none of which were formally divorced, though her serial bigamy was not discovered in her lifetime. After leaving Eddie, Bates went to New South Wales where she worked as a governess at Berry. On 17 February 1885 she married cattleman Jack Bates in Nowra. But when he went droving she moved to Sydney where on 10 June she married Ernest Baglehole. Little is known of that relationship and within months she was back with Bates.

She gave birth to her only child Arnold Bates in August 1886 but showed little interest in her son or his father declaring she would never have sex with a man again, a promise she appears to have kept. For seven years she lived with pastoral families as a governess before setting sail alone to England in 1894 for what turned out a stay of five years. In London she worked on social campaigner WT Stead’s Review of Reviews, learning the craft of journalism which became a crucial source of income later in life.

She returned to Australia in 1899 to seek out Jack who was buying a pastoral property in north west Western Australia. Their reunion was unsuccessful but it was her first introduction to Aboriginal people who gave her a skin classification governing relationships. Daisy went to Perth where she was feted as a celebrity for her English experiences and her carefully cultivated exotic accent. She moved to an Aboriginal Mission in the Kimberley where she learned basic anthropological fieldwork. Back in Perth she heard about the rapidly disappearing Bibbelmun people of the south-west and set up camp with them, and organised a corroboree for royal visitors in 1901.

Daisy earned money with freelance newspaper assignments and in 1904 was employed by the WA government to collect Aboriginal vocabularies. Queensland “protector” Dr Walter Roth was hired to report on the condition of Aborigines in the west. Bates helped him but would not accompany him because the coastal route the government chose meant he would meet “the wrong kind of informants”. Instead she conducted a survey of the Bibbelmun language and read her first ethnological paper at Melbourne in 1905.

Like many of her era, she became convinced Aboriginal people would become extinct due to their inability to cope with “civilisation”. She strongly defended regulatory action which strengthened her position with the government though it compromised her academic integrity. By 1907 she was considered an “expert” and lectured on the “half caste” problem and keeping Aboriginal people from white influences.

She set off on an epic eight month journey to understand the social organisation of south west tribal groups and by 1909 her manuscript was a large treatise on every aspect of Indigenous life in the west. English social anthropologist Alfred Radcliffe-Brown found Bates’ work when came to WA for research. Though he wanted to use her field notes they fell out because of her lack of interest in theory. They also quarrelled over the treatment of Aboriginal venereal victims with Radcliffe-Brown arguing for quarantine lock hospitals on islands off Carnarvon while Bates said they were better off in their homelands.

Back in Perth in 1912, Bates got the news that would set her life course. She was appointed WA’s unpaid and unsupported Protector of Aborigines at Eucla on the Great Australian Bight. She stayed at a sheep station but was drawn in to tend the sick and noted “how quickly the natives have annexed me”. In 1913 she left the station to live under canvas at Fowler’s Bay and spent her days tending to the aged and ill and collecting dialects and customs. In 1914 she travelled to Adelaide for a science congress and was feted by women’s groups and journalists. She gave testimony to a government inquiry on Aborigines and was opposed to bringing them in to missions or town fringe camps.

She sold her property she inherited from Jack and subsidised her income with articles for The Argus and The Australasian documenting her bush experiences. After a breakdown in 1919 she briefly worked as a matron in a soldiers’ convalescent home in Adelaide before moving to Ooldea Siding on the transcontinental railway 200km from Fowler’s Bay. She remained there until 1935. Ooldea had a permanent underground aquifer and was an important crossroads for Aboriginal people, the site of initiation ceremonies and trade networks. A dozen white fettlers also lived here and Bates helped the Aboriginal women stay away from the sexual appetites and diseases of the rail workers.

Bates lived a penurious existence with no government support but refused to take charity. She kept apart from the fettlers and insisted Aboriginal visitors call out “Kabbarli” (grandmother) before entering her tent. Inside the tent she kept “the necessaries plus my MSS. and letters and Dickens”. She requisitioned a 500-gallon water tank to store her manuscripts. There was no toilet in deference to the natives who regarded fixed sanitary conveniences as disgusting.

She survived harsh hot summers and cold desert winters and a long railway strike which prevented supplies for many months, entrenching her anti-union stance: “the strike makers are as secret and deadly…as the monsters of the Inquisition”. She survived sandy blight which rendered her blind for three weeks in 1920 requiring a hospital visit to Perth. She also survived an Aboriginal “rebellion” of 100 hungry natives by calmly making tea and promoting the qualities of the shrewish wife of the rebellion leader who everyone hated.

She wrote articles on infanticide and cannibalism which she claimed to have encountered at Dampier Peninsula’s Beagle Bay in 1900. She also wrote that in 1908 at Peak Hill in the Murchison region Aboriginal women killed and ate their newborns “sharing it with every woman in the group”. Experts at the time believed she was sincere but was misled by informants. Many thought she was sensationalising her reports to improve her newspaper copy. Her strong stubborn streak meant the more she was challenged by anthropologists, the more sweeping and exaggerated her claims became.

Her views on caste also attracted controversy. She banned half-caste babies from the Ooldea camp and criticised a WA plan for a Central Australian Reserve preferring a “women’s patrol” to stop tribal people from entering settled areas. Her view was “the Aboriginal people are unmoral (sic), the half-castes are immoral, and to breed our own coloured population…is an ugly reflection on all of us”. A mixed race delegation to WA premier Philip Collier denied Collier’s claim Bates was a saviour to the natives. “She is doing it for publicity so people may call her a courageous woman for living among the blacks. If she did not encourage them to cadge at Ooldea, they would fend for themselves”.

Undeterred, Bates collected and recorded the culture of the desert groups at Ooldea. She remained a Christian though her bible was her Dickens’ collection which she revered. She found similarities between the Irish and Aborigines “being light-hearted, quick to take offence and quick to forgive”. As custodians died, they entrusted ceremonial boards and totemic stones to her and rare weapons made in the old way. She survived 16 years in the desert thanks to her intellectual interests and her spiritual strength. She kept a keen interest in the birds and animals that frequented the camp and sent specimens to museums in London.

In 1932 journalist Ernestine Hill visited and told Bates’s extraordinary story to the world as “the Woman of Ooldea”. Hill noted the contrast of Bates’s upper class demeanour and her spartan desert existence. “A white woman voluntarily exiled from her own people for 20 years finds all her joy in writing the legends and the songs of the vanished tribes,” Hill wrote.

When the United Aborigines Mission opened a post at Ooldea in 1933, they provided rations and medicine and Daisy could not compete. “Its coming has brought my work of investigation to a dead end,” she wrote. She received a CBE in the 1934 New Year’s Honours and moved to an Adelaide hotel to write her experiences in the desert for the Advertiser. Then 76 and with failing eyesight and health, she needed Hill’s help to put her manuscript to paper while syndicated articles about “Kabbarli” helped pay the bills. The first of 21 articles called “My Natives and I” appeared in 1936 in Australian publications.

In 1938 her publisher suggested her manuscript be called The Passing of the Aborigines and she was delighted with the name. “I do sincerely hope that the fact of their passing will be understood and appreciated by Australians,” she replied. When it appeared in 1939 the reviews were mostly positive and the book became hugely influential in setting a patronising tone to Aboriginal people. British writer Arthur Mee wrote in the foreword she provided “succour (to) a noisome race, melancholy in outlook and terrible in habits”. Bates’ reputation as an expert was assured though her prediction of Aboriginal extinction came as their dramatic decline in numbers levelled out. As Reece wrote about her attitude to “half-castes”, she was unable to blame the white men responsible for the “menace of colour” and took out her anger and frustration on their progeny.

In the late 1930s the elderly Bates returned to camp life at Pyap near Loxton on the Murray. She gave talks at the local school and showed the children how to make damper. But with few Aborigines to attend to, she moved to Wynbring Siding 160km east of Ooldea in 1941 aged 82. She wanted “the love and respect of those poor cannibals of Central Australia”. These people, she said, learned “there were two kinds of white women, our flotsam and jetsam eastwards and ‘Kabbarli’…and that is my lovely reward”.

Wynbring was even more remote than Ooldea with few trains, daily temperatures in the mid 40s, no post and unreliable water. Visitors from Ooldea trickled into camp but she was unable to care for the sick being old and frail herself. Theft was also an issue. She despaired Aboriginal people would never return to their “old quiet ways” and the elders had lost their power. In 1945 she was admitted to Port Augusta hospital where staff tired of her Lady Muck attitude. She moved to Adelaide as “an eccentric institution” vain as ever about her appearance but whose shortsightedness made her a traffic hazard. She died on 18 April 1951 and her funeral was a quiet affair with less than 100 mourners. There was no one from Ooldea though she left her estate for their “relief of poverty and distress”.

As Reece concluded, time has not softened the impact of Daisy Bates’ distorted views on Aboriginal society and its future nor her rejection of Aboriginal part-descent. But there was no doubting her kindness to Aboriginal people and her ethnographic work has been crucial in WA native title claims as “an indefatigable recorder of what could be salvaged of the traditional culture”. Bates’ extraordinary story was one of singular courage and vision, however wrong-headed.

Woolly Days media person of the year 2018: Donald Trump

A German government photo of leaders at the Group of Seven summit, including Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Donald Trump, in Canada on June 9, 2018.
 Jesco Denzel—EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

This is the tenth annual Woolly Days media person of the year, and the award itself is a bit woolly. Sometimes I give it to journalists or other media professionals who impressed that year and sometimes I give it to people outside the industry who for whatever reason dominated the media that year. A bit like Time’s person of the year, there is no actual award nor does the person have to be admirable – Time gave it to Adolf Hitler in 1938 as a warning not an accolade. “Hitler became the greatest threatening force that the democratic, freedom-loving world faces today,” Time wrote at the time.

This year Time have strayed into my territory giving their person of the year to the admirable guardians. The guardians are four journalists and one news organisation who have courageously brought the truth to the world: Jamal Khashoggi (the Saudi Arabian journalist murdered in the Saudi Istanbul consulate) Maria Ressa (the Filipino journalist who has taken on her murderous regime), Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, (imprisoned by Burma for their journalism) and the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, US (who lost five staff in a mass shooting). Any one of them would have been worthy winners of my award this year. But rather than repeat Time’s work, I take a leaf out of their book and give my media person of the year as a warning not an accolade. US president Donald Trump has thrashed global accords, promoted a neo-Nazi agenda, declared war on the media, has openly lied to advance his agenda, and is inspiring a plethora of authoritarian leaders and would-be leaders across the world. Eighty years on from Hitler in 1938 Trump is the greatest threatening force that “the democratic, freedom-loving world” faces.

Elected in a stunning upset in November 2016, it remains a mystery two years on, how he remains in his job. Barely a day has passed when he hasn’t been embroiled in some controversy. Wikipedia lists 69 pages in its category “Trump administration controversies“, another 33 in “Donald Trump litigation controversies“, 43 pages in “protests against Donald Trump” and 21 in general “Donald Trump controversies” which feature doozies like his links with Russia, his tax affairs, his sexual affairs, the Access Hollywood tape, and Stormy Daniels, just to name an incendiary top five.

Any normal politician would have been destroyed if they were involved in just one or two of those controversies. But Trump is not normal and his scores of controversies appear almost all without consequence. Indeed his strategy is to flood the media with controversies and lies (The Washington Post estimate in 710 days, President Trump has made 7645 false or misleading claims) which all compete for media space. None lasts long enough in the short news cycle to land a mortal blow while each individual attack is dismissed as “fake news”. The real fake news, usually in his favour, is disseminated widely via uncurated, algorithm-driven social media while the truth is still getting its pants on.

It is true that the Mueller investigation hangs over him like a Sword of Damocles threatening imprisonment and impeachment. The US Constitution allows for the impeachment of a president for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours.” The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives can vote with a simple majority to impeach a president. But the impeached leader is then tried in the GOP-run Senate and it needs an unlikely two-thirds vote to find him guilty and remove him from office. In the meantime Trump remains in King Lear mode raging against the unnatural elements toying with his fate.

Trump wants to portray the media as enemies. His strategist Steve Bannon blatantly told the New York Times after the election the media was the opposition party, not the wounded Dems. But the media did not want to be the enemy, merely the chroniclers of his presidency.  They wanted to normalise his presidency using existing frames of reference, with outdated notions about “respect for the presidency” and hearing both sides of the argument despite being blatantly manipulated by the White House and its support base.

Media companies have come to rely on Trump, despite his animosity. For ratings-driven news outlets, the always-controversial candidate was the gift that kept giving. As CBS CEO Leslie Moonves admitted: “Trump may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Organisations critical of Trump such as the New York Times have grown their subscription base greatly covering Trump’s ups and downs. But with the American newspaper industry losing over a third of its staff since 2006 the analysis of the downs has not been as thorough as it used to be.

The supposed “adults in the room” have had as little success as the media in managing Trump. Former foreign secretary Rex Tillerson spoke about Trump’s modus operandi. “When the President would say, ‘Here’s what I want to do and here’s how I want to do it.’ And I’d have to say to him, ‘Well Mr President, I understand what you want to do, but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law. It violates treaty,'” Tillerson said in November. “He got really frustrated … I think he grew tired of me being the guy every day that told him you can’t do that and let’s talk about what we can do.” The transactional Trump preferred to move the argument to what he wanted to do, and his supporters followed suit.  .

According to researcher danah boyd, “alt-right and alt-light” trolls, conspiracy theorists, and offensive and outrageous provocateurs, all bathe in the flood of negative publicity, and use the media’s coverage, “particularly its storm of outraged, fact-checking, oppositional coverage” to whip up their base, generate interest in their ideas, and stoke the belief mainstream media was against them.  Trump’s actions mirror his base. In October when a supporter was arrested in October for mailing bombs to Trump opponents and another murdered 11 Jewish worshippers in a Jewish synagogue, Trump put the blame elsewhere: “There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame.”

Trump does not want to put out the flame – he relies on its light and heat. CNN and its White House correspondent Jim Acosta are public enemy number 1. Trump and Acosta’s extraordinary ongoing battle flared up in public in November in extraordinary fashion.  When Acosta asked about the so-called “migrant caravan” and Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Trump shut him down. “You are a rude, terrible person,” Trump said to Acosta, also reprimanding him for “horrible” treatment of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. Acosta stood his ground but failed to return to fire about Trump’s own terrible rudeness. Here was a golden opportunity to accuse an angry president of being a congenital liar but Acosta did not take it. And neither the underhand way his administration manipulated a video to make Acosta look worse, or the court overturning his decision to deny Acosta a White House pass has made an iota of difference to the way Trump deals with the press gallery, or them with him.

Media educator Jay Rosen has been arguing for years press organisations need to change the way they deal with Trump, who he called the “most significant threat to an informed public in the United States today”. Rosen says normal practice cannot cope with Trump’s political style which incorporates a hate movement against journalists. He says that instead of sending veterans like Acosta, media companies should send in the interns. “Our major news organisations don’t have to cooperate with this. They don’t have to lend talent or prestige to it. They don’t have to be props. They need not televise the spectacle live and they don’t have to send their top people,” Rosen said. “They can ‘switch’ systems: from inside-out, where access to the White House starts the story engines, to outside-in, where the action begins on the rim, in the agencies, around the committees, with the people who are supposed to obey Trump but have doubts… The press has to become less predictable. It has to stop functioning as a hate object. This means giving something up.”

No organisation has yet seen the sense in Rosen’s words and given something up. Instead they are constantly playing catch up while Trump bends or breaks the rules further. He also works around them using social media, especially Twitter. Donald Trump discovered Twitter around February 2013 – at the start of the presidential cycle that led to his extraordinary win in 2016. The @RealDonaldTrump Twitter account had existed since 2009 but for four years broadcast bland promotional fare. A young movie maker Justin McConney who Trump admired for a golf video advised him to transfer his freewheeling approach to the world’s most unregulated public arena. “I wanted the Donald Trump who is on Howard Stern, commenting on anything and everything,” McConney said at the time.

Trump was not immediately sold but after media coverage of his fork-and-knife pizza-eating dinner with Sarah Palin in 2011, McConney convinced him to record a video blog explaining his decision which was about not eating the crust to “keep the weight down”. Not only did it cut out the middle man in getting the message out instantly, it generated a bonus round of coverage of the blog itself. His use of social media grew as he toyed with the idea of a 2012 run and he began to throw in social commentary. When he bought an Android phone in 2013 the shackles came off completely and he tweeted 8000 times that year. When he entered the Republican primary field in 2015, Trump used outrageous tweets to earn traditional media coverage — as better-qualified opponents struggled for attention. Everyone expected it to end once he was elected president but he merely doubled down with his new-found authority, and 45 million followers positive and negative are gripped by his every 280-word rant. He has only gotten worse in 2018. As his public enemy number one CNN says “his tweets read like a stream of consciousness, verbal vomit — always (or almost always) focused on the ongoing special counsel investigation being led by Robert Mueller.”

Even McConney says Trump has gone too far, but who will stop him? Unlikely the American electorate. Trump has a plausible path back to the White House in 2020 because he has not lost the trust of the rust belt states that voted for him in the first place. Certainly not other world leaders as the famous photo taken in June that accompanies this article shows. The unrepentant schoolboy Trump stares up at headmistress Angela Merkel and fellow frustrated teachers Shinzo Abe, Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May as he stonewalled G7 agreement on trade and tariffs, a year after he withdrew from the Paris climate agreement.

Even if he is somehow brought to earth by Mueller’s investigation, there are other authoritarians such as Bolsonaro in Brazil, Duterte in Philippines, Salman in Saudi Arabia, Orban in Hungary all watching and learning Trump’s crafty anarchy at work dismantling democratic checks and balances. The guardians named by Time in those countries are doing a good job but Donald Trump is showing that with the help of state media manipulations the guardians can be depicted as enemies. That is the real media message of 2018. I hope 2019 finds a solution to this problem. Happy New Year.

Woolly Days media person of the year 2009-2017

2009 Mark Scott

2010 Julian Assange (my only other winner I don’t like but even that was later than 2010 when I realised he was a twat)

2011 Alan Rusbridger and Nick Davies

2012 Brian Leveson

2013 Edward Snowden

2014 Peter Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Basher Mohamed

2015 Clementine Ford

2016 David Bowie

2017 Daphne Caruana Galizia

Back to Bowen

I had stayed the night in Bowen on a similar trip last year and enjoyed a lovely walk around Cape Edgecumbe that I wanted to repeat. I forgot however that the last time I was here was in the month of May when the temps were a pleasant mid 20s. But this time was November so the walk would be temperatures at least ten degrees warmer. The last time I did it was anti-clockwise so to vary the mix I did it clockwise this time starting with the Rotary Lookout walk from Horseshoe Bay.bowen2

With temperatures well into the 30s it doesn’t take long to work up a sweat as you climb the hill out of the bay. But there is a fine view from the Lookout to compensate. Below is the vista back to Horseshoe Bay and looking north into the Pacific.bowen3

Looking south, the town of Bowen is lost in the hazy distance. More prominent is the rock formation and local landmark called Mother Beddock. Mother Beddock is apparently named for her prominent nose, although no historical information on
such a person has been identified. Early spelling appears to have been ‘Beddick’.


Beyond the Rotary lookout is another more functional lookout post used by the army in the second world war. A Japanese attempt to capture Port Moresby and gain a foothold in the Solomon Islands was thwarted in early May 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea. RAAF Catalinas flew many hours of reconnaissance missions over the Coral Sea searching for the Port Moresby invasion fleet. They were helped by the radar station on this hill.


Then it was back down the hill to Murray Bay. I fancied a swim in the ocean though was worried by the prospect of the stingers that infest North Queensland waters in the warmer months. However it didn’t bother a trio of teenagers having fun in the ocean. I thought that if it was alright for them, it would be fine for me too so joined them in the drink. It was a blissful escape from the heat of the day and the stingers stayed clear.bowen6

Then it was another climb to Mother Beddock and looking beyond to Rose Bay and the city of Bowen.  Mother Beddock’s precarious position is as a result of thousands of years of weathering and erosion.


The Don River’s alluvial plain provides fertile soil that supports a prosperous farming industry. The river flows north by northeast through the Eungella National Park and is joined by thirteen minor tributaries before emptying into the Coral Sea north of Bowen.bowen8

Every year, during winter, the day time tides are low enough for a special event – Bowen’s Walk to the Lighthouse. North Head Island is home to one of Queensland’s oldest lighthouses. Port Denison was the first port established in North Queensland, with Bowen officially proclaimed on April 11, 1861. Built in 1866 this six sided wooden tower lighthouse protected ships entering the busy port. The Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1985 and the original lens shifted to the Bowen Historical Museum. Community groups restored the lighthouse in 2017.


Below is the view back along King’s Beach to Cape Edgecumbe from Flagstaff Hill. The walk looks tempting but a creek two thirds of the way down prevents beach access to the cape.


Finally to the kiosk at Flagstaff Hill for a coffee and to check out the story of the region at the interpretative centre. Sadly it was closed and may have been since Cyclone Debbie ripped through the region last year.


The road north to Mackay

In my previous post I wrote about my recent drive from Mount Isa to Brisbane. After a week in town, the highlight of which was a visit to the Gold Coast to see David Byrne in concert, it was time to head north again, this time up the coast. My drive up the Bruce Highway was punctuated by fires in the distance. These fires got worse later that week causing evacuations and road closures. The closest I came was seeing them in the distance such as this one at Deepwater National Park near 1770 seen from the road south of Miriam Vale. The fire burned 20,000 hectares over a week and destroyed at least four homes in the Baffle Creek area.


I kept going and checked into a motel in Rockhampton. In the afternoon I drove out to the Capricorn Coast, first stop Emu Park. Pride of place overlooking Keppel Bay is the Singing Ship, commissioned in 1970 on the bicentenary in 1970 of Lt James Cook’s his exploration of the bay in May, 1770. The memorial represents the billowing 12m sail, mast and rigging of his ship Endeavour. It doesn’t “sing” but concealed organ pipes use the sea breezes to create music.


Further north on the Capricorn Coast drive is the Causeway Lake. The Lake is a human-made feature formed by the bridge crossing Mulambin Creek, which allows
fresh salt water in on the high tide.


Below is the view from the top of Bluff’s Point south back to Mulambin Beach with the Causeway Lake on the right. The 2.3km Bluff’s Point circuit is a lovely walk at all times of year especially looking on all the islands of Keppel Bay, all of which were part of the mainland until the sea levels rose about 10,000 years ago.


Below is the almost Rio-like view north from Bluff’s Point to Rosslyn Bay and Yeppoon and the hills of Byfield State Forest further on. The whole area is the remnant of an extinct volcano.


Nestled under Double Head, Rosslyn Bay is the dropping off point for ferries for one of favourite spots Great Keppel Island. It is also the home of Keppel Bay Marina, built in 1996.


Below is Fan Rock at Rosslyn Bay. The rock formations were formed over 63 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous Age when the Australian plate was moving north and weak spots in the Earth’s crust passed over an area of deep heat. Molten lava forced its way through layers of rock creating a chain of volcanoes. Geologists say Fan Rock’s hexagonal columns were formed by thick lava lowly cooling before solidifying, shrinking and cracking. The surface cracks grew deeper as the rocks below cooled forming columns that fanned out from the centre of the volcano. Over time wind and water eroded the surface lava, ash and soft rock. This exposed the resistant trachyte plug leading to striking fan effect.


Next is the entrance to Ross Creek at the bottom end of Yeppoon beach. Yeppoon is the main town on the Capricorn Coast with a population of 18,000. Ross Creek was named for the family who first settled in the Yeppoon area in 1865. The Capricorn Coast was part of the traditional lands of the Darumbal Aboriginal people.  The word Yeppoon is derived from an Aboriginal word describing a place where waters join – Yeppen Lagoon in nearby Rockhampton has the same meaning.


The following morning I was back on the road. There is precious little distractions on the 300km stretch between Rockhampton and Sarina. The only small town Marlborough is off the highway and barely worth the detour. The only highlight is Clairview, one of just a couple of spots (the other is at Bowen) where the Pacific Ocean is visible from the Bruce Highway. Clairview is a beautifully quiet spot – not so much sleepy as comatose. Its sands are apparently famous for crabbing and its waters are a protected sanctuary for the endangered dugong.


Koumala is a small settlement 30km south of Sarina on the highway. It was too early for a beer as I came though but I had to stop to take a photo of the hotel’s symbol, a massive saltwater crocodile. The presence of large salties is the reason it’s not safe to go swimming at Clairview beach, no matter how idyllic it looks, or most other beaches along the North Queensland coast. The town name, Koumala, is not Aboriginal as it might seem. Instead it harks back to the indentured Pacific Islanders who harvested the sugar cane in this region in the early 20th century and comes from a Fijian word meaning sweet potato.