From 1908 to 1918 two islands off the north-west coast of Western Australia, Bernier and Dorre Islands were used to incarcerate Indigenous Australians who were thought to have syphilis in the name of a public health measure designed to limit the spread of the disease. It is clear from historical documentation and oral histories that few of these individuals actually had syphilis, they were forcibly removed from their homelands, experimented upon and forced to live “naturally” in an inhospitable and resource-deficient environment. Little is known of how the Europeans and the Aboriginal people caught up in this scheme lived and survived on the islands. Many questions remain about how two different sets of people with different ideologies and knowledge of the environment used it to obtain food, water, fuel, and medicinal supplies. While historical and oral records describe the place as “a picture of misery, horror unalleviated and the tombs of the living dead” (Daisy Bates 1938), there are signs that the Europeans lived a comfortable lifestyle and that the Aboriginal women and men maintained their cultural beliefs and traditions and some small and occasional measures of independence.
|Keywords:||Historical Archaeology, Lock Hospital, Syphilis, Island Environment, Indigenous Australians, Public Health Measures|
PhD Candidate, The School of Anatomy and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia, Perth, WA, Australia
Project leader Carrick grant, School of Anatomy and Human Biology, University of Western Australia, Perth, WA, Australia
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