One day in the US in 1937 while sitting in his truck waiting in a line of other trucks to unload his bales of cotton onto a ship, Malcolm Mclean first began to think of improving the efficiency of this transport process. It was not until nearly twenty years later, when increased road trailer charges began to bite that it became economically feasible to do something about it. With sea transport becoming cheaper than road haulage, Mclean envisaged trucks feeding centralized sea terminals rather than traversing the entire east coast of America by road. In other words, making the ship responsible for the majority of the travel.
Although the concept of containers was already being used by Seatrain with its roll-on-roll-off containers on wheels, McLean redesigned his trucks as a truck bed on wheels on which could be carried an independent container. But further than this, he thought that the containers should be of a standard size and design so that they could be stacked aboard ships.
To this end McLean acquired the Pan-Atlantic Steamship Company that had shipping and docking rights in prime eastern US ports, and immediately began construction of special ships to carry his containers. The first voyage took place in 1956 from Port Newark to Houston. The cost savings proved spectacular and McLean had little trouble finding new customers.
Persuading Port Authorities to redesign their ports to accommodate the new intermodal transport operation was a bigger task. In spite of the backing of the New York Port Authority chairman, other port authorities were slow to come to the party – until the huge cost savings became apparent. The other threat was to the livelihood of the waterside workers because many of them would no longer be required. However, the very existence of seaboard shipping was being threatened by road and rail transport, and port officials thought it better to have fewer workers in a prosperous enterprise than many workers in a declining one.
In less than fifteen years Malcolm McLean had built the largest cargo-carrying business – SeaLand – in the world. Although the idea of containers was not his, McLean’s efforts to standardize their design, and his courage to put it into practice lead to a revolution in the world’s cargo trade.
The Lazaret (Leprosarium) operated at Peel Island from 1907 until 1959 as the home and treatment centre for Queensland’s leprosy patients. Like all medical institutions, it was run to a daily routine. Doctor Eric Reye, the island’s resident Medical Officer from 1945 until 1949, and Rosemary Opala (nee Fielding), a Nurse there during the late 1940s and again during the early 1950s have supplied the following,” typical” day’s duty roster for Peel’s medical staff. Two events were to modify their duties there in 1947: the introduction of electricity generation, and the introduction of Promin, the intravenous sulphone drug which was to finally control leprosy, the most dreaded of all contagious diseases.
Nurses worked several weeks ‘on’, then took cumulative leave off the island. Originally no overtime was ever claimed but by Rosemary’s second term on the island during the 1950s, overtime payments were the norm.
Doctor Eric Reye spent alternate weekends off duty.
AN AVERAGE DAY
4.30AM Nurses go to the surgery to start the two primuses that heat the big sterilizer. Water takes about an hour to boil.
6.00AM The helpless hospital patients are washed, beds made, and medications given. The hospital orderly bathes the mobile male patients and takes care of the hospital generally.
8.00AM Staff breakfast.
8.30 AM Surgery (“clinic”) commences. Patients present themselves for dressings, check-ups, plasters.
On Mondays, “smears” are taken on a monthly rotational basis.
These involve the removal of a small blood sample from the patient’s ear lobe or eye brow (where the Leprosy bacteria is most intense).
These samples are sent to the Health Department Laboratory in Brisbane for testing. positive for the presence of the leprosy bacillus, negative for its absence. The patients are vitally interested in the results because they will be allowed to leave the island only when they have accumulated twelve monthly continuous negative smears. If one positive smear should be recorded, even after eleven months of negative results, they must begin counting all over again from their next negative smear. Such a result can be heartbreaking.
Chaulmoogra oil injections are given by nursing staff. (The only treatment for leprosy until the advent of Promin, chaulmoogra oil injections were very painful. It was also available as an extremely nauseating oral liquid. Although it produced symptoms indicating it was helping to kill the leprosy bacillus, it may have been only a placebo effect.)
10.00AM Medical & administration staff morning tea on the quarters’ verandah.
Mail arrives at about this time.
10.30AM Medical rounds of hut-fast patients either with the doctor or for routine dressings. Medical equipment has to be carried on a large tray.
Basically, nursing care on Peel is as much as for any hospital ward.
Doctor Reye’s particular jobs include:
1. Fitting walking plasters for trophic ulcers.
These are time consuming to put on and remove.
Staff make the plaster bandages by hand.
2. Sharpening IV needles (non-disposable).
3. Minor surgery. First aid.
4. Dispensing (usually afternoons).
5. Microscope work.
6. Simple dental work (foot pedal drill and wooden barber’s chair).
Life at Peel is “governed by the cook’s roster”.
All activities must be slotted in around the cook’s self-declared meal times.
PM: All staff have free afternoons until compulsory afternoon tea at 3.30 pm. This afternoon break is used for recreation with or without patients (tennis, swimming, bikes, etc.) also for reading to blind patients.
Sometimes extraneous work is performed such as whitewashing the inside of an old hut for use as a makeshift laboratory.
4.30 PM Evening meal (cooks again!)
5.30PM Evening surgery lit by pressure lamp on table. Usually minimal patient attendance. Day jobs finished. Patients’ temperatures charted. A medical round is held of any sick patients. No night nursing staff are rostered. Matron is called if there are any problems.
BASIC SURGERY HYGIENE
* Only tank, no sink. Hands are washed in a basin on a tripod, ‘Dettol’ is first added to the water.
* Zephiran solution (benzalkonium chloride) is used for skin preps and gloves.
* While on duty nurses wear theatre gowns.
* Hagedorn needles (for eyebrow and ear smears) are”flamed” between patients.
* “Sharps” are soaked in lysol.
* Blunts and enamel dishes are boiled up in primus operated boiler.
* Phenol is used for disinfecting commodes and sanitary tins.
Minimal cross infection recorded, except when “self-inflicted” by patients using their own ulcer treatment etc. (e.g. Grated apple and flower paste). Occasionally fly maggot infestation.
Eucalyptus full strength or iodoform sometimes needed as deodorant for discarded dressings.
AFTER THE INTRODUCTION OF PROMIN
6.00 AM * Doctor Reye administers intravenous (IV) doses before breakfast, firstly in the surgery to the mobile patients.
* Syringes (glass, luerlock) and needles are boiled between patients.
Only 3 or 4 syringes are kept because they are expensive. Needles are sharpened at night. No disposables originally.
* Patients’ blood is tested before Promin treatment is started. Hb, WCC, and MCV are done weekly by Doctor Reye. Nurses help with slide preparation. Eventually, to ease the workload, a laboratory technician and assistant are employed.
* A Blood bank is set up in case a patient experiences an adverse reaction to the Promin. Six bottles of blood are kept in the kerosene fridge on the hospital’ s south verandah.
* With the success of Promin in the treatment of leprosy, patient numbers gradually fall as the patients are allowed home. This lightens the nursing workload to the extent that it is necessary to “make work” on the afternoon shift.
During the – can it be? – five decades since I worked on Peel Island, the experience has provided material from medical interest to local, social and natural history. Even folklore! Occasionally I’ve been asked to ‘guest speak’ on nursing at the Lazaret, or field queries at a (now rare) island open-day. Invariably comes that question: “Weren’t you afraid of catching it?” To which the reply still remains: “Never gave it a thought.” And this answer would apply to all categories of Peel Island staff – despite that mythical ‘Danger Money’ allegedly needed for patient contact.
Some of us had heard a bit about poor Father Damien long before that truly moving film was contemplated of course. And I recall Matron Ahlberg handing me a little book called Damien the Leper: something about the hazards of sharing the patients’ pipes and blankets, and rather unlikely to involve us. Otherwise, there were no precautionary measures for a condition where even today the means of transmission remain unclear. Hansen’s Disease is said to be the least contagious of any infectious disease. The crumpled cotton gowns we wore on duty were standard public hospital issue against pathogens, but on Peel mainly served to keep our nicely laundered uniforms clean.
These over-gowns were in short supply in the larger hospitals even after WWII and, handed on from one nursing shift to the next, were no doubt a focus of cross-infection. Round the time I met my first Peel Islanders in their pavilion-type ward at Wattlebrae (then Brisbane’s infectious diseases collection point), I was recovering from patient-transmitted Whooping Cough. “Reporting sick” was never appreciated, and as I couldn’t produce a Whoop in the Staff Clinic, I returned to my Pertussis patients with a bottle of cough linctus, Phenobarb tablets, and (later on) Pleurisy.
A colleague of mine only found she’d been working with Meningitis when she saw a school of fish swimming along the ward wall. She was put on the ‘seriously ill’ list but made a good recovery.
By contrast, Peel Island was not only a most interesting place of work, but also a real haven! Associated negative attitudes came from friends and family. In the period before the new treatment for H.D. arrived, my mother’s elderly GP reproached me for “throwing away your whole life!” Several of her neighbours stopped calling in.
In my mother’s position, though, I’m sure the issue wasn’t the concern over an irresponsible daughter’s Lost Future, but discomfort at our low-profile family being a Conversation Piece. And without even a broken romance to explain my behaviour!
Further on, as other young and enthusiastic nurses came and went through Peel, that irritation word dedication was heard less often. It has to be remembered that other personnel apart from medical willingly shared the patients’ lives. The permanent staff – all male – included managerial, kitchen, laundry and outside maintenance workers. And let’s not forget the good-hearted attendants (male orderlies) who cared for permanently incapacitated patients either in their little huts or the hospital, after-hours.
When invited, we all shared the patients’ social activities such as tennis, concerts, and dances. Ingrained Hospital Protocol, not fear of contagion, was a factor in nurses not further “fraternising with the patients”. I’ve told elsewhere of how we had to hike across to the Horseshoe to swim, instead of using the patients’ jetty at high tide, because it “wasn’t professional” to be seen in our decorous bathers.
A final word on the matter. Peel Island was a very healthy place for staff. Most bugs were picked up “off-island”, like the Measles that followed my visit to the Ekka.
Early last century, before the advent of the Salk Vaccine, poliomyelitis was a common childhood disease. There was little that could be done by way of treatment, but frequent salt water bathing seemed to be beneficial. The curative effects of the waters of Moreton Bay induced many families to move into the region. Such was the case with the Phillips family, one of whose seven children, Jo, had contracted polio. They were to live on tiny King Island, off Wellington Point from December 1904 until April 1906.
Today, ninety years later, King Island is a popular destination for throngs of day trippers who visit Wellington Point. At low tide, the island is joined to the mainland by a snaking sand-spit along which the visitors happily make their pilgrimage. King Island is hardly much bigger than a football field, a grass covered sand dune protected on its eastern flank by a windbreak of mangroves. It is difficult to imagine how a husband and wife with their seven children and a maid could survive for 18 months in such a small area. But they did so, and by all reports were very happy. One of the children, Clarrie, recorded these memories in 1980.
‘Today, King Island is only a skeleton compared to what it was when we lived there. About half or even more has washed away. This was caused by the local council cutting down all the mangrove trees about 50 years ago (1930). I would estimate that originally there was about half an acre of thick vine scrub comprising some sizeable trees, including dogwood, ironwood, cotton trees etc. There were also some thick patches of lantana but no prickly pear (a common pest over many parts of Queensland at that time). Inhabitants of the scrub included possums … bandicoots, and genuine water-rats… Several varieties of birds lived on the island including Landrails and Land Curlews (stone plover). Flocks of Rainbow Lorikeets (Bluies) frequently visited the island. Sounds a bit like ‘Paradise Lost’.
‘Good fish were plentiful around the island and if the weather was suitable, we could catch what we wanted almost at will. One of mother’ s favourite dishes was a large sea bream stuffed with oysters and baked in our colonial oven.
‘King Island was one of the best oyster banks in Moreton Bay and was reserved for the public. There were certain conditions to be observed. One was that no oysters were to be removed in their shell, but people were permitted to open them on the bank and place the oyster in a jar or similar container… The opened shells were then supposed to be taken close to the low water mark and scattered over a fair area. The shells apparently were very suitable for the embryo oyster to fasten onto and grow to maturity.
‘The reef around King Island was a great source of enjoyment to us as well as supplying us with tasty food – oysters, crabs, fish, and occasionally with sea curlew and snipe. There was also plenty of enjoyment for us children – such as shooting or spearing sharks, stingarays, and shovelnose shark.
‘An old man was camped at Wellington Point, and he would dress our cut feet (from the oyster shells) with shark oil. He induced us to make some ourselves from shark livers. We started spearing shovelnoses for their livers and mother rendered them down. Our real object was to make some money as shark oil was three shillings and six pence (35 cents) per gallon. We found out it was not a commercial proposition as about 100 sharks would be required to produce a gallon.’
‘The camp comprised a main sleeping marquee which had a first-class wooden floor, two double beds and one single one. We three elder boys had a bell tent to ourselves and we had a spare one for visitors. The maid had a separate one. Our dining room/kitchen was under a large cotton wood tree and was protected by a galvanised iron roof. We had a colonial oven…and a ‘lean to’ with an open fire and a camp oven. We boys often brought in clumps of oysters (in their shells) and roasted them in the fire. Mother liked hers done in the oven – they were heated until they commenced to open. She called it poached – cooked in their own juice. Some of our school mates would come down and stay the weekend now and again, bringing a good load of vegetables from their farms. They were always thrilled with the seafood.
‘An old chap, Mr Radford who had a very small stall at the Point, was engaged to bring us fresh water, as there was none on the island and we could not catch any rain. He brought the water across to the island by trap and his faithful horse “Duke”. The track across was fairly good as the coral pieces, pebbles, and shells made a pretty good surface.’
FATHER AND MOTHER
‘My father found that he could leave King Island shortly after 7 a.m. for Wellington Point where he had arranged for Dick Wilson, a local storekeeper, to meet him and take him up to catch the 8 a.m. train from Wellington Point. This arrived in Brisbane in ample time to commence preparing for 9 a. m. office duties – banks opened for public business at 10 a.m. then. He usually got back to Wellington Point about 5.30 p.m. or 6 p. m. and he had to do the trip (from the Point to the island) in the dark.
‘Mother always seemed to be in a jolly mood and took things as they came – hot, cold, dry or windy weather did not spoil her jolly character or her sense of humour. Her unbounded energy was a great asset, I cannot ever remember her saying that she was tired – she was always looking forward to the next thing to be done.
‘Sometimes father would bring the “Biandra” over and we would go around the bay. In good weather we sometimes got over to Amity Point. I remember once we ran out of wind and it was a case of get out the “Wooden Topsails”, or, in other words, oars. Mother could really handle her 12 foot (4 metre) ” Sweep'” (another fancy name for a paddle or an oar).’
‘I wish that I had kept a diary and not relied on my memory alone. It would be nice to leave some record for the up-and-coming members of one’s family to look back on. So few seem to realise that present day happenings may well be regarded as History in the future.’
Insert image Phillips family (Myrtle, Clarrie and Josie Phillips) at Maroochydore 1929
(Condensed from a letter written by Clarrie Phillips to his sister, Jo, and kindly made available to me by his grandson, Brian Phillips).
Fort Lytton was built at the mouth of the Brisbane River in the late 1800s to defend the Bay against a feared Russian invasion, that never came.
Clarrie Phillips writes:
“The artillery at Fort Lytton had fairly regular practice in the early part of this century. The light guns fired across the Brisbane River at a target in the vicinity of Luggage Point. The heavier guns fired mostly towards Tangalooma or on the Naval Reserve Banks on the South Passage. Their target was a float with several red flags – towed there on a long line by either the “Midge” or the “Mosquito”, small fast Naval craft about 50 feet long.
“The target practices were advertised in the daily press, and a large red flag was flown from Lytton fort before practice commenced.
“Once, in about 1903, we were returning from a fortnight’s sailing trip on the Bay and had not seen any newspapers so we knew nothing of the practice until we saw the targets in position. We were sailing in convoy with another yacht “Lassie”, when the light South Wester that had carried us along at a reasonable pace suddenly dropped at a critical time, with the tide sweeping both craft uncomfortably close to the line of fire.
“We were ‘whistling’ for wind – a practice frequently indulged in by sailing men, probably some flow-on from an ancient superstition. The bulk of our present day sailors held the whistling practice in ridicule, but some maintained that if it did no good, then it did no harm either.
“Whee-e-e-e Klunk Shiss-s-s. The first shell had been fired. We had a grandstand view of the practice, and the gunners from Fort Lytton were remarkably accurate. Apparently the shells were set to explode on impact, and blew large fountains of water into the air. The “Lassie” had drifted a considerable distance from us and appeared to be in a fairly safe position when one shell was off course, and exploded about 100 yards distant. The detonation was enough to shake crockery in the galley and displace some pictures in the cabin.
“This was the last shell of the day and the “Midge” signalled by heliograph to Fort Lytton to cease fire. Upon receiving acknowledgement to do so, the “Midge” went over and towed the becalmed yacht to us.
“Later enquiries found that the charge of cordite propelling the wayward.”