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Step out for historical truth telling and healing – #CroakeyGO Carnarvon

This Friday, we invite you to join us on a public walk in the Western Australian coastal town of Carnarvon, on Yinggarda country, that will profile the importance of historical truth telling for healing.

The walk will follow the planned Lock Hospital Memorial trail, which will be officially opened next year to acknowledge the traumatic history of the lock hospitals of Bernier and Dorre Islands.

Several hundred Aboriginal people from across Western Australia were incarcerated on the islands between 1908-1919, for the non-specific diagnosis of “venereal diseases”. Many never returned home.

The trail will be officially opened on 9 January 2019, which will mark 100 years to the day since the last remaining prisoner patients were brought back to the Carnarvon from the islands.

Some were then held in Carnarvon before being sent north to a lock hospital that opened at Port Hedland later that year, 1919 – a reminder that these island lock hospitals were part of a much wider history of medical incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Research has identified a strong wish by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Carnarvon and other places for these histories of medical incarceration to be more widely understood and acknowledged.

Kathleen Musulin, a Malgana/Yawuru woman whose great grandmother was taken to the island lock hospitals, said being part of the memorial working group since it began in 2015 had been a profound experience, because of the way that Aboriginal and non Aboriginal people with diverse expertise and backgrounds had come together with a shared passion for increasing understanding of this history.

Bob Dorey, an Yinggarda/Malgana man and a member of the working group, called on politicians to engage with the group’s work in bringing wider awareness to this history and by supporting the memorial project. “We need as much help as we can get from them,” he said.

Naomi McMahon, a working group member who helped research a 1992 book that includes old people’s recollections of this history, Yammatji : Aboriginal memories of the Gascoyne, said: “I’m looking forward to the walk because it’s a wonderful opportunity for the working group and the community as a whole to come together around this history. Walking by the water is part of healing from this very traumatic history.”

The Carnarvon Library and Art Gallery currently has a public display to increase understanding about the lock hospital history. It includes a detailed timeline developed by working group members Dr Robin Barrington and Dr Melissa Sweet, in association with the library and designer Vanessa Deetlefs. Download the Lock Hospital Timeline.

Coordinator of Library Services, Cheryl Weston, said it was heartening to see strong interest in the display from diverse groups, including schoolchildren, visiting tourists and local community members.

Nadine Brown, Community and Club Development Officer from the Shire of Carnarvon, who designed the save the date flier (featured above) for next year’s memorial ceremony, is sending it out widely.

She encourages Croakey readers to share the flier widely with their networks, and is passionate about getting the story out, saying “a lot of people don’t know this history”.

Corey Walsh, IT officer at the Shire of Carnarvon, joined the memorial working group after learning about the lock hospitals only after moving to the town.

He was surprised he’d never heard of them before, as he’d studied history and archaeology. “It’s a great tragedy in itself that nobody knows the history of this story,” he said. “This memorial project is so important for the future of this region.”

Dr Robin Barrington, a Badimia Yamatji woman from the Murchison region, who is researching the lock hospital histories, urged descendants and families affected by this history to contact the working group so they can join the mailing list for more information about the memorial opening. (Contact Nadine Brown by email: brown.nATcarnarvon.wa.gov.au).

On Friday, members of the walking group and other #CroakeyGO participants will broadcast live footage from the walk via Periscope and Facebook live, and will share photos and social media content via Twitter and Facebook. Follow #CroakeyGO.

The walk will take place from 3.30pm-6.30pm (WA time) or 5.30pm-8.30pm AEST.

Meet us online at #CroakeyGO, or at 3.30pm WA time at Town Beach in Carnarvon.

The walk coincides with a series of events this week in Carnarvon, including presentations today to the hospital and health services (see Hospital Flyer), and at the library (see Yarning Circle Flyer).

Working group members (R to L): Naomi McMahon, Nadine Brown, Cheryl Weston, Corey Walsh, Kathleen Musulin, Bob Dorey and Melissa Sweet. Not pictured: Karl Brandenburg, Deb Wilkes, Dr Robin Barrington, Jade Stingemore (Pervan), Stephanie Leca.

Download the flyer below: CroakeyGo_Carnarvon.

Further reading

Acknowledgement: Healing from the history of medical incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (a report back to community)

Acknowledge the brutal history of Indigenous health care – for healing

What do the newspapers really tell us about the lock hospital histories?