WATCH FROM HOME: Fantome Island

Sean Gilligan, Adrian Strong
color, 82 min, 2011

Available on DSL and DVD:

In 1945 seven-year-old Joe Eggmolesse was diagnosed with Leprosy. He was taken from his family under police escort and transported by rail and sea over a thousand kilometres to Fantome Island where he was to be incarcerated for the next ten years.

The isolated tropical island off the North Queensland coast became home to a close-knit community of indigenous “lepers” whose marginalized existence was hidden from white society and has until now remained absent from the mainstream historical record. Cared for by nuns from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary their isolation was the consequence of apartheid-like policies developed by the Queensland government and medical establishment which espoused a eugenicist philosophy and regarded racial segregation as standard practice.

As one of the few surviving former patients Joe returns to the island for a long awaited event, the Fantome Island Remembrance Day. As a 73 year old Elder he confronts the memory of his childhood on the island to pay tribute to those who lived and died there and to inscribe his own unique story into official Australian history. Drawing on an evocative archive, this film exposes how an ideology of racism and eugenics worked to justify horrific treatment of Australia’s Indigenous communities. In uncovering this shameful history, Fantome Island is a testimony of strength and endurance, demonstrating one man’s incredible capacity for forgiveness and love.

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