Islands is a fascinating exhibition exploring the hidden and at times dark histories of Queensland’s islands, with the aim of reshaping our knowledge of these close but faraway places.
From Peel Island’s leprosarium and St Helena Island’s penal settlement to the story of Eliza Fraser and the development of tourism on Lindeman Island, Islands brings together some of the lesser known stories of the state’s island life.
Originally inhabited by Aboriginal people, Peel Island in Moreton Bay was a place for feasting and ceremonial activity but in 1907 it became a ‘leprosarium’ (leper colony). Designed around the principle of ‘isolation’, the leprosarium was underfunded, with inadequate food and poor medical treatment.
When war broke out across Europe in 1939, Townsville wife and mother of two Phyllis Ebbage was thrown into her own personal turmoil when she became an inmate of Peel Island. Phyllis was said to have contracted leprosy, despite there being some doubt over the actual diagnosis.
Her family and doctor agreed not to tell her about the diagnosis before she was transferred to Peel Island where she was forced to stay for 13 years. It would be eight years before she was able to see her two small daughters.
Missing his exiled wife desperately, Les Ebbage moved to Brisbane to be closer to her. He bought a sailing boat and made secret weekly visits to Peel. On one visit, he was spotted and arrested after a short pursuit. Les faced court and was fined £10. The local newspapers sparked an outpouring of public sympathy, creating a mood for change.
The heartbreaking Ebbage story is one of many compelling tales from the Islands exhibition, which includes a selection of curios and rare items from the State Library's colections.
Included in the exhibition are handwritten notes by one of Phyllis Ebbage’s daughters, peculiar posters from the early days of tourism on Lindeman Island and beautifully intricate marine biology paintings (late 1800s) by biologist William Saville-Kent.
Need to know - The Islands exhibition can be experienced on site in South Bank, Brisbane until 27 January 2019. Captivating images and stories are also available online.
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