Surviving the Cure: Life on Bernier and Dorre Islands under the Lock Hospital Regime

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From 1907 to 1917 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. They were forcibly removed from their homelands as result of public health measures to limit the spread of disease. It is clear from historical documentation and oral histories that few of these individuals actually had syphilis. They were experimented upon and were forced to live “naturally” in an inhospitable and resource-deficient environment. Little is known of how the Europeans and the Aboriginal people lived and survived in this environment. Many questions remain about how two different sets of people with different ideologies and knowledge of the island environment used it to obtain food, water, fuel, and medicinal supplies. While it is no wonder that 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
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: , Surviving the Cure


Jade Stingemore

PhD Candidate, The School of Anatomy and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia
Perth, WA, Australia

I am a PhD Candidate at the University of Western Australia. My research interest is forensic archaeology and forensic anthropology. My current research focuses on the medical environment of early contact in Western Australia using historical, medical and archaeological research. I have been teaching at the University of Western Australia for 6 years in various fields and take a multidisciplinary approach to archaeology.

Ref: I08P0371