The image above, which shows what was once known as Rabbit Island, is an evocative glimpse into the past of an island which has played an important role in the treatment of intellectual and mental disability in NSW. The island is on the beautiful Hawkesbury River, and today is better known as Peat Island.
The history of Peat Island (then known as Rabbit Island) being used as a facility for the intellectually disabled goes back far further than many may realise. In 1904 the first buildings were constructed for the purpose of housing and providing a place of treatment for female inebriates. The facility was expanded in 1910, becoming a Hospital for the Insane on the 22nd of December. The first patients, a group of 20 men, arrived in 1911 and over the next few years many more followed. Many of these patients were moved to the island from other, overcrowded institutions in Sydney and Newcastle. Yet by 1920, Rabbit Island had become one of these overcrowded institutions, and the facility was expanded to include the nearby Milson Island. By 1933 there were 429 patients being treated at the Islands. In 1936, Rabbit Island was renamed, taking the name Peat Island in honour of the local pioneer, George Peat, who had run a ferry service across the Hawkesbury River.
As the years went by, the facilities at what was now Peat Island, and the nearby Milson Island, treated more and more patients. By 1956 nearly 600 patients were spread between the two islands and by 1973 overcrowding had become a real problem again. Milson Island, which was also found to have dilapidated buildings, was closed at this time, while Peat Island was modernised and additional beds were provided. The Peat Island facility continued to operate until 2010, though in the 2000s there was substantial progress in deinstitutionalisation and integration of the intellectually disabled into the community. The remaining patients from Peat Island were moved to aged care facilities or community group homes (depending on their age) by the end of 2010.
What the future use of the island is to be remains unknown.