I became involved with the Relatives and Friends of Peel Island because my mother, Evelyn Hogan, was on that committee. We used to have the meetings at our place, which was at Morris Street, Paddington. I was born in 1938 and I had to be 15 before I was allowed to visit Peel Island, or have any involvement with the committee, so it was from about 1953 that I became involved.
I went down to Peel with mum with the concert parties, mostly at Christmas time. I played the piano, so I was their accompanist. Pam Hinton played the violin while I played the piano, but there were many others who played instruments in the band. I particularly remember the piano accordion. Pam was the daughter of Ernie Hinton who at that time was the president of the Relatives and Friends Committee. Ernie was a wardsman at Greenslopes Hospital, and that is where he saw the first HD patient and recognized the disease, and that’s when we first formed the committee.
I also went down to Peel with my mum as a visitor, but it was not often because it was hard to get a pass in those days. I didn’t really know about the stigma of the disease then, so I was not at all apprehensive about visiting the island. In those days we used to disembark at the old stone jetty near the Platypus ‘wreck’. At one stage it was too blowy to land, so we were forced to anchor behind the ‘wreck’ and then they took us ashore in a little rowboat to the jetty because they couldn’t get the larger vessel across. We had to trans ship all the musical instruments in the small boat, much to everyone’s distress, for fear that they would end up in the water.
We used to catch the boat from Cleveland then. It was owned by a Mr Fitzjohn, whom we used to nickname ‘Fitzy”. The boat was probably the Flirt, which would have been hired specially for the trip.
After arriving at the jetty, we were taken up to the Lazaret on the other end of Peel Island by their truck (the patients called it their bus). It had two forms along each side of the tray, which was covered with a tarpaulin. It was a windy ride – ‘air conditioned’ the patients called it – a bit of an eye opened the first time I went there, but afterwards it never bothered me. At the Lazaret we gave the concert in the recreation hall.
As well as taking all our musical instruments down to the island, we also had all our ‘Christmas cheer’ for the party and wrapped presents for everybody – so many were prepared for the males and so many for the females. Then we’d go over to the hospital and see the patients there.
In the Family
I had two family members who had HD1. One was my grandfather, who I shall refer to as ‘John’ 2 and the other was my mother’s brother – my uncle – who you referred to in your book “Peel Island – Paradise or Prison” as ‘Jim’ 2.
(Editor: Doctor Eric Reye’s notes have the following details of John:
Admitted 13.3.1924 aged 40.
He escaped from the island on 28.12.1929
Paroled when his disease went into remission on 11.10.1930
Readmitted to Peel on 7.9.1931
Died there on 25.7.1935)
His readmission to Peel in 1931 is interesting because he was ‘cured’ in 1930, but his wife had found another partner since his first admission (being admitted to Peel was usually a life sentence then). John did live for a time in their home at Wynnum in a room under the house, but things didn’t work out and he asked to be readmitted to Peel because this was the only other home that he knew. My mum used to go down to see John (her father) quite regularly with the pass, but that was before I was born.
He stayed there until his death in1935. He is buried on the island. He used to play the button accordion, but when he died, we weren’t allowed any of his possessions because they were thought to be contaminated with HD. This upset mum a bit at the time. So, when I hear about the musical instruments on Peel, I often wonder what became of John’s accordion.
My uncle ‘Jim’ was 17 when he was admitted to the Lazaret. There was an older patient there, ‘Ned’ in your book, who took Jim under his wing, and there is a photo of the two of them standing beside the patients’ truck. We had a lot of other photos of Jim but when he passed away at his home in Bald Hills mum got rid of them because she didn’t want everybody to know about him. A lot did not know what had really happened to him. Jim had greyhounds down on the island, which he trained, and on a couple of occasions we brought them up to race at Woolloongabba. In a way, Jim was lucky because they had discovered the cure for HD by then and he was discharged from the island before it was closed down in 1959, and the remaining patients transferred to the PA Hospital.
After Jim left Peel he lived up at Bardon with his mother, who looked after him and some friends until he bought the little farm at Bald Hills, where he remained until the end. While he was there, he bought into a horse called Skidge, which we used to race. Although his hands remained disfigured by the HD it was marvellous what he could do with them. As far as the neighbours were concerned, he had it put out that his disfigurement was due to old war injuries. I don’t know whether they ever really knew. Actually even a few of our cousins never suspected, and even to this day they still don’t know. Of course, in those days, none of them knew about HD and none of them would have been any the wiser if they had.
I got to know quite a lot of the other patients. We used to bring them off and take them ‘unofficially’ to our home at Paddington. We had a piano there and many a time we had a sing-along around it. There was a patient, Bill K. who had only one arm, but could he play the piano! He’d play the bass and I’d play the treble, and then we’d swap around. We had great fun.
We also used to take them to the RNA Show (‘Exhibition’ or ‘Ekka’), and to the dogs. The patients used to come across from Peel in one of their boats to Cleveland, where we’d pick them up in our car. Sometimes we’d take them to the Grand View Hotel there for a drink on the way. It didn’t happen often but it did enable them to keep in touch.
In later days, Frank Bennett, an ex-patient, boarded with my sister and I. We had the house next door to my mum’s and we had extra rooms so he and another ex-patient stayed with us until they died. They were the good old days, but sad. I think we helped make life a lot better for them.
There were a few blind patients there, and we became very friendly with one called Donohue who lived in the second row about three doors along from ‘Jim’. His wife was on our Friends and Relatives Committee, and she was a fighter who fought a lot on the patients’ behalf.
I joined the committee once when there were not enough members to make up a quorum and that was it, I was on it for the rest of its life. Mum had a lot of paperwork under her house at Nudgee, but when Peel closed, we disposed of it.
1. Because of its stigma, the name Leprosy has now been replaced with the term Hansen’s Disease, or just HD.
2. Because of the stigma that surrounded Leprosy and to which some family members are still sensitive, I have used the pseudonym ‘Jim’ to denote this patient – the same one that I had used previously to record some of his reminiscences in my 1987 book “Peel Island – Paradise or Prison”.
(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)