Collection 2020/2 - John Hargrave : letters from Olive Pink

Letter - 6 October 1956 Letter - 24 January 1957 Letter - 8 August 1957 Letter - 24 December 1957 Letter - 20 April 1958 Letter - 5 July 1958 Letter - 22 July 1958 Letter - 20 September 1958 Letter - 24 October 1958 Letter - 3 February 1959 Letter - 2 September 1959 Card -  22 December 1959 Letter - 8  April 1960 Letter - 29 July 1960 Letter - 24 October 1960 Christmas card- 13 December 1960 Letter - 11 December 1960 Letter - 31 January 1961 Letter - 15 May 1961 Card - 30 April 1962 Letter - 30 September 1962 Card - 1963 Letter - 4 June 1963 Letter - 30 December1963 Letter - 27 January 1964 Letter and card - March 1964 Post card - 17 March 1964 Letter and post cards - August & December 1964 Letter - 5 February 1965 Letter - 27 June 1965 Post card - 25 December 1965 Letter - 23 June 1966 Letter - 2 November 1966 News clipping -  8 December 1966 Letter - 13 December 1966 Letter - 23 January 1967 Letter - 7 April 1967 Card - 21 April 1967 Letters -  June 1967 Post card - 11 December 1967 Letter and card -  11 & 12 January 1968 Card - Christmas 1968 Card - 1 April 1968 Letter - 9 May 1968 Card - 8 August 1968 Card  & Post cards - 19 August 1968 Card - 11 May 1969 Letter - 8 June 1969 Letter - 23 July 1969 Letter - 3 August 1969 Letter - 21 October 1969 Letter - 24 October 1969 Card - 18 February 1970 Letter - 20 April 1970 Letter - 20 April 1970 Letter - 29 July 1970 Letter - 12 September 1970 Card - 15 November 1970 Letter - 19 May 1971 Letter - 28 December 1971 Card - New Year 1972 Letter - circa 1971 Card - 24 March 1974

Identity area

Reference code



John Hargrave : letters from Olive Pink


  • 1956-1974 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

2 folders (63 letters)

Context area

Name of creator

(1884 – 1975)

Biographical history

Olive Muriel Pink (17 March 1884 – 6 July 1975) was an Australian botanical illustrator, anthropologist, gardener, and activist for Aboriginal rights. for more information see Australian Dictionary of Biography

Name of creator


Biographical history

John Charles Hargrave AO, MBE, MD, DSc(Hon), MBBS, FRACS, DTMH (1931-2020), plastic and reconstructive surgeon, was born in Perth and grew up in Western Australia. After attending Medical School at the University of Adelaide, he went to the Northern Territory in 1956. Hargrave was the medical officer with the 1957 Lake McKay expedition which contacted some of the last remaining groups of the nomadic Pintubi people of the Western Desert who had no previous contact with colonists. He noted their robust good health and advised against any relocation or interference.
Posted initially to Alice Springs as a ‘Native Surveys Medical Officer’, this involved examining all the Aboriginal people on various settlements and missions in Central Australia, looking for specific ailments – particularly Tuberculosis, Trachoma, Hookworm, Leprosy Otitis media, Anaemia, and Hypertension – and relating it to the environmental conditions under which the people lived. He realised he knew nothing about Aboriginal Australia and contacted the celebrated anthropologist Olive Pink, who agreed to meet him.
During his early surveys, he noted that leprosy was a significant health issue. It had been brought into the Territory in the 1880s by gold miners and labourers, spreading disproportionately into Aboriginal communities. Leprosy patients, including children as young as four years of age, were forcibly removed from their families and incarcerated, usually for the rest of their lives – first on Mud Island, then on Channel Island in the Darwin harbour. In 1956, the East Arm Leprosarium on the mainland, staffed by Catholic Sisters from the order of Daughters of the Sacred Heart, replaced the island leprosarium. Hargrave became its medical superintendent. He brought a respectful, collaborative approach to the care of Aboriginal patients, who had grown so afraid of Commonwealth institutional powers that they would often hide their symptoms to avoid separation from their families.
All his life he had an easy, respectful, engaging manner with all he interacted with - regardless of race, status, or language. He dedicated himself to learning common phrases of all the languages of all the people he worked with, both in the NT, and later in Indonesia and Timor. He was a compulsive teacher, mentor, collaborator, and encourager. Hargrave identified persons of promise, ability and goodwill and freely shared his knowledge and skills with no regard to hierarchy. He thus developed a cadre of Aboriginal health workers in the NT who could diagnose, treat, perform physiotherapy, operate, suture (including microsurgery), and dress wounds. He started the first formal training programs for Aboriginal health workers. Nurses were empowered to adopt high level skills and functioned as equals on the team. He learnt to fly, to facilitate his movement around the Territory. During a series of sabbaticals and with a WHO scholarship, Hargrave visited leprosy centres throughout South East Asia, studying and learning techniques and management. On his return to Darwin, with no other surgical training and in the face of administrative opposition, he established a reconstructive surgical program at the leprosarium from scratch. By 1982, leprosy was in marked decline in the Territory and the East Arm Leprosarium was closed. While continuing in Leprosy control, he was appointed as the inaugural NT Director of Aboriginal Health, and later started the incipient Communicable Disease Unit. Simultaneously, he was also appointed as a specialist hand surgeon to the Darwin Hospital and provided electro-neuro and myographic services to the NT.

In the late 1980s, he developed a locally supported, sustainable reconstructive surgical program in Timor and Flores. He again identified and mentored local clinicians of ability and promise, sought out and established working relationships, functional health services, collaborated with locally based organisations, and learnt local languages. His trips to and focus on Indonesia and Timor Leste grew in the 1990s and continued after his retirement from the NT Health Service in 1995. Surprising many, John built a beautiful house overlooking the Derwent, and after more than 40 years in the tropics, moved to Tasmania in the late 1990s, by flying down in his twin-engine plane. He continued trips to the north, introducing and mentoring other surgeons and clinicians. Hargrave died in Hobart in 2020, aged 89.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Donated by Gillian Ward

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Collection consists of letters written by Olive Pink to John Hargrave during the years 1956 to 1974. Written from Home Hut, Native Flora Reserve, Alice Springs. John Hargrave addressed variously as Dr Hargrave, Sir, Grandson, Boy, Nungari, John Hargrave, Yabulla/Yabbula/Yabbulla.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


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Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Conditions governing reproduction

This material is made available for personal research and study purposes under the University of Tasmania Standard Copyright Licence. For any further use permission should be obtained from the copyright owners. For assistance please contact

When reusing this material, please cite the reference number and provide the following acknowledgement:
“Courtesy of the UTAS Library Special & Rare Collections”

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

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Finding aids

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Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

These letters have been transcribed into a book 'From Yabbula to Yabbula' - copies held at Libraries Tasmania and the National Library of Australia

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Dates of creation revision deletion

WR 22.11.21




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