Although not the type of facility to visit through choice, the abandoned leprosarium at Bungarun near Derby in WA featured on the itinerary of my recent photographic study tour to the Kimberley.
Located 10 km to the east of Derby and north of the Gibb River Road, the visit to this site was a brief diversion on the Windjana Gorge to Derby leg of our journey. It was however a visit that immediately captured my attention, not only because it was totally aligned with the theme of my study tour, but also because of the stories that were evidently hidden behind the deserted buildings.
On entering the site, it was hard to ignore the feeling of misery, hardship and isolation that emanated from every corner and every building, in fact one of the members of our group found it too overpowering and left after only a few minutes.
So, it was with a great deal of respect for the place and its former inhabitants that I proceeded to photograph some of the buildings. I could have spent a whole day at the site, but sadly, time was not on my side. It is at the top of my list of places to return to!
A brief history
Leprosy, also called Hansen’s Disease, was not evident in Australia until the arrival of European settlers, but it became most evident in aboriginal communities as the disease spread prior to the early 1900’s. It was not until 1908 that the first case was reported in the Kimbereley and by 1930 it was acknowledged that the disease was reaching epidemic proportions, aided by the forced movement of patients initially to the NT leprosarium on Channel Island and latterly to Derby hospital.
The epidemic became the subject of a Royal Commission in 1934, the outcome of which was the construction of the leprosarium at Bungarun. With federal and state funding the facility was completed in December 1936 and immediately occupied by 65 patients. During its 50 year lifespan, the facility was operated by a combination of nursing staff provided by the Sisters of St John of God and facility management by husband and wife teams. In response to the developments in treating and eventually curing the disease, the facility closed in 1968 and has been left abandoned since. Most recently there have been attempts to revitalise the site for other purposes, but so far, these have come to nothing.
In the meantime, nature continues to reclaim its territory, resulting in the inevitable deterioration of the buildings, infrastructure and site. That said members of the local community make every effort to keep the graveyard in good order.
It is clear that deterioration is resulting from the growth of vegetation, the wind and the rain. Most of the windows have been broken, ceilings have given way and wildlife has taken up residence in the strangest of places. In many cases, it is clear that there was no attempt to remove loose items and generally tidy up before vacating the site. Typical of this is the workshop where tins of chemicals have been left, some pouring their contents into the ground, and equipment have simply been abandoned.
Visit the gallery to view a selection of images, including these: