People of Peel Island – 4 – Biochemist, Dorothy Herbert 

In January 1947 Promin therapy was introduced to treat the leprosy patients at Peel Island lazaret. Its daily intravenous administration necessitated Doctor Eric Reye remaining full time on the island. Thus, he became Peel’s first Resident Medical Officer, and his wife, Mardi, was appointed a temporary laboratory assistant, because no one was available at the time, and because the nurses were fully occupied. By the end of 1947, the services of a science graduate, Miss Dorothy Herbert, had been obtained, and Mardi was no longer needed. 

Because of the possible haematological effects of the sulphones on the body, a laboratory was set up on Peel for blood counting and urine examination

For a start, the laboratory was set up in a disused hut down in the bush, but because of its distance, dilapidation, and lack of water, Dr Reye asked the Padre if he could use the Church as a laboratory.  All would have been well but for the Roman Catholic patients who refused to enter the church because it had been consecrated “Anglican”. The best Dr Reye could do was to coax them into the church’s tiny vestibule where staff took the necessary samples from them. Clearly, this was not a satisfactory arrangement, and new premises again had to be found for the laboratory. The choice fell to the library cum billiard room, which belonged to the male patients. 1

Dorothy Herbert outside the laboratory at Peel Island lazaret in 1948

Dorothy worked as a biochemist at the Peel Island lazaret during 1948. She then moved to Tasmania in 1949 and worked as a biochemist at Royal Hobart Hospital.

After a year in the United Kingdom, she returned to Brisbane to study medicine at the University of Queensland. After graduating in 1958, she spent 2 years as a resident medical officer at Brisbane General Hospital.

In 1961, she moved to Charleville to work as a locum for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) for 3 months. She remained in Charleville in private practice until 1981.

In 1963, Dorothy bought her first aircraft — a 1957 single-engine Cessna, which she used to fly to emergencies of her own patients, medical conferences and remote properties. She was a member of a flying surgeon team and would stand in for the flying doctor as required. At a time when there were few women doctors and fewer women pilots, Dorothy made quite an impression flying to remote communities with her three corgis in tow.

Cessna 172 of a type similar to Dorothy’s plane

In 1981, Dorothy left Charleville and semiretired to the Sunshine Coast (with her Major Mitchell cockatoo, Linda). She continued to work in general practice, specialising in acupuncture and aviation medicine. She fully retired in 1996, when she also flew her final flight. Her flying record at this time totalled 2200 hours.

She was awarded the Nancy Bird Walton Trophy for services to aviation in Australasia in 1972. In 1997, she was made an honorary life member of the Aviation Medicine Society of Australia and New Zealand for her contribution as a designated examiner for 35 years. She was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1999 for her service to rural medicine through the RFDS and to aviation through the AWPA. She also received a Centenary Medal in 2001 for her distinguished service to the RFDS.2

References: 1. Peel Island History – A Personal Quest

                     2. Medical Journal of Australia, vol 202, no 7, 2015, p 391

Peel Island People – 2 – Eric Reye

Eric Reye passed away peacefully on Monday night 29.1.2007 in the Beenleigh Nursing Home.  Though physically incapacitated for his last years, Eric’s mind remained keen to the end. For one so used to the outdoor life, his immobility in a nursing home must have been a great frustration, but, in typical style, he accepted his lot philosophically and without complaint.

I like to remember Eric from my times with him on his boat “Coolooloa” on the mangrove flats at Redland Bay, eating peanuts, sipping his home-made mead, surrounded by his laboratory materials and discussing Moreton Bay’s history of which, for me at least, Eric played such an important part.

Matron Ahlberg, Doctor Reye, Nurse Sharp at the Lazaret late 1940s

All his life, Eric was a lover of boats and the Bay. From those of you who have read my books, you will recall his canoe trips from Brisbane to Southport and his search for the ‘Spanish Galleon’ which in itself has inspired many others to continue. After studying medicine at the University of Queensland, he was able to combine his yachting skills with his medicine when he became the Medical Officer for the Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) patients at Peel Island. While there he worked constantly to improve the conditions of the patients.

It was also on Peel that he was bitten by the bug – the biting midge actually – when trying to find its breeding habits. Entomology was soon to take over his whole life and he abandoned medicine in its favour, eventually becoming acknowledged as a world expert in the study of biting midges.

 He was a source of much of our knowledge of Peel Island’s Lazaret history and one of our last living links with it. 

He was always willing to impart his great knowledge to others, and I for one am especially grateful for his generosity in supporting my Moreton Bay writings.

Peter Ludlow

Doris Gabriel (wife of Doctor Morgan Gabriel, Eric’s successor) and Eric Reye at the former doctor’s Lazaret quarters, 1993

Time and Tide

In the course of my Moreton Bay researches I have often wondered why so may wooden boats – once the love of someone’s life – lie abandoned and left to rot amongst the mangroves.

Abandoned boats at Rusters boatyard, Redland Bay, in the early 1990s
Abandoned boats at Rusters boatyard, Redland Bay, in the early 1990s

Last weekend, I revisited one such ‘cemetery’ at Rusters in Redland Bay. It was a former boatyard that I used to frequent in the early 1990s to visit and interview bay identity Eric Reye who had made his home there on his boat ‘Coolooloa’. Eric spent years converting the old surf landing dory that he purchased after WW2 into a floating laboratory for further research into biting midges (he was a world leader in that field then). Although he never fulfilled his dream, ‘Coolooloa’ did provide him with a home, and with an interest in trying to make the old craft seaworthy.

Eric Reye on his boat 'Coolooloa' at Rusters boatyard in the early 1990s
Eric Reye on his boat ‘Coolooloa’ at Rusters boatyard in the early 1990s

Like a true sailor, he loved his boat – it was his ‘other woman’. And I think this is why so many boats are left to rot: their owners just couldn’t bear to part with them, so that eventually when they died their boats were left to fade away, forgotten widows, in the mangroves.

Peter Ludlow and the widow 'Coolooloa' at Rusters 6 June 2015
Peter Ludlow and the widow ‘Coolooloa’ at Rusters 6 June 2015