Doris Isobel Gabriel was always known to her friends as Jonnie, a nick-name given to her by her father, and one she retained throughout her life. It was so typical of the person whose unaffected nature and readiness to help out where needed endeared her to so many. Jonnie revelled in helping out; whether it was on the Princess Alexandra Hospital’s Women’s Auxilliary, Ignatian’s Musical Society, the Qld Light Opera Company, the Qld Conservatorium of Music, Savoyards or the Art’s Theatre. She was always there when needed.
When I first began my researches into the history of Peel Island’s Lazaret (way back in 1986) Jonnie Gabriel was the first person I interviewed. Jonnie, a former Theatre Sister had been married to the Late Doctor Morgan Gabriel, the Lazaret’s last Resident Medical Officer from 1951 until 1959. As such, she had lived on Peel in the doctor’s house during that time, and the couple raised their two children, Ruth and Bill, there, thus dispelling the myth that children could never remain on the island after birth because they were considered at risk of contracting the disease.
The Gabriel’s were always passionate about dispelling the stigma of leprosy and of leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) patients. To their credit, they were always prepared to lead by their own example.
Jonny remembers her near decade on Peel with her husband and young family as a time of great personal happiness and contentment. Dr Gabriel worked strict business hours, with an hour off for lunch, during which time he would often take his wife and children for a picnic at Horseshoe Bay. At other times, while he attended the hospital surgery, Jonny Gabriel would attend to the housework or take her children on walks through the bush to collect wild flowers. (She always carried a bill-hook, though, in case she chanced upon a snake).
The diesel generators were switched on at dusk and operated until ten o’clock producing electricity for the settlement. On ‘non picture’ nights, Mrs Gabriel would spend her time catching up on her family’s ironing. However, she was always ready to join in any parties at the recreation hall, and one ex-patient still has a chuckle at the memory of a very pregnant Johnny Gabriel kicking balloons around the floor of the rec hall during a pre-Christmas wing-ding!
During their time at the Lazaret until its closure Jonnie and her husband amassed a great collection of memorabilia: photos, memories, stories, other contact people, and artifacts. All of these Jonnie was more than happy to share, not just with me, but also with the Friends of Peel Island, and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. Much of the fine collection we have today is due to the generosity of Jonnie and Morgan Gabriel.
For this I am grateful, but most of all I am grateful for her friendship.
(Extract from ‘Peel Island History – A Personal Quest‘)