My father had been in a car accident in his youth, which involved a horse and cart. The horse had reared up and put its hoof through the windscreen and into dad’s chest. This left a scar and prevented him joining the Navy for active service during WWII. However he was allowed to join the Navy band where he played the drums and tuba.

            After he came to Cleveland, he bought a one-acre banana farm, where he continued to grow bananas until he was diagnosed with Hansen’s Disease (HD). His first suspicion that he had HD had been aroused while working on heavy machinery such as tractors and graders for Cleveland and Annerley Councils, for if he burnt his arms on hot manifolds etc he would not feel any pain. When the HD was confirmed, dad was immediately sent to Peel Island for treatment.

            I required a permit to visit him on Peel. Once this had been issued, I would catch the vessel Vega at Cleveland jetty for the short trip across to the island, where visitors, other stores and I would be dropped off at the long wooden western jetty. From there we would be taken up to the Lazaret, while the Vega continued on to Dunwich and then the RKLM Group of islands. On its return journey, it would call again at Peel and collect us visitors returning to Cleveland.

            I continued to look after dad’s bananas in Cleveland until one day an officer from the nearby Experimental Farm said that they had become diseased, so I chopped them all out and someone with a rotary hoe chopped them up so that they could be buried. I was then faced with the decision of what to replace them with. I asked the Royal National Association people if locally grown cotton would be suitable, but they laughed at me, and instead gave me a bag of Mexican Cotton seeds. These grew well, but the cotton attracted insects, which made the neighbours angry. So I sold off the cotton, which was of a good quality. All this took place while dad was a patient on Peel Island. At this stage I worked as a driver for Redland Bay Buses, but later, when the company closed, my wife and I moved out to St George.

            Dad had been a patient at Peel Island’s Lazaret from 1954 until its closure in 1959, when he was taken with the other dozen remaining patients to Ward S12 at the South Brisbane (now Princess Alexandra) Hospital. He had been glad to leave Peel Island, but did not like the dreary Ward S12 very much. However he was not allowed home until Dr Gabriel had trained me to use a surgical knife to pear away (debride) the dead flesh from dad’s trophic ulcers on his legs and arms. This I did conscientiously at 7 pm each day for two years. If my debriding got too close to a joint or bone, then I had to contact Dr Gabriel, who would come to the house and perform the operation himself. Sometimes he would have to remove a piece of bone from a finger or toe, but dad didn’t need an anaesthetic because his HD had killed the nerves there, and he had no feeling in the affected limbs.

            Dad couldn’t return to work after his return home, but amused himself with his woodwork, which he had taken up on Peel Island, where he had made furniture and dolls houses. He liked talking with visitors and feeding the birds. Dad was able to get around by wearing surgical boots, but he found the front steps of his home at Cleveland to difficult to manage so he sold up and he and his wife moved into a retirement village. Dad even went on a trip to New Zealand by himself to visit a distant relative.

            After his discharge from Ward S12, dad continued to have regular blood tests to make sure his HD was still in remission, but he, like all the other ex-Peel Island patients, eventually gave up taking his precautionary medication. All the members of dad’s family had been tested for HD, but no one else contracted the disease. Like many families of HD patients, some family members even denied that dad had been sent to Peel Island at all.

            Dad died on September 9th 1992.

Male Patient’s Cottage Peel Island Lazaret 1951 Note the outdoor dunny in background and the shared water tank (photo courtesy Doug Hinton)

(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)