State heritage listing for Fantome Island
Fantome Island, part of the Great Palm Island group of islands which lies off the Queensland coast about 65 km north of Townsville, is the latest addition to the Queensland Heritage Register.
Fantome Island was the site of a lock hospital for Aboriginal, Torres Strait Island and South Sea Island people suffering from sexually-transmitted infections from 1928-1945, and was also the site of a lazaret for Aboriginal, Torres Strait Island and South Sea Island people with Hansen’s disease from 1939 to 1973.
Queensland Heritage Council Chair, Professor Peter Coaldrake, said Fantome Island had a long history as a site of segregation and was an example of the working of the Aboriginal Protection Acts.
“The extensive archaeological remains on Fantome Island could provide us with a greater understanding about this regrettable part of Queensland’s history,” Professor Coaldrake said.
“The remains of the hospital—Queensland’s only island-based lock hospital—are an invaluable resource as little has been documented about its layout and operation, or about the lives of the people who lived there.”
The application for heritage listing was made by the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council, after consultation with its local community.
“This is the first time in the history of the Queensland Heritage Act 1992 in which an Aboriginal council has made such an application,” Professor Coaldrake said.
“It is only with the consent of the trustee of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander land that a place can be considered for entry in the Queensland Heritage Register.”
Palm Island Aboriginal Council Mayor Alf Lacey said he and his fellow councillors were proud to have initiated the listing.
“For many years, former patients of Fantome Island—many of whom have since died—have been asking for the place to be protected because of its significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people—not only in Palm Island but throughout the state,” Mayor Lacey said.
“We are pleased Fantome Island is now heritage-listed so everyone can know and understand its history and appreciate the pain it caused.
“This silent piece of the history of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Island and South Pacific Island people is now being told.”
Professor Coaldrake said Fantome Island provides evidence of the significant work undertaken by religious orders with Aboriginal, Torres Strait Island and South Pacific Island people in Queensland, including the Order of Our Lady Help of Christians, and the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary who undertook nursing duties at different times in the hospital and lazaret.
“Fantome Island continues to have a strong association with former patients and staff, and their descendants,” he said.
“This is a place which had a profound effect on all those associated with it, and their families.
“Most people on Palm Island have at least one family member buried on Fantome Island.”
Professor Coaldrake said Fantome Island was significant for its aesthetic qualities.
“The visual contrast between the remnants of the lock hospital and lazaret and their picturesque but isolated tropical island setting elicits a strong aesthetic response from visitors,” he said.
“This contrast, considered alongside the history and associations these remnants represent, makes Fantome Island a powerfully evocative place.”
A Fantome Islander, Joe Eggmolesse, was the subject of a documentary film called Fantome Island, which screened at last year’s Brisbane International Film Festival and recently won the John Oxley Library Award.
The Queensland Heritage Council is the State’s independent advisor on heritage matters and determines what places are entered in the Queensland Heritage Register.
Places that are entered in the Heritage Register are considered of importance to Queensland’s history and are protected under heritage legislation.