Island Retreats for Inebriates | Heritage Centre & Archives

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Island Retreats for Inebriates

Staff children enjoy a donkey and cart ride on Rotoroa Island, an island retreat for alcoholics and drug addicts
Posted January 8, 2009

In 1906, the New Zealand Parliament passed the Habitual Drunkards Act. This act permitted magistrates to declare someone a habitual drunkard (any person convicted of inebriety three times in nine months) and commit them to an institution they deemed suitable to receive them. But at that time, there were no suitable institutions. The Government approached The Salvation Army and invited them to provide one. They opened a home on Pakatoa Island, in the Hauraki Gulf.

The first inmate was admitted to Pakatoa Island on Christmas Eve 1907, and by March 1908 there were 24 men. This number grew to around 50. It became apparent that Pakatoa Island was an insufficient size to keep up with demand.

In 1910, The Salvation Army negotiated with the owner of a neighbouring island, Rotoroa, and purchased it that year. The larger island would be used for men and Pakatoa for women. The men were transferred in February 1911 and Pakatoa received its first female inmates.

With no scientific study, The Salvation Army helped numerous men and women with fresh air, healthy employment, careful diet and moral and religious influence. The idea was to remove inebriates from their previous environment so they could experience sobriety and learn to live without alcohol or drugs.

Staff and inmates took part in making life as comfortable and meaningful as possible, but many were there by order of the courts and struggled with being confined to and working for the good of the island. The terms were anywhere from six months to two years.

With the growing recognition that alcoholism was a disease rather than a crime, it was realised that inmates were not receiving the appropriate treatment—they merely went back to the pubs on their release. Accordingly, the funding shifted from the Justice Dept to the Health Dept.

Over 70 per cent of the Women who passed though Pakatoa Island never returned. Many found sobriety through the cleansing blood of Christ. Pakatoa Island continued until 1942, and then in 1943 operated as an Aged Men’s Retreat until it was sold in 1949.

Rotoroa Island continued through many changes. In 1982, it was amalgamated into the Auckland Bridge Programme and was opened to private clients. Within 12 months 40 per cent of the inmates were private. Women were included in the programme in 1989.

In 2000, with a de-institutionalisation policy, rapidly rising costs and acknowledgement of the Island’s inability to provide the necessary well-rounded treatment meant fewer clients were presenting. In 2004, after two new facilities opened in Manukau, South Auckland and Waitakere, West Auckland, a decision was made to relocate the treatment programme to the mainland. In December 2005, Rotoroa Island ceased its Alcohol and Drug Programme.

In 2008, negotiation saw the island leased on a ninety-nine year term. A trust was formed with The Salvation Army as the sole beneficiary, and the Trust document ensures the island can only be used for purposes in line with the ethos and principles of The Salvation Army.