The Big Sick was a term commonly used by Kimberley Aboriginal people to describe Hansen’s disease (leprosy) that swept through the Kimberley 1936 – 1986, prompting the establishment of a remote treatment facility called Bungarun Leprosarium. Bungarun is a national heritage site located at the end of a dirt road surrounded by savannah, boab trees, termite mounds and an expansive marshland that stretches to the edge of the infamous King Sound.
Bungarun is haunted by stories of love, friendship, illness and the resilience of individuals and families suffering from the debilitating disease. The site now abandoned and in an increasing decrepit state, marks a unique period of medical and community history especially for Kimberley Aboriginal people removed from Country for treatment. Bungarun is a peaceful place during daylight hours, haunted by nightfall. The Bungarun story is visually rich, an unusual mix of cultures, religions and language groups cohabitated in an unforgiving landscape. Myths still circulate about police trackers who hunted runaway patients, sand dune burials and the nuns in their refined cotton habits. The treatment for leprosy was painful and archaic, the burning of lesions and injections of hot oil under the skin were eventually surpassed in the mid-1980’s, marking the end of patient care in isolation and the eventual closure of Bungurun as a hospital.
This project is still a work in progress, time spent as an artist in residency at Fremantle Art Centre supported the exploration of the Bungarun through three dimensional drawing, read the interview here.