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Queensland's Black Leper Colony

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 February 2016

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[T]here is an uneasy feeling in the north that the Spotted Terror is slowly spreading. Its tentacles may have gripped even deeper than dreamed of … whites may have become infected. An odd one might even be a victim now and not know it. Even if our generation escapes. will the scourge die when the blacks die?

Courier-Mail, 22 February 1934

An increase in the incidence of leprosy among North Queensland Aboriginal people in the late 1930s gave rise to fears that the disease might spread and threaten the white population. This concern resulted in an uninhabited offshore island being selected as a leper colony that was exclusively for blacks: it became a place to which Indigenous people suffering from leprosy were forcibly transported, isolated and treated. Queensland's right to take such action was enshrined in law by the Leprosy Act of 1892 and subsequently by the Public Health Act of 1937 which, while repealing the Leprosy Act, retained the main elements of the earlier legislation.

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