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Fantome Island

Illustrated with artwork by Jack Bell and with historic photos from the author’s private collection
Black Ink Press, 2010
RRP $15

Reviewed by Robin G Krause who worships at the Chapel Hill congregation.

THIS small paperback draws attention to a little-known part of Queensland’s history.

Fantome Island is one of the several islands in the Palm Island Group, off the coast of Queensland, 65kms north-west of Townsville.

Best known of the group are Orpheus – which has a tourist resort – and the biggest one, Palm Island itself, the correct name for which is Great Palm Island.

This now has a community of about 3500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Fantome Island, named after a British naval vessel, has the aboriginal name of Eumille.

Though this slim volume takes less than 10 minutes to read, one needs longer to go back over the numerous photos and sketches.

It is a valuable addition to other resource material about Fantome, which was used as a leprosarium from 1940 when any Indigenous lepers were moved north from Peel Island in Moreton Bay.

It was closed in 1973.

I myself, as a child of a staff member at Palm Island Settlement, can remember from the 1930s that some of the Aboriginal people in the Palm Island community had bandaged limbs and I was told they had leprosy.

They went to the hospital daily for treatment and transferred to the new facility on Fantome when it opened.

After 1940 I knew of the Fantome Island lazaret but did not visit there.

Both Kathy Gibson and Jack Bell were children when moved, with their families, to Palm Island – the former in the 1940s and the latter in 1950.

The book has a few minor discrepancies but, as the author herself refers to her limited education, those by no means diminish the worth of this eye-witness report.

The first-hand contact through duties as a nurse, the strong and vivid memories, and the personal album of photos of times past have here been shared quite simply, and I for one appreciate it.