51[“The Lock Hospital”, The Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA), Saturday 20 November 1909, page 2]



At the invitation of the Chief Protector of Aborigines (Mr. C. F. Gale) a party of gentlemen, comprising Messrs. H. G. Lefroy, D. N. Macleod, G. Baston, L. von Bibra, R. F. Hope, F. P. Loeffler, 6. Rutherford, R. Burt, A. B. Camerer, E. H. Angelo, D. D. McRae, and a press representative visited Bernier Island last Sunday and saw what is being and has been done on behalf of the unfortunate natives whose ailment makes it essential for the good of themselves and of others that they should be segregated.

Bernier Island, which is fifteen miles in length and of an average width of slightly over a mile, lies westward of Carnarvon 28 miles. Viewed from the decks of the little steamer Venus its coast line appeared to differ in no material respect from the inhospitable look which characterises the West Australian coast line generally. The anchorage is on the lee of the island in a little bay flanked with high boulders said to be ideal spots for cray fishing. The hospital buildings are about a quarter of a mile back from the bay, and being on elevated ground they command a good view of it. The main building, now used as the nurses’ quarters and dining room, was built by Mr. Baston and used by him as a dwelling house when he made the island his summer resort. A. couple of hundred yards away is the doctor’s quarters and laboratory. The buildings are unpretentious, and certainly no charge of extravagance can be levelled against the Department in connection witb them. After being hospitably entertained at luncheon at the quarters, the party, piloted by Nurses Lenehan and Pingelly, proceeded through the stunted brushwood which covers the sand dunes to the extreme north of the island, where in a gully some quarter of a mile from the quarters, the natives have their camps. Here there is a galvanised building which is now used by the doctor as an operating theatre, this also being an unpretentious structure. Every effort has been made to introduce on the island conditions as nearly approaching those to which the natives are accustomed on the mainland as possible. Hence instead, of what would elsewhere be regarded as orthodox hospital buildings, here they take the form of tents, breakwinds, and small canvas-sided and iron-roofed cubicles, the natives having an excllent chance of leading the simple life to which they have been used. There are at present 93 native women on the island—the men having their quarters on Dorre Island, fifteen miles to the south. At a call from Nurse Lenehan most of the native women came from their respective camps and gathered round the party. They comprised natives of all ages from those just arrived at womanhood to those who apparently had reached the allotted span of life. Some were poor decrepit creatures, and others were as fine specimens of native womanhood as one could-wish, those from the Far North especially being of fine physique. Seated round their camps they appeared to be thoroughly contented with their lot, but to definitely determine this two or three of them were interrogated by members of the party. Then it was discovered that though they admitted they were kindly treated, had plenty of tucker, and had no work to do, they hankered to get back to their own country—a desire which after all is only natural. After spending a few minutes at the camps the party returned to the main hospital quarters, where they were rejoined by Dr. Lovegrove, who had in the meantime taken the opportunity of replying to the mail which the boat brought over. Interrogated as to the result obtained, Dr. Lovegrove said he was convinced that to properly treat the natives for the distressing complaint from which they suffered it was absolutely necessary to segregate them, and the island was a suitable place for doing so. Some of the cases sent over were incurable, but in many he had strong hopes of effecting cures after a year or two’s treatment. As he pointed out, the majority of cases sent to the island are bad ones—those natives only slightly affected being treated at the various hospitals along the coast. The doctor has his time fully occupied in looking after his numerous charges, and when asked if he did not find life on the island monotonous, said he did not find it so owing to the fact that he had no idle time; in fact he looks forward to the ultimatate appointment of a second medical officer who might be stationed at Dorre Island, thus relieving him from making such frequent trips to that place. The staff at Bernier, which comprises Dr. Lovegrove (medical-superintendent), and Nurses Lenehan and Pingelly, appear to have the interest of the natives thoroughly at heart, and are doing what they possibly can to ameliorate their distressing condition. Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Batty, who fill the respective roles of orderly and cook, complete the hospital staff equipment. The island has innumerable wallabies on it, while fish and crayfish exist in large numbers around its coastline. The natives do their own hunting, and with the exception of that home longing which would be inseparable wherever they might be placed, are as happy as it is possible for them to be. The Aborigines Department has taken up the white man’s burden nobly, and the department is fortunate in having as its director a man like Mr. Gale, whose pioneering experiences in the early days of this district qualify him to speak and act for the best interests of the original inhabitants. Possibly failure may after all characterise the efforts of the Department to preserve what is generally regarded as a decadent race. However that may be, there will at least be, some satisfaction to the white race generally in knowing efforts have been made to combat such a result.

Mr. Gale having decided to remain on the island for a couple of days and then proceed to Dorre Island, eventually catching the Koombana at Shark Bay en route for south, he was thanked by the members of the party for the opportunity which he had given them of seeing for themselves the good work taken in hand, and with cordial farewells to the members of the hospital staff for their hospitable treatment, the party re-embarked and sailed for Carnarvon.

Mr. Gale’s idea in organising the party was to give station owners an opportunity of seeing for tbemselves the way in which the natives were treated. He stated that without hearty co-operation from them he could not look for the success he desired. He wanted it to be generally known

amongst the natives that the lock hospitals were not prisons; that natives were sent there for their own good, and that as soon as their health permitted they would be sent back to their own country.

Four mainland native men also accompanied the party, but only two of them had friends on the island. The sea trip across was evidently not favorably regarded by them, but as a result of their visit they can at least assure their fellow natives on the mainland that the island is not a voracious monster which swallows up their comrades, and which we understand is the feeling that some of the

inland natives have.

The trip to and from the island was not devoid of amusing incidents, but demands on our space will not allow of detailing them in this issue.

AB notes:

Another reference to the work of the islands as humanitarian:

“The Aborigines Department has taken up the white man’s burden nobly,...”