Home' The Australian Senior Traveller : November 2009 Contents 4 THE SENIOR TRAVELLER November, 2009
ARCHIBALD Howie was in his early 20s
when he was placed in quarantine. As
he recalled: "It was a lovely place to spend
a holiday, provided that you didn't mind the
fact that you were stuck here."
It was 600 acres of sheer isolation but
Archibald was lucky -- he was travelling
Just as first class passengers enjoyed the
privileged life onboard ship, they also
enjoyed it at the Quarantine Station.
For these healthy and comparatively
well-off passengers there were plenty of
social and recreational options including
tennis and quoits, swimming, fishing,
dancing. It was more-or-less a free holiday.
Their meals were served in the dining
room on Wedgewood platters and there was
no washing up or laundry to be done at the
end of the day.
Life for second and third class passen-
gers wasn't so comfortable, and in those
unenlightened times there was even an
The creation of a separate area for
Asian passengers and crew was an expres-
sion of the White Australia policy. They
were forced to share dormitories in sub-
standard buildings containing up to 60
bunk beds and rudimentary dining and
Stay at what is now known as Q Station
and you hear many of these stories.
Tours at Q Station have been designed to
help visitors really understand what those
in quarantine went through.
How, having endured the long cramped
voyage by ship from Europe they found
themselves detained in an alien land. How
they were segregated according to the class
on their ticket and how they had to go
through the humiliation of being cleaned,
disinfected and washed within 36 hours of
We are shown the disinfecting showers
for incoming passengers. Again they were
segregated according to passenger class
(first class passengers were afforded more
privacy), but according to our guide there
was no getting away from the fact that they
were just a "glorified sheep dip for human
The water in which passengers bathed
was mixed with phenol to create a carbolic
acid solution. Their belongings were fumi-
gated in autoclaves.
Walk by the water's edge today and on
the rocks you will see the desperately
scrawled inscriptions of people who did
not know whether they would live to see
their loved ones again.
The internees left poems, memorials
and drawings on the natural sandstone sur-
The most serious chapter in the story of
the quarantine station was in 1913 when a
smallpox epidemic struck Sydney. More
than 1000 people were quarantined at the
station, either in hospital wards or in hasti-
ly erected tents in the overcrowded hospi-
However as Jennifer Cornwall and
Simon McArthur report in their book
From Quarantine to Q Station, the experi-
ence of quarantine at that time was not
necessarily a bad one.
They describe the situation of Thelma
Rickett and her family who lived in the
working class inner-city suburb of Glebe.
For them the experience of quarantine was
ironically an enjoyable and novel one.
According to the authors, apart from a
daily check-up by the doctor -- searching for
tell-tale spots -- Thelma and her family
were left to make their own entertainment
with trips to the beach during the day and
singalongs around the piano, playing
games and chatting on the verandah at
For her mother "it was the cheapest hol-
iday she'd ever had" with no housework
and plenty of good food -- and probably the
closest thing to a holiday the family had
Fortunately with the advances in med-
ical science and the advent of air travel, the
need for quarantine facilities began to
decline and during World War II the
Quarantine Station was used for military
In the 1950s it was used mostly for disin-
fecting luggage brought in by post-war
Between 1950 and 1973 only 12 ships
From the 1830s to 1984 ships arriving in Sydney suspected of carrying passengers with contagious disease
stopped inside North Head and offloaded passengers and crew into quarantine to protect local residents from
becoming sick. In some instances, Sydney residents suspected of carrying a contagious disease were removed
from their homes and quarantined with the immigrants.
Now the Quarantine Station that thousands of immigrants called home for around 40 days is welcoming
guests rather than internees. Holidaymakers are now waking up to the fact that there is nothing comparable to
Q Station in the rest of Australia. SUE PRESTON reports.
TOP SPOT -- An aerial view of Q Station today. Guests walk up the hill to the
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