Sunday, October 7, 2012

Review: Fantome Island


Fantome Island
Kathy Gibson and Jack Bell
Black Ink Press 2010 48pp $17.00

A simply told yet significant story that all Queenslanders (indeed Australians) should know about their history. Fantome Island is one of the Great Palm Island Group, located sixty kilometres north of Townsville, it was the reserve for people who were removed from mainland Australia in 1918, and was maintained by the QLD Government as a village for lepers. Catholic priests and nuns of the Scared Heart and Franciscan orders worked with patients until the reserve was closed down in the 1970s.

The story – which will probably come as a shock to most – is based on Kathy Gibson’s experiences once arriving at the settlement of Great Palm Island (removed with her family from their traditional Gumbi-gumbi land near Ingham) in the forties, never realising that there were people who were staying on a neighbouring island called Fantome Island.

After school, Gibson became the nurse who was sent to Fantome Island to bring back babies as soon as they were born. The author equates the removal of the children from their mothers on Fantome – due to health regulations and the fear of them getting sick – as a  similar process to how she’d been removed from her homeland to Palm Island as a child.

Photographs from Gibson’s personal albums and drawings by Jack Bell (who was born at Aurukun and was moved to Palm Island with his Wik Mungkan family about 60 years ago), give readers a visual insight into the landscape, lifestyle, celebrations (sporting, Christmas etc) and those who were kept and worked there.

As is the Black Ink style of publication, Fantome Island is accessible for all reading ages and could easily be woven into Australian history curriculum for later primary and early secondary.


Brigid O'Carroll Walsh said...

On the other side of the coin, I can recall in the late 1950s a nun from Fantome Island coming to speak at my convent school - St Mary's in Bowen. I recall being very inspired by her talk - and tucked away becoming a nun at the back of my mind. This did not happen. So I never went to work among the lepers at Fantome. Almost thirty years later, I went to live at Bluewater, half an hour north of Townsville. Bluewater is close to Toolakea Beach from where you can look across Halifax Bay to the Palm Group. As an AWU official I visited Palm on one occasion filling in for the organiser who regularly went there. I think Palm is such a sad place. Perhaps I feel that because I know something of its history long before the most recent tragic events. I can imagine that I would feel even more sadness if I got to visit Fantome. I have recently been dwelling on "exclusion" as part of our national history and identity since white settlement. Will it ever stop? Will we ever become a nation whose dominant story is not exclusion but inclusion.

Dr Anita Heiss said...

Dear Brigid-
Thanks so much for your words here, and your concerns I know are shared by many. The question of a dominant history is problematic for the nation to understand itself now.
Thanks for sharing your own past here also.
Much peace, Anita