Back in time: Garden for the lepers

Even though outcast from society because of a dreadful disease, lepers tried their best to adjust to life on Makogai Island. Picture: www.hippostcard.com

Even though outcast from society because of the dreadful disease, lepers tried their best to adjust to life on Makogai Island — a leprosy colony.

While exiled on the island, lepers made headlines with their creativity and fortitude towards the contagious skin disease.

On December 19, 1956, The Fiji Times published an article titled “Potentate and boot polish inspired Makogai Gardens” that described the resourcefulness of the island inhabitants.

According to the report, the Aga Khan and a tin of Kiwi boot polish indirectly brought about some beautiful terracing, rock gardens and a fountain at the leper settlement on the island.

The patients, who do all the work themselves in the settlement, had built the terracing, gardens and fountain for a visit of the Governor and Lady Garvey to the island.

The work had been done to beautify the area between the island’s wharf and the main hospital buildings and it had improved the appearance of the hillside behind the hospital.

The Aga Khan came into the picture when the patients were looking for a plan on which to base the scheme.

This newspaper reported that the inhabitants had to transform an area of rocks and uneven poor soil during their landscaping work.

Makogai patients were painstaking and thorough when they set out to do a job as their many excellent achievements on the island intensified.

Having had no experience of landscape gardening, the inhabitants did not quite know how to tackle the job.

Then one of them discovered coloured pictures in an old magazine of the Aga Khan’s luxurious gardens.

The article reported that the patients determined that what the Aga Khan’s gardeners could do, they could do equally as well, so they produced a modified beautifying plan, based on the magazine pictures.

They levelled hillocks, brought earth to cover the rocks and level the ground.

Then they planted borders of flowers, shrubs and plants and sowed grass for the lawns.

At nooks and corners they made rock gardens and they cut terraces in the hillsides and made more rock gardens and planted more flowers.

But their hearts were set on a fountain, a proper fountain, as they do not do things in half-measures.

As a tribute to the many New Zealand sisters on Makogai the patients decided on a kiwi — but here again, none of them had ever seen a kiwi.

According to this newspaper the patients based their kiwi on the drawing which appeared on the tins of shoe polish of that name.

They fashioned a perfect replica of a kiwi in cement and it adorned the top of the fountain.

It was about two and a half feet high and from its beak pours a steady stream of clean water.

The patients made all the piping themselves for the water supply for the fountain and gardens.

Sir Hugh and Lady Ragg according to the report had sent patients many of the flowers and plants that included water-lilies for the pond around the fountain.

The Governor and Lady Garvey remarked on the beautiful results of the whole scheme.

It was a magnificent effort — particularly when people consider that most of the patients either have lost most of their fingers or have not got the use of their hands and that their least difficulty was that they had no previous experience of such work.

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