The abandoned Port Hedland Lock Hospital, WA, was built to house Aboriginal people suspected — often wrongly — of having venereal diseases 100 years ago. Many people were born on the site and even more died and were buried in unmarked graves onsite.
From 1907 to 1919, over 1000 Aboriginal men and women suspected of having venereal diseases were rounded up from across Western Australia and marched, sometimes in chains, to Carnarvon, where they were transported to lock hospitals on the remote Bernier and Dorre Islands. When the island hospitals were shut down in 1919, The Port Hedland Lock Hospital was built to house the patients.
The buildings remaining on the site comprise of:
- Former hostel converted to offices
- Former dormitories converted to offices
- Former isolation ward
- Former mortuary
- Garden shed;
- Former matron’s quarters
Back in the day, in 1919, the hospital had comprised of Matron’s Quarters; office; laundry, store; powerhouse; garage; 2 tanks; bitumen tennis court, clothes hoist, laundry, two WCs, staff quarters; fowl run; ablution block; isolation hut wards, recreation hut, the main hospital and medical doctor/surgery rooms.
The Background of Lock Hospitals
Lock Hospitals were originally established in the eighteenth century by British
administrators to manage the outbreak of venereal diseases. The term ‘lock’ is
generally understood to derive from the French une loque, for rag, referring to the
use of the term for leper hospitals where patients used bandages to cover their
lesions and sores, although other sources suggest it is derived from the Gallic un
loquat, for latch. In comparison with other hospitals, lock wards or hospitals
compulsorily treated and detained infected patients who were unable to leave the
hospitals without official consent. In London, Glasgow and other British colonial
lock hospitals in China and India, the majority of detained patients were local
prostitutes, while men, locals and British military, were treated as outpatients.
In comparison, in Western Australia, the establishment of lock hospitals
demonstrated the first Western Australian government attempt to systematically
manage Aboriginal health. Medical care for the Aboriginal population in the
North West region of Western Australia had been haphazard and minimal
throughout the nineteenth century. Pastoral settlements expanded across Western Australia, and some Aboriginal groups were coming into contact with the
new settlers for the first time, with a vast array of consequences. Settlement
pressure and a range of new diseases had a catastrophic impact on Aboriginal
population, customs, and behaviour.
By the 1930s, STDs had decreased significantly as a health issue and the Lock
Hospital became a general ‘Native Hospital’ for Aboriginal people, treating a
range of issues.
Timeline of the site after it closed down
In the 1950s the Matron’s Quarters was taken over by the Community Radio Station.
In 1967, the Moorgunya Hostel (government-run) was constructed to house the children of Aboriginal station workers in order that they could attend high school in town.
In 1972 the management of Moorgunya Hostel was transferred from the
Department of Native Welfare to the Department of Community Welfare. The former
Lock Hospital had continued to operate as a general Aboriginal hospital up to this
time, with a nursing home established in the former Isolation Ward building.
In 1973 a new Nursing Home was opened adjacent to Port Hedland’s District
Hospital, located further west on Sutherland Street, and all the remaining patients
treated at the former Native Hospital were transferred to the new nursing home. The entirety of the site was handed over to the Department of Community Welfare.
In 1975 the facility was upgraded with some structures demolished, so by 1977,
only three buildings remained from the Lock Hospital phase of the site’s history.
The former Matron’s Quarters building (now Community Radio Station) was
known as Boab House and was used as emergency accommodation for
Aboriginal families. The former Isolation Ward was in use as a drop-in nursing home and the former Mortuary building was in use as a store-room.