Peat Island, in the Hawkesbury River near Brooklyn and Mooney Mooney, is an island situated to the north of Sydney. It officially became known as Peat Island in 1934, and was previously called Rabbit Island. The island was selected by the New South Wales government as the site for an asylum for inebriates in the late 1890s. The first male patients aged between 16 and 52 were transferred to the Rabbit Island Hospital for the Insane in March 1911. After that, the facility on the island was known as the Rabbit Island Mental Hospital (1917?-1936), Peat and Milson Islands Mental Hospital (1936 - 1973), Peat Island Hospital (1973-1989), and, Peat Island Centre (1989 - 2010).
Dr Milson Creed, a doctor specialising in the treatment of alcoholism, selected Rabbit Island on behalf of the New South Wales Government in 1901, as a place that could be used to securely detain patients without needing bars or walls. Construction of the first of two intended asylums for women on Rabbit Island began in 1902.
Over 3,000 people lived in the hospital during its century of operation. The first patients, male and aged between 16 and 52, were transferred to the Rabbit Island Hospital for the Insane on 24 March 1911. By 1920 the facilities on Rabbit Island were vastly overcrowded. At its peak in the 1950s there were 610 men and boys living in the facility on Peat Island. Women began living on Peat Island on respite in 1976, and permanently from 1978 onwards.
A 1983 NSW Government report, the Richmond Report, recommended that community care take the place of institutional care, and called for the closure of the facility on Peat Island. A community campaign to save Peat Island Hospital for its residents was organised, led by the families of residents, who emphasised that by this time it was more of a large group home than an institution. In the 1987 State Election, Opposition Leader Peter Collins made a promise to keep it open, but as he did not win the election, this did not happen. The residential facility on Peat Island known as Peat Island Centre was closed in 2010.
Sources used to compile this entry: '5 March 2010: Island life', in Scratching Sydney's Surface, Rob D and Laila E, 2009-, http://scratchingsydneyssurface.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/5-march-2010/; 'Spotlight on Peat Island life', Express Advocate, 7 March 2010; Bluett, Roz, Peat Island - a place of asylum, ABC Radio National Hindsight, 27 April 2014, http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/hindsight/peat-island/5304044; Campion, Vikki, 'Peat Island in the Hawkesbury to be rezoned for tourism', The Daily Telegraph, 16 May 2012, http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/peat-island-in-the-hawkesbury-to-be-reinvented-as-a-residential-community/story-e6freuy9-1226056289621; Earl, Dave, Caring for the Children. Forever: Parent-run organisations for children with disabilities in New South Wales, 1950-1968, The University of Sydney, 2007, https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxJ40rvOKOpBYjJlZTBkNGMtZmEzMy00Mzc5LWI5YjEtMzA0ZWUxM2U5ZjI0/edit?pli=1&hl=en_GB#; Ellmoos, Laila, Our Island home : a history of Peat Island, Department of Ageing, Disability & Home Care, Sydney, 2010; 'Peat Island Centre', in State Records Authority of New South Wales website, State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority of NSW 2016, https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/agency/6426; Richmond, David T; NSW Department of Health Division of Planning and Research, Inquiry into health services for the psychiatrically ill and developmentally disabled, Department of Health NSW, Division of Planning and Research, 1983; 'Hawkesbury Central Residence and Farm', Sydney Herald, 30 October 1841; 'Waratah - Peat and Milson Islands Magazine', 29 October 1953; 'The Inebriate Homes - Procedure Under the Law - Method of Treatment', Sydney Morning Herald, 13 January 1906; Waratah - Peat and Milson Islands Magazine, 29 October 1953; Richmond Report recommendations; Naomi Parry and Liam Hogan, 'Peat Island (c. 1904 - 2010)', published 1 July 2014 on the Find & Connect web resource (this version of the web page is no longer available online, however a PDF version is held in the Find & Connect Project project (FACP) files at the University of Melbourne eScholarship Research Centre).
Prepared by: Liam Hogan and Naomi Parry
Created: 19 December 2012, Last modified: 15 October 2018