Happy Birthday, Mr WordPress

Today is Matt Mullenweg’s birthday. Well, yesterday from a Sydney perspective.

Matt's blog banner

Matt, as many of you would know, is the main man behind WordPress.

He’s 26!

Oh my…

Have a look at this too. 🙂

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Past lives, past contexts: Daisy Bates – and H G Wells on ABC last night

To take the second first: last night ABC showed an above average docudrama about H G Wells. The program guide notes:

The film tells the story of Wells’ transformation from self-confident womaniser, socialist radical and young literary prophet to burdened missionary, dedicated to creating a World State that will avert mankinds’ [sic] headlong course towards imminent annihilation.

Or, as Wikipedia also says:

A Life in Pictures tells the story of Wells’ transformation from self-confident womaniser, socialist radical and young literary prophet to burdened missionary, dedicated to creating a World State that will avert man’s headlong course towards imminent annihilation.

Hmmm.

That Wells on the one hand was an amazing visionary but on the other could contemplate putting the “inferior and retarded” on an island colony and throwing away the key is just one of those paradoxes we encounter whenever we look at life and thought in another time and place. 20/20 hindsight is always comforting – except that in the future we also will be subject to it.

This is very much the case with Daisy Bates who was on the one hand a serial liar and bigamist with unquestionably racist beliefs about “half-castes”.

Another popular but erroneous attitude shared by Bates was her abhorrence of “half-castes” and “miscegenation” — “the only good half-caste is a dead half-caste” she wrote in Perth’s Sunday Times in 1921…

Only later, claims De Vries, did Bates modify her opinion by hiding “half-caste” girls in her tent at Ooldea when police or government welfare officers came to take them away.

Bates was also firmly committed to the theory of Aboriginal infant cannibalism and she claimed that the practice of Aboriginal mothers killing and eating their babies for food was widespread. Empirical evidence was scant and disputed by academics, who at most conceded that the practice may have existed in ritualised and highly restricted form, if at all. Bates’ cannibalism claims were readily aired in the corporate media for which she wrote (her almost sole source of income was freelance journalism), justified with the twisted logic that her income from these articles enabled her to buy food for Aborigines.

I recall Pauline Hanson’s supporters making much of the “cannibalism” claim in the late 1990s.

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Daisy Bates meets HRH Henry, Duke of Gloucester, 1934

On the other hand Daisy Bates was an inspiration, a pioneer in Aboriginal studies, a woman daring to be different in an age when this was no mean feat.

cover-daisybates The De Vries mentioned in the Green Left review quoted above is Susanna de Vries, whose Desert Queen: the Many Lives and Loves of Daisy Bates (2008) I recently read.

Before World War Two  the story of ‘saintly’, Daisy Bates, CBE, an Anglo-Irish aristocrat from Tipperary was part of the curriculum in every Australian school. Children learned that Mrs Bates, an Anglo-Irish aristocrat  pioneered the study of Aboriginal customs and legends and fed, clothed and nursed elderly Aborigines out of her own money. Daisy Bates was Australia’s ‘Florence Nightingale’ awarded a CBE by Buckingham Palace.   A series of unreliable memoirs recounted tales of Daisy’s privileged childhood in Tipperary with her aristocratic father and how when he died she was sent to live with his friends Sir Frances and Lady Jane Outram. 

Susanna de Vries, an adopted child out of Ireland, returned there to find her own birth parents and discovered from Roscrea’s Catholic baptismal records that Daisy was one of six orphaned children raised in poverty,  daughter of a boot and shoemaker of No 2 Main Street Roscrea — an alcoholic who abandoned his family…

The book is not a hatchet job. De Vries has been thorough in her research and documents everything immaculately. She also clearly signals what is factual and what is speculative in her work. Considering that Daisy laid so many false trails – possibly even coming to believe them herself – this was no easy task. The result is a fascinating and believable story. Daisy Bates, all in all, emerges as a very significant figure still.

Daisy Bates was at one time married to Breaker Morant – another person with a number of false trails in his past.

I should add that obfuscation about one’s past or one’s family’s past was not uncommon in late 19th and 20th century Australia. My own family “forgot” their County Cavan convict background and invented rumours of fortunes in the Court of Chancery and pointed to Hull rather than Ireland as their place of origin, and the soldiery rather than the convicts as the  ancestral job description. In a country rather awash with remittance men and people who came for all sorts of reasons, shedding identity as they went, too much historical enquiry belonged in the area of things best not talked about.

See also Daisy, queen of the desert – Australia/Aboriginal/History and The Great White Queen of the Never-Never.

bates Linked to SouthAustralianHistory.com