Remembering the past in work to Close the Gap: the tragic story of Lock Hospitals

Friday, February 12, 2016

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven has praised a community-led campaign to establish a memorial and healing space to acknowledge the suffering of the forced Aboriginal patients of the Lock Hospitals on Bernier and Dorre Islands near Carnarvon in Western Australia.

The campaign is featured in the February edition of AHHA’s bimonthly magazine The Health Advocate in an article written by Aboriginal residents of Carnarvon, Bob Dorey and Kathleen Musulin and non-Indigenous journalist Melissa Sweet.

“On the anniversary of the Australian Government’s National Apology to Australia’s First Peoples tomorrow, it is important we acknowledge the injustices suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Ms Verhoeven said.

“The AHHA encourages individuals and organisations across the health sector to pledge their support to the Close the Gap campaign, and consider how they can contribute to this important work.”

Between 1908 and 1919, hundreds of Aboriginal patients were incarcerated in the Lock Hospitals off the coast of Carnarvon, with more than 150 people dying there. The West Australian government established the hospitals for the treatment of Aboriginal people with sexually transmitted infections, but there remains considerable doubt as to the accuracy of such diagnoses – many of which were made by police officers.

Aboriginal people taken to the hospitals were often forcibly removed from their families and communities and transported in traumatic conditions, in chains and under police guard.

The campaign to establish a memorial and healing space in Carnarvon received a boost when, just before Christmas, the Shire Council established a working group to progress the project.

“This is one of many stories that has been swept under the Australian carpet for far too long,” Ms Musulin said. “It is now time that our true history is revealed, recognised and acknowledged, to enable us to start the healing process. We must remember the Aboriginal people who were taken to the islands, some who never returned to their traditional country again.”

“Working on this project is making me feel better because we’re getting something done that should have been done a long time ago, towards healing and reconciliation,” Mr Dorey said. “We want people to acknowledge what happened, that’s how I feel.”

“The State of Reconciliation report released this week by Reconciliation Australia stresses the importance of Australia acknowledging the traumatic impacts of colonisation,” Ms Sweet, a PhD candidate at the University of Canberra, said. “The health sector has much work to do, in acknowledging its own role in colonisation and in contributing to healing and justice. I congratulate the Shire of Carnarvon for taking this important first step, together with community members.”

Media enquiries:
Alison Verhoeven
Chief Executive, the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals
0403 282 501

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