For Bob Dorey and Kathleen Musulin, the history of the Lock Hospitals that operated on Dorre and Bernier Islands just off the Carnavon coast is very personal. The story begins in the early 1900’s when Aboriginal people from across Western Australia were “diagnosed” with venereal disease, often by police or pastoralists, with little or no evidence of a medical examination to support the claims. These individuals were forcibly removed from family and Country and transported to Bernier and Dorre Islands for “treatment”. Many people never left the islands and it is conservatively estimated that more than 200 people died on the islands during those years.
One of those incarcerated was Kathleen Musulin’s great grandmother who died on the island. Her remains are still buried there. It is very important for both Kathleen and respected community elder Bob Dorey that this story be told so that the community can gain a greater awareness of this painful chapter in our history. Kathleen and Bob both feel that “it is only through acknowledging the past that healing can begin”.
As part of a wider body of work around the lock hospital legacy, University Lecturer and Editor-in-Chief Dr Melissa Sweet has made a significant contribution towards uncovering the history of the Bernier and Dorre Island hospitals. Dr Sweet completed her PhD through the University of Canberra in 2017 producing a comprehensive social journalism research project relating to the history of lock hospitals, lazarets and other forms of medical incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Dr Sweet, together with Curtin University lecturer Dr Robin Barrington have joined forces with a local working group to formally acknowledge and recognise this history. The project includes the commission and installation of culturally appropriate memorial spaces, the development of a dedicated website, the creation of an interpretive walking trail, and a centenary commemoration event to be held in January 2019. The January event will mark 100 years since the last people were taken off the islands.
As part of this project, Carnarvon Library is presenting a number of displays. The first display can be viewed during library hours until the end of April.