73a[“The Aboriginal Hospitals”, The West Australian, Thursday 04 March 1909, page 2]

THE ABORIGINAL HOSPITALS.

WORK AT DORRE AND BERNIER ISLANDS.

VISIT OF THE COLONIAL SECRETARY.

The Colonial Secretary (Mr. J. D. Connolly) yesterday expressed great satisfaction with what he had seen of the treatment of the natives during his trip to Dorre and Bernier Islands. “It gave me great pleasure,” he said, “to see the improved condition of the native women who have been at Bernier only four months. More especially was I gratified because it was partly against professional medical advice that the island scheme was adopted. Compounds on the mainland were suggested, but this idea did not commend itself to me because it would have been too much like making prisoners of the natives, and it would have been necessary to build compounds of a very extensive character. The numbers of afflicted natives being very great, there would probably have been a tendency with the compound system for the patients to leave the hospital before they were properly cured, but this is not the case with the island hospitals. One of the islands is 18 miles long and the other 15, and the natives can follow their nomadic habits and at the same time be treated every day. A big saving is, moreover, effected by this system, because, although we at present have a number of sheep on the island for killing purposes, they are only used for the staff. Wallabies and iguanas are there in great numbers, and the natives prefer them to mutton. There is also an abundance of fish all round the islands. Some four months ago when the women were sent to Bernier Island a number of them were in such a low condition that they had to be carried ashore, but to-day they all look particularly fat and well. Indeed, I was informed that some of them had put on as much as two stone in weight. I do not know that I have ever seen a happier lot of people than the 54 women at Bernier Island. One evening while we were there they gave a corroborie in honour of our visit, and it was a treat to see that those people, though afflicted with disease, were as happy and apparently well as one could possibly wish to see them. Dorre Island is intended for the men, but it will probably be another month before the quarters for the staff are completed there, and the water supply is improved by the sinking of fresh wells. Then we will have all the native men brought from the Canarvon and Onslow districts, but we will not bring any further women from the Kimberley district until the end of the winter, because they are in a very low condition, and it would be safer to leave them there until the spring. We anticipate that by the end of the present year there will be considerably over 100 patients on each island. I was given to understand by the native women that they had some misgivings about going to the island at first, but that now those misgivings have passed away. Ten or twelve of the women on Bernier Island, who were not seriously affected, are now convalescent, and in a little time when they are thoroughly well they will be sent back to their native places. This, I expect, will have a very good effect upon the other natives, who will see that the hospitals are established for their welfare, and not as prisons. The natives more seriously affected, who constitute the greater number of the patients, will probably not be cured for 18 months or two years. When they are deported it will be necessary to consider what measures can be adopted to prevent a recurrence of the trouble. Much credit is due to Dr. Lovegrove and to the matron, Miss Lenehan, for the work they have done. The natives exhibited the greatest affection for the matron. We intend, as has been previously mentioned, to have a number of collapsible camps which can be moved from place to place as the natives desire. These with their blankets will give them shelter and warmth through the winter, while in the summer they will live as they live now in bush camps. One matter that I wanted to arrange was the communication between the islands and the mainland. After inspecting Dorre Island with the Chief Harbourmaster (Captain Irvine) we were satisfied that we could get an anchorage there for a small, steamer to take the doctor from one island to another, and to run to and from the mainland for the provisions which will be forwarded by steamer from Fremantle. This is the first attempt made not only in this State but in the whole of Australia to give the natives fair treatment, and it certainly provides a decisive answer to the criticisms made regarding the treatment of natives in this State.”

AB notes:

The establishment of the island hospitals was seen as a humanitarian initiative.

“This is the first attempt made not only in this State but in the whole of Australia to give the natives fair treatment, and it certainly provides a decisive answer to the criticisms made regarding the treatment of natives in this State.”

73b[“The Lock Hospital”, The Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA), Saturday 20 November 1909, page 2]

THE LOCK HOSPITAL.

AT BERNIER ISLAND.

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,...”

73c[”News and Notes”, The West Australian, Tuesday 8 February 1910, pages 4-5]

The Native Lock Hospitals.—Gratifying proof of the good work being done by the lock hospitals established by the Government for the treatment of diseased natives is afforded by the announcement of the Chief Protector of Aborigines (Mr. C. F. Gale) that on Friday last the Koombana picked up at Carnarvon the first batch of cured patients. This batch comprised 10 males and 27 females, and is in charge of Miss Lenehan. The natives will be distributed at the ports whence they came, some going as far north as Wyndham. They will be sent back to their own country, and it is hoped that they will disabuse their fellows of any notion that Bernier Island is anything in the nature of a gaol, and that as a result those other aborigines having need of treatment will voluntarily submit themselves to the authorities.

AB notes:

reference her to the first repatriation of cured patients, on or about Friday 04 February 1910.

73d[“Western Australian Aborigines” (Letter to the Editor), The West Australian, Saturday 29 July 1911, page 8]

WESTERN AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINES.

To the Editor.

Sir,—I read with much interest Mr. Conigrave’s article on the West Australian aborigines in one of your late issues. I was surprised to read that gratitude was an unknown quality in the heart of the West Australian blacks. In a short sketch, which I wrote some two years since of my residence amongst them as pioneer matron of the hospital for diseased natives on Bernier Island, I had not then much occasion to test their gratitude or otherwise, though they always seemed at the time to be intensely grateful for kindness received. Since then, I was commissioned by the Chief Inspector to take charge of the batch of 21 cured natives, men and women, who were being returned to their homes in April of this year. It had been two years since I left the island, and I was not aware that any of the girls for whom I had cared were to be among those awaiting me on the Carnarvon jetty. When the Koombana steamed in and they saw me, they made a rush and surrounded me, kissing my hands or the hem of my skirt, weeping, thrusting on me shells or shell necklaces, exclaiming, “Oh, missie, me nothing forget missie, she so good to black fellah.” Nor was that all. On the return journey many of the girls whom I had brought back two years previously were at the jetties to meet me. Nor am I yet forgotten, for in two letters received no later than last week from the interior of Kimberley, the masters remark, “I have two of your girls working on the station ard they speak often of ‘Missie—good to black fellah.’”

If, then, this is not gratitude, I do not know what is. I may say that all the passengers on the Koombana, as well as the townsfolk of Carnarvon, and Mrs. Daisy Bates, were witness to the reception I got from my dusky friends on Carnarvon jetty.

I agree with Mr. Conigrave that the Nor’-West white community are a splendid lot, and, with few exceptions, the native blacks are well treated, for, living with them constantly for two years, in their company from early morning till late at night, entering into their lives as I did, I never heard anything from them but praise for the Nor’-West squatters as their employers. —Yours, etc., H.P.L. Perth,

July 26.