Remembering the Fantome Island Leprasorium

Sensitivity Message:- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material may be culturally sensitive for some individuals and communities

The recently released documentary film – Fantome Island – presents accounts of life for Indigenous leper patients on a North Queensland island.

Map of Fantome Island to Dunk Island - surveyed by Lieut. G. E. Richards, corrected to October 1933. Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 20451

The physical and social isolation of the island influenced daily life in this unique community of patients, medical and nursing staff. This is documented in batch files of correspondence at Queensland State Archives.

The inhabitants of the Fantome Island leprasorium relied on a motor launch to transport essentials such as food and medical supplies from the mainland or Palm Island.

The Home Secretary, the Hon James Christian Peterson and party with residents of Fantome Island, June 1931. Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 5803

The residents were resourceful at cultivating vegetables, harvesting fruit and felling timber for buildings.

House built mainly out of scrap iron and timber by patient for himself and wife, 12 September 1949. Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 20452

The administrators and nursing staff of the leprasorium worked to make patients comfortable. An Anglican Church was built for their spiritual wellbeing and a 16mm projector was purchased to screen popular movies.

By the late 1950s, leprosy was renamed Hansen’s Disease.

Patients were discharged from the island when cured.

The leprasorium closed in 1974 after operating for 47 years.

Rosemary Mammino, A/Manager Public Access – Queensland State Archives