North Stradbroke Island Museum launches book about Dunwich Benevolent Asylum

BOOK LAUNCH: The Benevolent Asylum on North Stradbroke Island in 1906. Photo: North Stradbroke Island Museum
BOOK LAUNCH: The Benevolent Asylum on North Stradbroke Island in 1906. Photo: North Stradbroke Island Museum

THE North Stradbroke Island Museum will this week launch a book about the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum, a public institution for the "poor and destitute" from across Queensland which operated for more than 80 years.

Paltry Paradise: a History of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum by author Howard Guille will be launched on Friday, December 13 from 5pm.

The book provides a political, social and economic account of the institution, which operated from 1865 to 1946 and reportedly admitted 21,000 inmates during this time.

"The phrase 'off to Dunwich' conveyed approaching senility, if not death," a museum spokesperson said.

"There were many remarkable people as inmates - from a Deputy Premier to a Pacific Islander rescued in the middle of the Pacific Ocean ... For a while, there were people paying as private inmates for rehabilitation from drink."

Mr Guille said the title Paltry Paradise was intentionally ambivalent.

"For some politicians and journalists, it was an arcadia, a Moreton Bay Shangri-La.

"On the other side, there were dull routines, poor food, putrid fish and forced to be outside every day whether in burning sun or freezing winds. For some returned World War I soldiers it was a place where they were locked up as alcoholics without treatment for the shell shock that afflicted them."

Quandamooka people formed a large part of the asylum's workforce. Supported by trade unions, they used industrial actions to achieve award wages and equal pay.

"The Dunwich Benevolent Asylum was a product of the social and political ethos of the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century," the spokesperson said.

Copies of the book is available at the North Stradbroke Island Museum on Minjerribah.

RSVP to info@stradbrokemuseum.com.au. Entry includes drinks and nibbles and is via a $5 donation.