NURSING NO GRUDGE

Rosemary Opala remembers:

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.

Peel Island Lazaret – c.1955 – store, nurses’, matron’s quarters (photo Dr Morgan Gabriel)

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!

At Peel Island – Nurse Rosemary Fielding (Opala), Superintendent Frank Mahoney, Matron Marie Ahlberg, Dr Eric Reye, Enrolled Nurse Sharp (?) late 1940s

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.

Rosemary Opala

January 2003

Nurse Rosemary Fielding (later Opala), Peel Island late 1940s

(Extract from the ebook ‘Peel Island History – A Personal Quest’ Peter Ludlow, April 2015)

This ebook is still available as a PDF file from the author, Peter Ludlow. Click here for details.

Electricity Comes to Peel Island Lazaret

In 1947 conditions were greatly improved for the patients at Peel Island’s lazaret by the introduction of two diesel powered electricity generators comprising two (2) 20 K.V.A. and one (1) 5 K.V.A. alternators each driven by a Ruston high speed vertical diesel engineNow each cabin could be lit at the flick of a switch, there were street lights, and even movies twice a week in the recreation hall.

Peel Island Lazaret – c.1955 – from left: hospital, kitchen, power house (photo Dr Morgan Gabriel)

The diesel generators were switched on at dusk and operated until ten o’clock producing electricity for the settlement. On ‘non picture’ nights, Doris Gabriel, wife of the Medical Superintendent, would spend her time catching up on her family’s ironing.

Prior to the electricity being installed, light was supplied by hurricane lanterns or kerosene pressure lamps. For night surgery, electric power was supplied by two 6-volt car batteries which Dr Reye had removed from his yacht “Maroomba”.  The idea was that while one was in use, the other would be sent to Dunwich for recharging.  Electricity helped make the patients’ nights less drab and long, and certainly made night surgery much easier. 

 The advent of electricity also paved the way for the purchase of a cinematograph which was installed in 1948 in the special room at the eastern end of the recreation hall. Movie films were shown twice a week and proved very popular with both patients and staff alike.  All types of films were shown, but occasionally the odd Hollywood “Biblical epic” would make reference to the Leper outcasts, and these would cause great offence to the patients watching the film. Selection of this type of film was carefully avoided. 

Ron Ricketts, an electrical contractor, recalls: ‘It was my job to go into each patient’s hut and drill holes to which would be attached the gear to receive the power line. There were two male patients who always seemed to be together and they offered to help me erect the electric light poles. There was no crane on the island so we first had to dig a hole for the pole, then pull it up with ropes. I must admit that I was a bit worried when our bodies came into contact during this operation!’

Another symptom of leprosy was a numbness of the skin and this resulted in some patients burning themselves on hot objects because they couldn’t feel pain. Up until the time we introduced the electricity at Peel, each hut was lit by only a kerosene (hurricane) lamp. These were a constant source of patient burns, and so if for no other reason, the introduction of electricity would have been of great benefit to the patients.

People of Peel Island – 7 – Doris Isobel Gabriel

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.

Doris Gabriel and Eric Reye revisiting the lazaret’s doctor’s quarters in 1993 (photo Peter Ludlow)

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.

Peter Ludlow

16.1.2010

(Extract from ‘Peel Island History – A Personal Quest‘)

 A Note of Discord at the Lazaret

The Aboriginal patients on Peel had long since been ‘Westernised’ in that they had all ceased to observe the tribal customs and traditions of their forebears. They dressed in white man’s clothes, spoke his language, and, on Peel at least, shared his diseases. Nevertheless, they did manage to retain a few of their indigenous skills, one of which was their interest in making ‘traditional’ Aboriginal weapons such as nulla nullas, spears, and boomerangs, which they used, not for hunting, but as rhythm sticks to accompany their dances at their many impromptu corroborees. Some of the men also made bows and arrows to shoot the many Lorikeets that frequented the trees around the lazaret. They prized the birds’ green feathers and used them as body ornamentation in their corroborees. The old tribal rituals and meaning had long since been lost in these dances, and the only purpose of the Corroborees on Peel was for entertainment. 

They were held in the Aborigines’ mess hut and were usually of a spontaneous nature. A large pine table pushed close to the wall served as a stage on which the Aborigines danced and sang to the rhythmic accompaniment of wooden boomerangs being struck together. The noise would have been deafening inside the corrugated iron building. 

The white men also had a recreation hut in their compound and among other items, it contained an old upright piano on which the more musical patients would amuse themselves and anyone else who cared to listen. One day, a Brisbane Radio station generously donated a new piano, which the whites quickly claimed for themselves. The old upright (previously donated by the Freemasons) was moved to the Aborigines’ mess hut where it quickly became an important part of their corroboree ceremonies.

However, it didn’t take the whites long to realise that the tone of their new piano was not a patch on the one they had given away to the Aborigines, so they took it upon themselves to arrange a swap. The Aborigines, however, were not fools and, realising that they had the better piano of the two, refused to come into the deal. To emphasise their determination, the Aborigines even produced spears, at which the whites backed off and let them keep their old upright. 

Post Script 1:

On January 8th, 1940 an army landing barge arrived at Peel Island, and all the Aboriginal patients, along with their goods, chattels, and pet dogs were loaded aboard. They were then taken to Brisbane from where they were taken by rail to Cardwell, and then by another barge to Fantome Island. It was a sad leave-taking because, over the years, the members of the Peel Island community – both white and black – had grown to have much more in common than the mere disease which had originally brought them all together. One of the patient’s last memory of them is of their waving black arms, barking dogs, and a hotch potch of their belongings in the open barge, including their most prized possession – the old upright piano which they had managed to keep from the white patients’ grasp! 

Post Script 2:

Later in the 1940s, a further indignity occurred to the whites when their own recreation hut mysteriously caught fire after some rowdy Christmas revelries. Their new piano was also consumed in the flames!

Post Script 3:

When a new recreation hall was built in 1947, another piano was procured (picture). After the lazaret was closed in 1959, the piano went missing. Its fate is still unknown.

The last piano in the rec hall at the lazaret (photo courtesy Terry Gwynn Jones – John Oxley Library)

(Extract from ‘Peel Island History, a Personal Quest‘ by Peter Ludlow)

Peel Island – White Leprosy Patients’Huts

The Peel Island Lazaret was the only purpose-built Lazaret in Australia: the others were modifications or add-ons to existing institutions e.g. at Dunwich, it was an add-on to the Benevolent Asylum; at Little Bay in Sydney as part of an infectious disease unit; at Fantome Island it was a former Lock Hspital.

This site plan shows the relative areas of Peel’s Lazaret. 

Notes to the plan’s labels: 

The Female Compound was for white females (one patient per cabin).

The Male Compound was for white males (one patient per cabin)

The Coloured Compound consisted of galvanised iron huts for the coloured male patients (four patients per cabin) and wooden huts similar to the white female huts (but accommodating six patients per cabin).

The Peel Island site plan as drawn up in the 1950s
Peel Island Lazaret – white male patients huts when it opened in 1907

Initially the male patients huts were constructed as a square wooden box like structure, but later on, a verandah was added to the design. The white femals huts were similar but with the addition of a kitchenette with a combustion stove.

Floor plan of the white male patients’ Hut
Floor plan of the white female patients’ Hut

The following aerial photo shows the Peel Island Lazaret institution as it appeared in the 1930s:

Lazaret from the air 1930s

Peel Island – Coloured Leprosy Patients’ Huts

By 1908 there were 40 coloured patients and 17 white patients at the Peel Island Lazaret. 

In the book Moreton Bay Matters Chapter 9 The Leper Shall Dwell Alone, historian Thom Blake mentions ‘the huts for the coloured patients were erected by Aboriginal workers from Myora on Stradbroke Island and from Barambah (now Cherbourg).’ He describes the huts for the coloured patients as ‘being framed with bush timber, clad with cypress pine slab, roofed with tea-tree bark, and simply provided with an earth floor. The cost of each coloured hut was Pound3/-/- (three pounds) verses Pound55/-/- (fifty-five pounds) for each white patient’s hut’.

The image below shows a group of coloured patients (all South Sea Islanders) posing in front of a typical coloured dwelling. Also with them is the Lazaret’s Assistant Caretaker, Paulus Friedrich Schwarz:

Paulus Friedrich Schwarz with South Sea Islander patients, Peel Island Lazaret c.1908 (photo supplied by Paul Smith/Dr John Schwarz)

Paulus Friedrich Schwarz from Vienna, born of Jewish parents, and came to Australia as a Christian Evangelist, he only spent a few months on Peel but was so appalled by the conditions of the coloured patients that he sent an urgent letter to the Home Secretary in July 1908.

In the letter, Paulus reported serious deficiencies in the provision for the coloured lepers: open drains, huts structurally incapable of being fumigated or properly cleaned, having earthen floors and thatched roofs which let in the rain. Patients having to get up and sit round the fire when it rains at night. Many of the huts were in a bad state of repair. There was no dining room, no hospital, and a day surgery without either hot or cold-water supply. The blankets the coloured lepers received at the beginning or winter, were only half of one double blanket each. No sheets or pillow slips, which he was told were always supplied to them on Friday Island.

In reply to his letter, Paulus was told that his proper channel of communication was through the Medical Superintendent (Dr Rowe in the Benevolent Asylum).

Paulus & Phiebie Schwarz and their 11 Children in 1923

Happily, soon after leaving Peel, he met and married Phiebie. They were married for 62 years and had 11 children.

Peel’s Galvanized Huts

Later, at an undetermined time, the Queensland Government DID replace the coloured patients’ huts with those made of corrugated galvanised iron on wooden frames. Initially they still had dirt floors, but the patients themselves were able to line them with cement laced with shells from the many middens remaining on the island – the refuse heaps from countless Aboriginal feasts remaining from unknown eons.

Recently, while I was guiding a tour group around the Lazaret buildings, I was told by one of the group that the galvanized iron huts used by the ‘coloured’ patients were common among Queensland’s poorer outback pioneers. He told me that railway gangers used them because they were easily dismantled and transported. It would be interesting to follow up with the Ipswich Railway Museum if they have any photos.

Peter Ludlow

16.1.2010

Peel Island Lazaret’s coloured patients’ huts

People of Peel Island – 3 – Doctor Morgan Gabriel 

Morgan Gabriel’s school education had been completed at Brisbane Grammar, which he left after completing his Junior Certificate. For a time, he had worked in the Taxation Department which he disliked, and then as a Cadet in the Laboratory of the State Health Department. He remained there for some eleven years as a Government Analyst, and it was during this time that he also resumed his schooling and, by studying at night, finally obtained his Senior School Certificate. This was followed by study for a Science Degree, which he obtained as an external student studying over six years. In 1944 he was one of a group of students to be awarded the first State Government Bonded Fellowships to the University of Queensland. Thus, he was finally able to afford a long-held ambition to study for his Degree in Medicine which he finally obtained in 1950. His aim was to specialize in Gynaecology but part of his Fellowship Bond was that he had to repay the years spent in study with an equal time in an area of the Government’s choosing. To Dr Fryberg’s mind, he was the answer to Peel’s problems, and Dr Gabriel was duly appointed the island’s first Resident Medical Superintendent, having full control over the island’s affairs. 

Dr Morgan Gabriel and Matron Marie Ahlberg at Peel Island

Peel Island could not have been further from Dr Gabriel’s plans, especially when he was also planning to marry, and he hated the whole idea, but because of his contract with the Government, he could do little but accept. His first months there were stormy, and he clashed with both staff and patients to enforce both more responsible policies for the running of the settlement. Firstly, he reduced alcohol consumption on the island by limiting its consumption to one bottle of beer per week. Any staff members found drunk on duty would be immediately sent to the Health Department for dismissal. As can be expected his popularity was not high amongst the inhabitants of Peel. 

It says much for Dr Gabriel that he weathered the storm, for his character was of such strength that he would not compromise a principle he believed in. As well as his strength, he was also fortunate in being a caring and kind-hearted man who could sympathize with the patients’ condition. These two qualities were to prove ideal and necessary for the newly created position.

One of the first improvements he made at Peel was that of the meals, and it was one to which the patients responded readily. Many more were to follow, and when it became obvious that the new doctor had their welfare at heart, the patients quickly warmed to him and it wasn’t long before they were to look on him as a true friend and confidant to whom they could turn and discuss their problems. Indeed, for Dr Gabriel’s wedding, the patients all chipped in and bought a present for him and his new wife, soon to be affectionately known by all as “Johnny”.  With Peel’s past reputation, it must have been difficult for her to set up house there, but she settled into her new surroundings and quickly made friends with the patients. When their two children, Bill and Ruth, were born, they, too, lived with their parents in the doctor’s residence to the east of the men’s compound. This fact alone would have done much to dispel the stigma associated with the dangers of Hansen’s Disease and young children.

Doctor’s house at the Lazaret in 1950s (Photo courtesy Dr Morgan Gabriel)

When Morgan Gabriel first arrived at Peel, he knew little about Hansen’s Disease. But because he was not the sort of man to engage in any activity without a thorough knowledge of his subject, he set about learning as much as possible about the latest developments in Hansen’s Disease and its treatment. This knowledge he also passed on to the many of his patients who were interested in new treatments for their disease, and over the next decade, he would introduce many new drugs at Peel in a constant search for more effective results. 

As well as educating himself and the patients about Hansen’s Disease, Dr Gabriel also missed no opportunity in encouraging medical students to visit Peel and familiarise themselves with the disease and its early symptoms. 

Dr Gabriel was also of the belief that it was necessary to keep his patients’ hands and muscles working and minds occupied. Towards this end he encouraged them to engage in as many activities as possible. Occupational therapy was available in the form of leather, plastic, and cane work, and many patients were put on the payroll in positions that included truck driver, barber, painter, handyman, groundsman, and seamstress. In 1952 a new patients’ dining room was constructed, mainly by the work of the patients themselves. One patient undertook the school Junior Certificate course, and one of the blind patients who retained full sensitivity in the fingertips learnt braille. In September 1956 a naturalisation ceremony was conducted at the hospital when one of the patients became an Australian citizen. 

Dr Morgan Gabriel was Peel’s last resident doctor from 1951 until the Lazaret’s closure in 1959.

(Extract from ‘Peel Island History – A Personal Quest’)

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

Stories from Peel Island – 8 – Arson at the Lazaret

Buildings at the Peel Island Lazaret (white men’s compound) as they appeared in 1907)

Peel Island Lazaret

The Secretary,                                                                                     2nd January, 1941.

Dept. of Public Health

BRISBANE.

Sir,

I have to report that the Recreation Room with all the contents were destroyed by fire early yesterday morning, 1st January, 1941.

I awoke at 1.50 a.m. at the sound of the crackle of fire and on looking out saw fire coming through the wall from the left hand corner of the recreation room, where the Pianola was standing.

N.S., a hospital patient, awakened about the same time as I and he called to the attendant C.Byrnes, who immediately ran over and called the other members of the staff.

The fire had enveloped the whole of the Recreation Room by 2 a.m. and was spreading rapidly towards the Billiard Room at one end and the Dining Room at the other, and it looked as if the whole of the block would have gone.

The whole staff worked magnificently also some of the patients and by 3.15 a.m. had the fire under control having only lost the Recreation Room and one Bathroom.

The patients headed by T.W. and R. M. removed the table and furniture from the Billiard Room and carried water for the staff who had to use buckets as the water pressure as too low for the hoses.

The reason for this we discovered when the fire was a little under, was that two large water taps in the building had been turned on.

            One of these taps could not be turned off without the aid of pliers as the top had been removed.

            This was so obviously a case of arson that I got in communication with the Dunwich Police as soon as I could, and Mr. Sands (in charge) came over and investigated, he (the constable) is returning this morning to take statements from patients and staff.

Inventory of Property destroyed in the Recreation Room.

1 Pianola                                             4 Large forms (with backs)                1 Table Tennis Set

1 Piano stool                                       6 Cane Lounge Chairs                        1 Croquet Set

250 Pianola Rolls                                1 Punching Ball                                  2 Tennis Rackets

2 Large tables.                                    1 Petrel (sic) Lamp.                            Books (about 200).

It was absolutely impossible to save any of this property.     

Yours respectfully,

(Sgd) A.O’Brien,

Matron.

2nd Jan., 1941.

Flames soon consumed the Recreation Room at the Lazaret

Further to the Matron’s letter, when I interviewed patient ‘Alex’ for my book, ‘Peel Island – Paradise or Prison’ he added this comment:

‘Each Christmas, it was the custom for the men to decorate their recreation hall for the season’s festivities. As well as the usual paper streamers etc, this involved the cutting of various eucalypts from the surrounding bush to be used as Christmas trees. This hall contained the new piano and during the festive season there was even more carousing and singing than normal. One year in the early 1940s, Christmas came and went but the decorations were left up for some weeks afterwards, and all the cut eucalypts in the hall became tinder dry. One night, without warning, the hall caught fire, and although the alarm was raised, without water there was nothing anyone could do to extinguish the blaze. 

‘The cause of the fire was never known, but many suspected the blaze to be deliberately lit by a reclusive couple of patients whose huts were adjacent to the hall and who were known to be annoyed by the noise of the singing and piano playing of the Christmas revellers. It would have been an easy matter to set a match to the dried eucalyptus leaves in the hall and escape before the fire took hold.’

Peel Island Lazaret’s New Recreation Hall c.1955 (photo courtesy Dr Morgan Gabriel)

The Recreation Room was not replaced until 1945 when a new Recreation Hall was opened by Dr Eric Reye on Nov 3rd.

The Friends of Peel Island Association (FOPIA) Inc. closes down

On June 30th this year, FOPIA will close down for good. FOPIA was formed in 1998 to assist in maintenance and restoration work of the former lazaret, and to promote public awareness of Peel’s cultural and historic values. As one of the original founding members, I was a bit sad to see this group, once so full of hope for the future of Peel’s restored lazaret, finally call it a day. It had been a long time coming, but its death knell was surely last year’s decision not to rebuild a jetty to access the island. This effectively put a stop to any future development – for better or worse.

However, many fond memories of FOPIA remain:  our work parties often visited the lazaret and stayed overnight; many public lectures on the island’s history; fund raising boat trips; and curating a Peel Island exhibition at the Redland Museum which also visited the Redcliffe museum and was then on permanent display at Fort Lytton.

But to my mind, FOPIA’s most memorable achievement was to host a Peel Island Lazaret families’ day. What a day! After two unsuccessful attempts due to inclement weather, we were third time lucky, with the weather beautiful and the sea calm for a unique gathering on Peel Island at the lazaret. Family of patients and staff of the lazaret, along with FOPI members, QPWS staff and others travelled to Peel Island on Sunday 26 September 2008 to commemorate the Centenary of the lazaret, and of National Parks in Queensland. For some it was their first time to the island, for others it was the first time in many years, but for everyone it turned out to be a very special day. Connections were made or renewed, and with stories of the place and the impact of its history shared. 

The gathering of Peel’s families at the lazaret

In the words of Welcome to Country from Aboriginal elder, Auntie Margaret, ‘it was  ..a day of getting together with beloved families and friends of patients. Friends and families of the staff, and most all the Aboriginal families of our Aboriginal workers who worked here all those many years ago… Today is for all to come together, indigenous and non-indigenous alike. To reflect with kindness, unity, and most of all trust because deep down, trust is a gift of learning, everything that life brings.’