Fantome Island


In 1945 seven year-old Joe Eggmolesse was diagnosed with leprosy. He was taken from his family under police escort and transported by rail and sea over a thousand kilometres to Fantome Island where he was incarcerated for the next ten years.

The isolated tropical island off the North Queensland coast became home to a close-knit community of Aboriginal ‘lepers’ whose marginalised existence was hidden from white society and has until now remained absent from the mainstream historical record. Cared for by nuns from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, their isolation was the consequence of apartheid-like policies developed by the Queensland government and medical establishment which espoused a eugenicist philosophy and regarded racial segregation as standard practice.

As one of the few surviving former patients, Joe returns to the island for a long awaited event, the Fantome Island Remembrance Day. As a 73 year old Elder, Joe reflects thoughtfully on his Fantome years, shedding light on what it was like to be both Indigenous and a ‘leper’ during a period of racism and paranoia. From the pre-cure years as one of the ‘walking dead’ to the acceptance of a life lived under unique and trying circumstances, Joe shares his story as he questions the context surrounding it. Fusing pathos with ironic humour, Joe’s poignant journey offers a profound and personal insight into a dark side of Australian history.


Release dates
Premiere: Brisbane International Film Festival in 2011
Video/DVD release date
May 2012
Best Australian Documentary Award - 2012 Human Rights Arts and Film Festival Finalist - 2012 ATOM Awards in the History, Social and Political Issues category
PG - Parental guidance
Ronin Films

The Palm Island community invited Sean and his colleague Adrian Strong to produce a film about the little known history of the neighbouring Fantome Island leprosarium. This culminated in 'Fantome Island', Sean's first feature documentary.

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Harvard citation

Korff, J 2018, Fantome Island, <>, retrieved 17 October 2019

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