Fantome Island

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Fantome Island
Native name:
Djabugay Eumilli
Palm Islands context map en.png
LocationCoral Sea
ArchipelagoGreat Palm Island group
Total islands10
Major islandsGreat Palm Island
Area7.47 km2 (2.88 sq mi)

Fantome Island is one of the islands in the Great Palm Island group. It is neighboured by Great Palm Island and is 65 km (40 mi) north-east of Townsville, Queensland on the east coast of Australia. The Aboriginal name for this island is Eumilli Island. The island is small with an area of 7.8 km2 (3.01 sq mi) and is surrounded by a fringing reef.[1]

A Lock Hospital for the treatment of Indigenous patients suffering from venereal diseases was established on Fantome Island in 1928. This institution closed in 1945. In 1940 a leprosarium was established on the island; Upon its closure in 1973,[2] it was purged by fire. The island is the site of 200 graves. The island was also a mission under the influence of Franciscan Missionaries of Mary

In 1932 the head of the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine, Dr Raphael Cilento, described his vision for Fantome:[3]

The whole (local)population should be worked through Fantome & then regraded into new cases, incurable aged, incurable young & part cured & thence drafted when clean back into Palm from which they can be sent out into the mainland to be (1) assimilated if white enough; (2) employed under supervision & protection; or (3) kept on Palm as minor officials or peasant proprietors working personal strips around a collective farm. (in Yarwood, 1991: 63)


In Queensland in 1920 there were 31 lepers and they were mostly Aborigines, though their numbers also included Torres Strait Islanders, Kanakas, Europeans and Asians. This figure represents a decline in the number of Aborigines contracting the disease of whom there had been 35 in 1910. The number of infected Aborigines rose to 36 in 1925, so it was obvious that leprosy was not about to disappear. The regions from which the new cases came were all in the north. A number of towns in the north such as Cherbourg, Taroom, Bundaberg, Innisfail and Ingham provided one leper each and two came from Cardwell. Leprosy had therefore become a disease of the north: no further new cases were reported from the southern areas of the State after 1925.

In 1907, a leprosarium to house all Queensland patients suffering from leprosy was established on Peel Island in Moreton Bay near Brisbane. In 1940, the indigenous patients were transferred from Peel Island to Fantome Island, under police escort and in conditions of great secrecy. The numbers of people admitted to Peel Island fluctuated during the mid-1920s and rose to 47 new cases in 1928. Although no new cases were reported in 1929 the reason might have been the secrecy with which this whole issue was managed by the Queensland Health authorities and the inability of the health regime to locate and track down the source of infection. This was not a simple problem and it persisted well into the next decade.

Dr Raphael Cilento endeavoured to describe the problem in one of his reports. He wrote that when Kuranda (Mona Mona) reserve started in 1914, the majority of the Aborigines brought there belonged to the Mareeba tribe, a closely knit group. There were a few others from as far north as the Gulf region and some from Mossman, and a large number had been born in fringe-camps and had grown up close to white settlement knowing no other life. The first case of leprosy reported among Aborigines in the region ‘was an old woman, Nellie, who died in 1916.’ According to native accounts this woman’s toes ‘looked as if they would drop off’, she ‘was covered with sores’, and she was avoided by other natives. Her principal contacts and relatives [were] known and she [had] no known descendants at the settlement. [4]

Heritage listings[edit]

Fatome Island has a number of heritage-listed sites, including:

See also[edit]

Coordinates: 18°41′0″S 146°31′10″E / 18.68333°S 146.51944°E / -18.68333; 146.51944


  1. ^ "Fantome Island". AIMS Research. Australian Institute of Marine Science. Archived from the original on 27 October 2009. Retrieved 3 July 2009.
  2. ^ Matt Robbins, "Island for wayward juveniles", The Australian, published 4 January 2000 p4
  3. ^ Professor Ernst Hunter Keynote Lecture Archived 27 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine. Cairns, November 2000
  4. ^ Indigenous health in Western Australia and Queensland, 1900-1940 Archived 12 February 2006 at the Wayback Machine.. Thesis of Gordon Briscoe. Australian National University.
  5. ^ "Fantome Island Lock Hospital and Lazaret Sites (former) (entry 602798)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 12 July 2013.