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For thousands of years, a diagnosis of leprosy meant a life sentence of social isolation.

People afflicted with the condition now known as Hansen’s disease were typically taken from their families, treated with prejudice, and cruelly exiled into a lifetime of quarantine.

Does this sound familiar? Isn't this happening all over again with the vaccinations? But who will be the lepers? Us or them?

That is the question. 

In America, patients were sent to separate settlements but were deprived of fundamental civil liberties: to work, to move freely and see loved ones, to vote, to raise families of their own. Some who bore children had their babies forcibly removed.

 

One such colony was written about so eloquently by James Mitchener in his fine book " Hawaii. "

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An elevated view of the leprosy colony in Kalaupapa, circa 1920. The National Library of Medicine

Leprosy entered Australia in the 1800's when the gold rushes saw waves of new migrants arrive, hoping to make it rich. By the end of the 19th century, sufferers of leprosy were sent to quarantine centres throughout the continent and removed from mainstream society.

Many were in rather pleasant places, but if you are not allowed to leave, it matters not how many palm trees there are or how nice the weather is. It is still a prison if you are not free to leave.

She never got to say goodbye to her daughters. She thought she would be gone two days.

Without ever receiving a clear diagnosis of leprosy, she was forced to spend 12 years on Peel Island — a leper colony off the south-east Queensland coast.

Leprosy, the feared and then-untreatable disease, arrived in Australia in the 1800s, causing panic among the population and prompting the government to pass the Leprosy Act.

The family gathered at her home and spoke in hushed tones. She was not privy to the conversation about her fate.

“I noticed when I got back home, Mum and Dad were there and nobody was talking to me,” Phyllis recalls.

“They were talking around the sides. They wouldn’t tell me…” she trails off.

“Albert came up to see me... I’m sitting on the verandah stairs. He’s crying and I’m crying.

“I said ‘You know Albert, I think there’s something seriously wrong with me.’

“But they were making arrangements for me to go in a plane from Townsville.

“The day I left, I didn’t say goodbye to the girls.

“I thought I’d be back in a day or two. And I was going to take them to school.

“That night, on a Sunday night, dear granddad Ebbage comes, and there were relations all around the room.

“And the next thing, granddad said: ‘You got it.'

“'No', I said - 'No! No! No!'

“I couldn’t say no more.”

Phyllis was flown to Brisbane and taken on the 11-kilometre boat journey to Peel Island, which sits off the coast of Cleveland. The journey took more than four hours.

“I could see buildings but I didn’t know what they were for,” she says.

“And then they showed me where to go to my hut.

“It was a terrible place.

“It was so primitive. Oh god, there was nothing. And it was only fortnightly visits.''

Many of the men and women transported to Peel Island never saw their families again because the leprosy sufferers were disowned out of shame. Some patients died on the island.

“I didn’t have the right treatment then. I tried a lot of treatments there, nearly killed me,'' she says.

“Penicillin — I had three lots of it and nearly died.

“One night, I was going down to get another lot of it. I nearly collapsed on the way. So I wouldn’t take it no more. I had taken too much.”

The legislation allowed authorities to remove anyone who was suspected of or diagnosed with leprosy, including taking children from school without their parents’ knowledge or permission. 

 Phyllis Ebbage reunited with her daughters Verree and Desley. Photo: State Library of Queensland

Conditions on the island were grim. In the early days of its operation, Peel Island was more like a prison than a medical isolation facility for the sick.

Patients were put into bark huts with dirt floors and treated almost like convicts. Some patients were locked up or chained by police before they were taken to the site.

Each compound was surrounded by fences almost 2.5m high to prevent ethnic groups mixing, particularly at night.source

By the 1940s, after a cure was found and it was realised that most of the population had a natural immunity to it, other countries began to abolish compulsory isolation policies.

By the way, Phyllis never had Leprosy. Phyllis’s release was bitter-sweet. The revelation she may have been returning negative results all along while still incarcerated on the island was almost too much for her to bear.

 

When AIDs emerged, society had moved away from treating people as lepers and laws were passed to protect the rights of those who were " afflicted. " The history of the HIV and AIDS epidemic began in illness, fear and death as the world faced a new and unknown virus.  In July 1990 , the USA enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities including people living with HIV.

It seems so long ago that we spoke out against discrimination because of race or sexual preference. A lifetime ago. 

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When people were shunned because they were black or maybe had AIDS. Or had leprosy. Or hepatitis C. Or some other " affliction " that made people feel uneasy or uncomfortable. 
Now, our governments continue to ramp up vaccine fear, in spite of escalating deaths from " side effects " . The pandemic may be " officially"  over, but the world governments are still trying to force those of us who stood firm and they are quietly legislating that we MUST be vaccinated. Whether or not the rumours are true, remains to be seen. 
 
 
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 We are living in a nightmare world at present. Illegal immigrants seem to have greater " privileges " than citizens. And, to think, our boys fought for THIS? 

 
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People like me do not want to be " vaccinated " .... yet, like Phyllis Ebbage, our governments seek to treat us as lepers. As social outcasts. Surely, if you are vaccinated, you don't need to fear us? In fact, you may well become the modern day lepers... if you survive. 
Perhaps one of the big problems is that we become, as  Henry James suggested, incredibly mediocre. 

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There is something terribly wrong in the world today. Under the guise of public health and safety, we are becoming fractured and divided. Former friends are being shunned because they refuse to be vaccinated with an un-trialled, potentially unsafe injection......

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Something is very wrong here. Because governments are telling people to do something, many are lining up to comply.

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However, I have noticed that the queues for the box cars don't seem as long as they were a year ago.....

 
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