Item 1909/0009

State Records Archive
Consignment: 652
Item: 1909/0009
Title: Bernier Island – water supply
Keywords: Bernier Island, Frederick Lovegrove, Lock hospitals, health

[The technical details of reconstructing the wells that are recorded in the original report have not been included here. If further information is required contact Katitjin for a copy of the relevant file]

Dr Lovegrove, of Bernier Island, has reported to me that in his opinion the water supply on the island is insufficient to carry any more Native patients, without running a great amount of risk and advises that no more patients should be sent there until the water supply is assurred. I have been, since this report, in communication with the Public Works Dept and have been informed that there is no Officer of that Department stationed at Carnarvon who could give a report.
Will you please advise me if you know of any capable man that could be sent over to report on this question, with some idea as to what it would cost for doing so. From my own observations while at the island I do not think there is much fear for anxiety but to be absolutely on the safe side I should like my opinion confirmed.
Chief Protector of Aborigines

To the Chief Protector of Aborigines
In reply to your letter of the 7th instant, re ? of water supply at Bernier Island, all that is required to provide a good supply would be to enlarge the present well or dig another well a short distance from the present one, the one mill could work both wells. All the coastal wells will give out if drawn heavily. You will find if either of these suggestions are acceptable there will be plenty of water for all purposes…
I have the honor to be, Sir, you obedient servant,
[Signature illegible]
Resident Magistrate

Report on the Bernier Island Water Supply by Mr Brodribbs
I inspected all the wells, and found them on the whole in good condition…
At the present time they are drawing very little on the rainwater tanks, the water for hospital purposes being carted daily from the well. This is a somewhat laborious undertaking, as the tank in the cart has to be filled by bucket, as the present tank on the well is level with the ground. It should be put on a stand, so that the cart may come under and fill up. The well could then be closed in. At the present time the natives are drawing their water out of the well by the bucket, the consequence being that the water splashes down and further helps to break away the ground below the timbered portion…

Extract from Dr Lovegrove’s letter of 8/9/09
I have engaged a man named Batty at 10/- per day to act as orderly while Shirrefs attends to the dressings. All available spare time of both men will be utilised in timbering the well and making other permanent improvements as opportunity offers.

Katitjin Notes:

Dr Frederick Alexander Lovegrove was the nephew of Dr Thomas Lovegrove, the Principal Medical Officer of WA. He was the medical supervisor of the Lock hospitals on Bernier & Dorre Islands from 1908 – 1910, after which he went to Tambellup, where he was the general practitioner for many years.

Bernier Island
From 1908 to 1918, the remote islands of Bernier and Dorre, off the coast of Shark Bay, were used to isolate and treat Aboriginal people from all over the North-West, who supposedly had venereal diseases.
Quote from Daisy Bates, The Passing of the Aborigines, Chapt 9:

Dorre and Bernier Islands: there is not, in all my sad sojourn among the last sad people of the primitive Australian race, a memory one-half so tragic or so harrowing, or a name that conjures up such a deplorable picture of misery and horror unalleviated, as these two grim and barren islands of the West Australian coast that for a period, mercifully brief, were the tombs of the living dead.

For more information about the Lock Hospitals on Dorre & Bernier Island, see Jade Stingemore’s PhD thesis entitled Surviving the ‘cure’: life on Bernier and Dorre Islands under the Lock Hospital regime. It is available for open access download at the University of Western Australia Research Repository.

Jebb, Mary Anne. The Lock Hospitals experiment: Europeans, Aborigines and venereal disease. Studies in Western Australian History, No. 8, Dec 1984: 68-87.

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