Imagine being in a loving relationship with a doting husband and two lovely little girls aged two and three, when suddenly a doubtful medical diagnosis separates you from all you hold dear. Such was the case of Phyllis Ebbage, who was whisked off to the lazaret at Peel Island. Her husband broke the rules to visit her, but she did not see her children for eight years. She spent thirteen years on Peel, although regular testing returned consistently negative results. This is one of the stories you will experience at the State Library of Queensland's latest exhibition, Islands: Hidden Histories from Queensland's Islands.
I've had the privilege of holidaying, volunteering, and working on many an island off the Queensland coast, but have come nowhere near exploring the 1995 islands within the state. That is the amazing figure I came away with from my preview of "Islands". My love for islands must be in the genes. My grandfather's family was driven out of Turkey onto the Greek island of Leros in the Aegean Sea. As well as returning to my roots, I have explored Queensland's islands from Thursday Island to Bribie. My interest has always been inspired by a love of nature, but there are islands with a host of human interest stories to tell. This is the thrust of the State Library's current exhibition.
Christianity was first introduced to Darnley Island and the Torres Strait region by the London Missionary Society on 1 July 1871. The ship which brought the missionaries onto the island was HMS Surprise, and it certainly was. There is a magnificent display of woodcuts depicting the missionaries' arrival on the island. The Coming of the Light ceremony is observed each year. The islanders welcomed the subsequent cessation of inter-island fighting. The native islanders were generally treated well by the missionaries, but when the State government took an increasing control over their activities, in 1936 the residents went on a nine month general strike, something unheard of for those times.
There have been many iterations of Lindeman Island. Initially home to the Ngaro people, it was not until 1923 that it was a centre for exploration of the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef. The family which farmed sheep on the island soon took advantage of hosting the many scientific parties which visited the island. Initially the natives were employed as cheap labour, a tourist attraction as well as domestic staff. A more sophisticated clientele saw the natives become redundant, and consequently they lost their homeland.
Eliza Fraser's self-reported and somewhat fanciful exploits after being shipwrecked on Fraser Island brought that beautiful island to worldwide attention. It went from being an idyllic home for the Butchulla and Kabi Kabi people to a killing ground by authorities. Various church missions as well as the State Government set up reserves to "protect" a dying race. Although they had good intentions, both the church mission and Aboriginal Protector Arthur Meston's reserve were doomed to failure as the inevitable influences of civilisation came into play.
St Helena has journeyed from 'the Hellhole of the Pacific' to an historic tourist attraction under European administration. Initially, in post penal times, it was for the worst offenders and punishment was harsh. In the early 1900s Patrick Roche was a significant instigator of putting humanity into the prison system through expecting the best of the men in his care. He achieved the rehabilitation of many through rewarding good behaviour and therefore signs of rehabilitation, and the exhibits include letters of thanks from those he set on the right path.
How fortunate are the people of Queensland that our State Library has a large and varied collection of artefacts which can vividly assist in the telling of some little known but extremely interesting stories. Make the most of your visit and take advantage of a curator's tour, Tuesday mornings and evenings.