A site that has been providing health services for the North-West’s Aboriginal communities for 120 years has been included in the State Register of Heritage Places on an interim basis.
Numbala Nunga, a Mowanjum phrase for ‘a place for taking care’, has been connected to Aboriginal health care since a hospital first operated on the site in the 1890s.
In 1884, the Government Residency, the first step of setting up a government presence in the Kimberley region, was established on the site. One of the early Government Residents, Dr Thomas Lovegrove, was also a medical practitioner and began treating European and Aboriginal patients at the site, before a hospital was established on the reserve.
From the 1890s, the place commenced operations as the Derby Hospital. As one of only four ‘lock’ or isolation hospitals built in Western Australia, its chequered history included the relocation, detention and isolation of Aboriginal people being treated for leprosy and other infectious venereal diseases that had been introduced by European settlers.
The 1920s saw the hospital renamed the Derby Native Hospital, reflecting the policy of separating Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal patients. It operated in this way for four decades before being closed and the buildings demolished.
The site then began a new chapter as Numbala Nunga, the Kimberley’s first and only nursing home, caring for predominantly Aboriginal people until the late 1980s. It closed in 2008 when a new nursing home, also called Numbala Nunga, was built in the south-west corner of the site.
Although none of the original structures remain, it is important that the significant history and story of Numbala Nunga is captured by its inclusion in the State Register.
As stated by Heritage Minister David Templeman:
“Numbala Nunga is an unusual registration because no structures or elements remain from its early life as the Government Residency and hospital. Instead, we are acknowledging the significance of the story that this site tells about Aboriginal health care in the Kimberley during the past 120 years.
“There is no other place in WA that provided health care to Aboriginal people so continuously, and in so many different ways, than Numbala Nunga.
“The significant history of Numbala Nunga will be recognised by its inclusion in the State Register despite none of the current contemporary buildings on the site being considered as culturally significant.”
As stated by Kimberley MLA Josie Farrer:
“Numbala Nunga has a very special place in the hearts of Kimberley people.
“I am pleased to hear that it has been listed on the heritage register so that it will be recognised and celebrated for years to come.”