More than an Amanuensis: Ernestine Hill’s Contribution to The Passing of the Aborigines

Eleanor Hogan, Alexis Antonia, Hugh Craig


The precise nature of the authorship of Daisy Bates’ controversial bestseller, The Passing of the Aborigines, has been contested since its publication in 1938. Bates was, by then, experiencing health limitations that would have prevented her from producing a coherent, major literary work without significant physical, emotional, financial and editorial support. Ernestine Hill, who provided much of the book’s editorial heavy lifting and writing, later claimed she should have been recognised as co-author, which Bates refuted. The conflicting perceptions and accounts of this authorial collaboration leave some tantalising threads to tease out. To what extent, if any, did Bates contribute to the writing process? Did Hill make as substantial a contribution to the writing and crafting of the book as she claimed?

To investigate these issues, the authors turned to computational stylistics techniques to develop profiles for the authorial signatures of Daisy Bates and Ernestine Hill, in an attempt to assess their respective contributions in compositing and crafting The Passing of the Aborigines. The study showed that Hill, as Bates’ ghostwriter, created a new hybrid text type that blended her own more formal, professional journalistic style and Bates’ personal, anecdotal one. As far as we know this is the first time a computational stylistics analysis has attempted to assess the extent to which a ghostwriter’s own stylistic habits — reflected in the relative frequency of their usage of preferred sets of function words — are transferred to the text in question.


Authorial attribution; computational stylistics; Aboriginal peoples.

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