Surviving the "cure": life on Bernier and Dorre Islands under the lock hospital regime

Jade Stingemore

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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[Truncated abstract] Between the years 1908 and 1918 two islands off the north-west coast of Western Australia were used as ‘Lock Hospitals’ to incarcerate Indigenous West Australians who were deemed to have syphilis. Men and women were held separately on Bernier and Dorre Islands respectively. Indigenous people diagnosed with syphilis were forcibly removed from their homelands in public health measures ostensibly designed to limit the spread of disease from the Indigenous people to the colonists. It is clear from historical documentation and oral histories that while few of these individuals actually had syphilis, they were experimented on and kept in an inhospitable and resource-deficient environment until they were either declared cured by the European doctors or died on the islands. Little is known of how the European doctors, nurses, workers and their families or the Aboriginal patients lived on the islands – how the Aboriginal patients survived and actually recovered from disease and how the Europeans lived in an environment with few familiar resources. Historical documentation indicated that the Aboriginal people were encouraged to live ‘naturally’ on the islands and that Europeans were to live as best they could. Many questions remain, however, about how two different sets of people with different ideologies and knowledge of the island environment drew sustenance from it – how they used it to obtain food, water, fuel, and medicinal treatments in order to survive and continue their ways of life. This research looks at the ways of life of the people who lived on Bernier and Dorre Islands during the Lock Hospital period and also explores the issue of the use of medical models such as the Lock Hospital Scheme as a means of social and economic engineering and control of native populations.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2010


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