This submission was written in response to the NSW Government's proposal to rezone Peat Island and Mooney Mooney. From 1911 to 2010 the NSW State Government operated a disability institution on Peat Island that segregated and incarcerated people with disability. The NSW Government wants to rezone Peat Island for tourism purposes. Peat Island has cultural and social heritage significance for people with disability. It is a place of incarceration, abuse and forced labour. It is also a place of resilience, resistance and survival.

The document considers the potential role of former disability institution sites and draws upon Australian disability policy development and cultural heritage strategy. Throughout the submission, we showcase current Australian and international practices and places that exemplify many of the points we make, thereby demonstrating that they are realistic and realisable.

In the submission we outline why it is important to consider the redevelopment of former disability institutional sites in respectful ways that includes engagement with communities directly affected. One way to do this is through recognising these places as ‘sites of conscience’. The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience is a global network of historic sites that connects past struggles to today’s movements for human rights. Peat Island as a site of conscience is one way the NSW Government could initiate public engagement with the history of the place and connect this to the ongoing struggle for disability rights.

If Peat Island is rezoned for tourism, it will be able to be used for holiday accommodation, corporate functions and weddings. This proposal, including the lack of engagement processes to date, is insensitive to the depth and complexity of the experience of people with disability at Peat Island over 99 years, and is a missed opportunity for public reckoning with its history and celebration of disability rights.

Key points:

  • Disability Institutions, such as Peat Island, have a history of incarceration, abuse, and forced labour.
  • At the same time, people who lived on Peat Island demonstrated resilience and survival, built communities within their circumstances, and formed lasting friendships.
  • For people with disability who lived at Peat Island (often the entirety of their lives) this site was their ‘home’.
  • Sites such as Peat Island are an opportunity for the public to learn about, and reckon with, disability institutionalisation. There is an opportunity for Peat Island to be recognised as one of the global ‘Sites of Conscience’ - to learn about and celebrate the resilience shown by the people who lived there.
  • The site could also be a place for communal remembrance.
  • Reckoning with disability history is timely in light of the importance of disability inclusion and justice in the Disability Royal Commission, the new Australian Disability Strategy, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability.
  • UTS and Council for Intellectual Disability have prepared an Open Letter co-signed by disability academics and disability-service providers. Addressed to Hon Dominic Perrottet, Premier, Hon Melinda Pavey, Minister for Water, Property and Housing and Hon Alister Henskens, Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services it calls for the current proposal to be reconsidered.

Submission structure:

  • Part 1 of the submission focuses on the importance of recognising the disability social history of Peat Island associated with its use as a disability institution. It explains how this history is excluded from the approach to heritage in the European Heritage Impact Statement and Heritage Conservation Management Plan, and the approach to the social groups and sense of place in the Social Impact Assessment.
  • Part 2 explains the importance of any redevelopment of Peat Island providing opportunities for people with intellectual disability and the general public to learn about and engage with Peat Island’s disability social history, and offers ‘Sites of Conscience’ as one set of approaches that can facilitate such opportunities. It then explains how the proposed rezoning and use of Peat Island for tourist purposes does not provide scope for affected communities (i.e., former residents and their families, as well as people with disability across NSW and their representative organisations) to learn about and engage with Peat Island’s disability social history, and it specifically does not provide scope for ‘Sites of Conscience’ approaches.
  • Part 3 discusses the importance to people with disability of the human right to inclusion. After observing Property and Development NSW’s lack of consultation with people with intellectual disability, the submission explains how people with intellectual disability can be meaningfully consulted and included in the ongoing stewardship and heritage management of Peat Island.
Publication Details
Access Rights Type: