Island of a Million Tears


'Island of a Million Tears' - Artie Rentoul's new book chronicling the history of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum
‘Island of a Million Tears’ – Artie Rentoul’s new book chronicling the history of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum

Last night, I attended the launch of Artie Rentoul’s book ‘Island of a Million Tears’, a history of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum 1866 – 1946. Redlands is fortunate to have a citizen such as Artie, for not only has he served them well as a builder and restorer of its historic buildings, but also as a preserver of its history. It was during his work on the former Benevolent Asylum’s Men’s Dining Room at Dunwich that Artie became intrigued with the Asylum’s 80-year history. After 5 years of painstaking work collecting material notably from the Queensland State Archives (all with a pencil and paper), Artie met up with another regular Archives researcher, Dr Jonathan Richards, a History Lecturer from the School of Humanities at Griffith University. Jonathan was instrumental in setting Artie on the path to producing this magnificent book ‘The Island of a Thousand Tear’. It was fitting that Dr Richards launched the book at last night’s event at the Redland Museum.

Australia lead the world in catering for its aged people when it introduced the Aged Pension, and the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum was the largest institution in Australia to cater for people who could not longer fend for themselves, be they aged, infirm, epileptics, or alcoholics.

‘Island of a Million Tears’ is a ‘must have’ for anyone interested in Queensland family history and in the plight of those needing State care. Currently it is available from the Redland Museum and the North Stradbroke Island History Museum. Price is just $28.

Collaborative Consumption

Collaborative consumption via Laptop
Collaborative consumption via Laptop

A recent article in a Probus magazine speculated that this sharing of resources, services and goods will be our future. How many of us still have expensive tools we bought for a house renovation job and have never used since? In hindsight, we might have been better off hiring them in the first place. I still have such tools, even though I have long since sold the house and now live in a unit. I keep them ‘just in case’. I could have hired them from one of the Hire Shops at the time. These days, I can hire them from Internet sites.  Not only that, I now can even use these sites to hire out my unused tools to others.

The Internet has certainly revolutionised the way we live and think. And not just in sharing tools. It has moved into other areas with a huge impact: Airbnb offers a cheaper holiday alternative to hotels; goget hires cars; openshed hires just about any household items; uber will taxi you; and airtasker will find someone to supply your need.

Of course there is an element of risk (such as quality, insurance), and I still feel loathe to try them out, but as time passes, and they become the norm, I, like many others, will weaken and accept them as everyday.

For Whom the Bell

Horse bells
Horse bells

Bill Lovell, a Toondah Probus colleague, was once a horse tailer. For the unitiated (and that included me) a horse tailer was an important member of the droving plant, as he was responsible for the wellbeing of the horses used for mustering the cattle. (Cattle droving – moving cattle overland, often over large distances – itself has now been replaced by road trains.) Each night, after the site for a camp had been set up, the
horse tailer would hobble the horses.

Bill says: ‘Hobbles (bells of different size and pitch) were carried around the horses’ neck. To locate the horses in the morning, our plant of horses carried six to eight bells. Our bells ranged from little tinklers up to the larger Condamine bells. In the morning the horse tailer used a night horse to find and bring the horses back to camp. They were seldom far away.’

For whom the bell
For whom the bell

Having different bells to locate specific horses reminds of my childhood days in Stirrat Street, Coorparoo. We kids would be out playing with all the neighbours kids after school (as we could do in those days). When it came time for dinner, our mothers each had a bell they would ring to call their child home. Each bell was a different size, and depending on its pitch, could be easily recognised. Woe betide any kid whose mother had to keep ringing for them to come home.

Presbyterian church and hall, Coorparoo
Presbyterian church and hall, Coorparoo

Another set of  ‘bells’ in our area was rung on Sundays. The Presbyterians had built a modern brick church beside their old wooden structure which had then become the church hall. An innovation of their new church was the absence of bell and belfry. This had been replaced by a record player connected to an amplifier. So instead of a bell being rung to summon the faithful to church, a vinyl disc of recorded bells was played full blast through the amplifier. This was really high tech stuff for those days. Unfortunately, the bell chimes were severely distorted, and all sorts of scratches on the record were spread far and wide for the inspiration of the residents of Coorparoo whether they liked it or not. I don’t think they’d heard of noise pollution then.

Peel Island Postscript

'Limosa' at Platypus Bay, Peel Island. Stone jetty left and 'Platypus' hulk in rear of photo.
‘Limosa’ at Platypus Bay, Peel Island. Stone jetty left and ‘Platypus’ hulk in rear of photo.

My recent visit to Peel Island was my first in several years, and certainly my first in more than 20 years where I had stayed for more than one night. After wading ashore from ‘Limosa’ through the cold winter water of Platypus Bay, the sandy beach still had that warm welcoming feeling that immediately made me feel back home. With perfect winter weather, this visit would prove to be a suitable postscript to my collected writings about the island’s history: ‘Peel Island History – A Personal Quest’.

Lazaret buildings, Peel Island. From left: former Matron's quarters, Superintendent's quarters, Recreation Hall, white male patients' huts
Lazaret buildings, Peel Island. From left: former Matron’s quarters, Superintendent’s quarters, Recreation Hall, white male patients’ huts

At the former Lazaret (Leprosarium), nothing much has changed over the intervening years: the female bath house and some more male patient’s huts have been restored and painted. Inside the buildings, though, I was pleased to see that some of the internal furnishings had also been restored: a white female hut, the recreation hall, and the Catholic Church all give the visitor an idea of how the patients lived.

Interior white female patient's hut, Peel Island Lazaret, showing restored furnishings
Interior white female patient’s hut, Peel Island Lazaret, showing restored furnishings

On Saturday, members of the Moreton Bay Trailer Boat Club came over for a tour and I was able to help out as a guide. For me, telling the stories of the patients’ daily lives provided the real flesh to the backdrop of the empty buildings. I haven’t guided a tour for some time now, but retelling the stories of Peel’s grim past, soon recaptured its emotional pull for me again.

Interior Rec hall, Peel Island Lazaret
Interior Rec hall, Peel Island Lazaret

It’s a shame that more tours cannot come to the island, but without a jetty to service the larger tour boats, groups must rely on their own transport. I would love to see the fine maintenance and restoration work done by the QPWS and Quandamooka used more by the public. One link to the outside community, though, has been established with the Cleveland Star of the Sea Church who helped restore the Catholic Church on Peel and who conduct quarterly services there. Other community groups – schools, art groups, Natural History groups etc – could also follow their example, and keep Peel Island, this gem of Moreton Bay, shining.

Interior Catholic church, Peel Island Lazaret
Interior Catholic church, Peel Island Lazaret

Back to the Future

Dr Jacob Bronowski, wrote and presented the 1973 TV series 'The Ascent of Man'.
Dr Jacob Bronowski, wrote and presented the 1973 TV series ‘The Ascent of Man’.

In 1973, Dr Jacob Bronowski  was asked to write and present a documentary BBC television documentary series, The Ascent of Man, along with an accompanying book. Its subject was the history of human beings through scientific endeavour, and was intended to parallel art historian Kenneth Clark’s earlier “personal view” series Civilisation (1969), which had covered cultural history.

In 1974 when asked by Michael Parkinson what his idea for the future was, Bronowski replied: ‘I have no idea, but I am convinced that human beings take pleasure in work, rather than in idleness. I am convinced that when people are accused of idleness, it just means that they are being accused of hating the hum drum job that doesn’t tax them that they have been put into. So I am convinced that the ideal world for every human being is one in which he or she does a job that they are good at, like doing, and gives them satisfaction. That’s my utopia.’

Today, finding suitable employment for our disenfranchised is one of our major challenges.

A quote from Dr Jacob Bronowski.
A quote from Dr Jacob Bronowski.