Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sea, Sunshine and Spectres

As a slight departure to my Sunday habit . .Clare and I headed out towards the coast again on Saturday. The weather was glorious. She couldn't wait to feel the sand beneath her feet so we enjoyed fish and chips on Manly Beach and walked along the cliff edge to Cabbage Tree Bay and Shelley beach before heading to North Head where the old Quarantine Station is now a tourist resort and historical site.

Into Spring Bay's shining waters ran a contaminated tank stream. Above it's crystal depths flew a yellow flag indicating that disease was afoot and none should wonder hither . . . This is now known as Quarantine Bay. A picturesque little cove on Sydney Harbour's West Head, just north of Manly beach where from 1873 - 1984 it was a Quarantine Station in full working order.

The North Head site was chosen as a safe anchorage, reasonably isolated, and there was the presence of natural springs to ensure a water supply. Unfortunately, they placed the graveyard within metres of the fresh water supply within the first five years, and soon learned that was not a great idea.

Migrant ships arriving in Sydney with suspected contagious disease stopped inside North Head and off-loaded passengers and crew into quarantine. Their clothes were fumigated in giant autoclaves, they were showered in carbolic acid which still leaves a lingering odour and then accommodated according to their 'ticket class'.

Those showing symptoms of bubonic plague, smallpox, Typhoid or Spanish Influenza were led to the infirmaries where sunshine and wide verandahs provided nature's cure. Some were fumigated or given 'vapours' in locked and darkened rooms whilst others, less lucky found their way into the morgue.

After an average time of 40 days, most passengers were released to settle as Australian residents. Their experiences of quarantine varied. Some passengers experienced a first class resort, making new friends and sharing dreams of a bright new future. For others it was a far more frightening experience of disempowerment, disease and death.

First class had nice cottage accommodation, second comfortable although overlooking what was to become a graveyard and third still pretty tolerable but fourth class steerage? Pretty much left to themselves with little more than a few dorms and a rice cooker although they received the same medical attention as everyone else.

But it wasn't all bad news . . many families enjoyed their 'incubation' time and were released. Out of almost 530,000 passengers over the years, only 576 died on the site . . but it is said . . many remain on this most haunted place. Although I was a bit disappointed. Not so much as an orb or a cold breath.

Now owned by private enterprise but oversighted by the NSW Parks and Wildlife, it is an historical site with the A Class huts having been converted into hotel suites. The Third Class Dining room a wedding venue and the "Boiler Room" quite a posh restaurant. Frankly, despite the 25 degree, sunny and gorgeous day . . it was still a little eerie.

So, not being able to convince Clare to join me in one of their Ghost Tours (they run adult and children's tours and three people I know say they've seen ghosts there) we did the "Historical Tour". Interestingly, our National Parks guide, knocked on every door she unlocked . . just in case and refused to take us into one building unless we really, really wanted to see it . .we didn't.

Quarantine bay where ships would offload their passengers who's treatment and facilities varied according to their tickets. Also the site of two hospital hulks over the years where men were treated at times of overcrowding. There were as many as 8 ships at a time being cleansed while their inhabitants sought treatment or refuge on land. The flagpole in the distance would fly a yellow flag if the site was being used and infectious disease prevalent.

After disembarking, being identified and their luggage removed. Patrons were showered with a carbolic acid shower. Each cubicle has three compartments. This is the 'dirty' aisle. Either side of these compartments was the 'clean' aisle. One disrobed in the first, showered in the second, dressed in cleaned and fumigated clothes and left on the clean side.

Luggage and personal belongings were steamed in one of two enormous autoclaves. Again, this is the dirty side where luggage was loaded via rail tracks directly from the ships. Even workers there were required to take carbolic showers at the end of their shifts.

Those diagnosed with infectious disease or showing symptoms were transferred to one of four infirmary buildings where the view, fresh air and sunshine were considered a necessary part of their recovery.

Less crowded than 'in the day' this 1940's hospital ward stands pretty much as it did.

The less fortunate found themselves in the Morgue attached to a pathology department. Quick diagnosies of the cause of death was necessary to avoid more ending up on the concrete autopsy table.

The 'Asiatic' quarters were less salubrious. They had no proper kitchen and bunk bed dorm accommodation and little more than a fire and rice pot to prepare their meals.

Our guide knocked upon each building door before opening it. We didn't say too much until she'd done it about three times. Not too fussed about the more ethereal inhabitants, she was warning them of our entry. This house is the Gravedigger's family's house. She wouldn't take us there unless we expressly wanted to see it - Clare didn't! And frankly, neither did our guide.

The third class kitchen is still equpped with a magnificent old wood fired oven and the dining room now used for conferences and wedding receptions.

Scratched on a frosted window pane in the Third Class dining room, Sgt. Gregory - 1940

The view from the Third Class quarters. Marginally unchanged apart from th distant cityscape and the absence of tombstones, removed from the gravesites in the foreground. Now nobody knows who's buried there and the use of DDT plus the possibility of surviving bacteria in the soil six feet under prevents archeological exploration.

First Class quarters have now been transformed into the Q Station Hotel. You can have a garden view room or an entire cottage. I'm not sure I fancy staying there though.

Whilst waiting to be cleared. Residents busied themselves by carving their names and ship icons on the Sydney Sandstone. This beautiful memorials are dotted all over the site and tell the tale of contamination and incarceration still standing memorial to those who stayed there.

One of two 'vapour' rooms where patrons endured claustrophobic unctions to clear their lungs. Ah . . perhaps there are ghosties afoot! Now who are those spooks reflected on the wall!


Alan Burnett said...

The is an absolutely fascinating post. Thank you for the tour, it's the next best thing to actually going there.

Roy said...

What an interesting tour (says the former History major)! Some of those graffiti artists were very talented. And why were Clare and the guide so uneasy about the gravedigger's residence. Anybody who knows about these things knows that the only way there'd be a ghost in there is if one of the gravediggers or members of their families died in the building itself under traumatic conditions. In fact, that's the main reason why I laugh at people who fear ghosts in a graveyard - there aren't any unless somebody was buried alive. If any of those buried in the graveyard have a reason to haunt, they're back where they met their deaths, not where their bones rest.

Ces said...

Oh Baino! You should take the GFhost Tour. These are so different from Anon's night tour! These look so much cleaner!

Susan at Stony River said...

That last one's a great shot to end the 'tour', I love it. My favourite was the artwork left behind by the inmates. The interior shots look a lot like Sligo General in my experience.

25 and sunny? what a beautiful day out!

laughingwolf said...

thx for the wee tour, baino... i'd wanna see the places others fear to enter!

got to about 33-34 C today, and finally, two days of sun in a row... first time this spring/summer

Brian Miller said...

errr....haunting post baino...i probably would have hung back from those as well...thanks for the tour and hope the week starts well for you.

kj said...

oh jeez, baino. this reminded me of those scary posts anon bird did at the abandoned hospital.

at first reading i was thinking i couldn't have resisted the ghost tour. but by the end of your post, you managed to spook me pretty well! but still, i'm surprised you couldn't convince claire to take the tour.

have a good day my friend


very very interesting.

hokgardner said...

THank you so much for the interesting tour. I'm not sure I'd want to stay there as a guest, though.

Kath Lockett said...

I'd never even heard of the place, Baino, so now I feel as though I've just undergone an entertaining and informative history tour, well done!

steph said...


Would love a post on your memories of arriving in OZ as a wee (? 11 year old) girl after the long journey by sea.

What were your first impressions?

River said...

Fantastic photos and what an interesting place! I'd never heard of it either, although I did know there were quarantine stations. When we arrived in Australia a bit later, 1953, we spent some time at Bonegilla migrant camp in Victoria. I don't remember any of it, being less than one year old at the time, but a couple of years ago i read a book about it. Mum and Dad never spoke about it except to say it was where we first lived, so I didn't know it was a specific migrant landing place.

Tom said...

Wow! Awesome history lesson...will forward this on to my wife's social studies classroom...a great fun way to spend a day i'll bet!

otin said...

Baino, that was just mindblowing! Weird how such a beautiful location would be remembered for sickness. I love learning historical facts!

nick said...

We didn't hear about the Quarantine Station when we were in Oz. It would have been an interesting outing. Good to remind people of the nasty diseases humanity has been exposed to and the importance of keeping them at bay.

Grannymar said...

Great personal tour to the past. Thanks Baino. I agree with Steph, how about a post on your early days and journey to Oz.

Baino said...

Thanks Alan, I nearly didn't do the walking tour because it was 2 hours but I'm really glad I did.

Roy I don't believe in ghosts but if the tour guide doesn't want to go in, then neither do I. People forget that many actually had quite a good time there, forging friendships, playing cricket in the sun. I think they play up the ghostie thing for the tourists.

Ces, we're afraid of the dark and killer possums, not the ghosts. I must go back and have a look because I'm sure she posted daylight shots as well. There's a penguin colony there and beautiful bushland and views.

Haha . . didn't want to go into that room either Suze, it was just a big box with a tiny observation window, very claustrophobic.

Yep finally warming up here Wuffa. The first morning I've actually walked up to feed the horses with a T shirt on! Yeay! Won't last tho. We're still midwinter.

Yeh it was fun Brian. I'ts also in the middle of a National park so we might go back and check out the more 'natural' world rather than the 'supernatural'.

Hey kj. Yeh it's very deserted and there were only three of us so it was a bit eerie but what a magnificent day.

I thought about that Heather. I'm not sure I would either although the cottages are lovely and close to the national park and the restaurant very nice.

Why Thank you Mrs Lockett. We aim to please.

Ronda Laveen said...

I can't even imagine being showered in Carbloic acid. This is a fantastic post, Baino. I am sure there are a lot of spirits with unresolved issues who remain in that location.

Baino said...

I might Steph if I'm feeling motivated. A lot to remember though! I think I did post once about the ship we came over on, called the Aurelia.

River I remember the migrant camps. Sound very similar actually. We were fortunate, my father was sponsored by an international company but we travelled with many families who spent six weeks in these camps undergoing 'orientation' and job search and learning English if necessary.

It was Tom. I'm glad my daughter persuaded me because I've been wanting to do it for a long time.

True Otin although like I said, most had quite a good time there and everything was 'free', paid for by the shipping lines. I think after the Commonwealth took over control in 1900 conditions became much better.

Nick I should have mentioned it. We talked about the cliff walk on the other side of the heads, I completely forgot about North Head.

Ok Grannymar. When I have a moment, I'll try to remember. I do remember having a pair of shoes the colour of the sea . .I loved them!

Rhonda it would have been pretty awful. The guide said it would have resulted in the feeling of being sunburned. Having said that, I remember my Grandad swearing by a soap with carbolic acid in it. He used it all the time. I think for the healthy, the worst thing was just the loss of liberty.

Melanie said...

that was awesome baino. I felt like i took the tour but didnt have to exert myself. perfect. very interesting place indeed. thanks for sharing

The Man at the Pub said...

Sydney has the coolest "old stuff". Love that sandstone too.

Kate said...

That was absolutely fascinating! I didn't even know such a place existed - I would have had to go into the places everybody was avoiding...just for a 'feel'... What a wonderful country you live in!

Baino said...

Mel after all the walking you've been doing, you'd nail the tour! I was puffing on a couple of occasions myself. It's pretty hilly.

Well Pubby, some might argue that it's not old stuff. It aint no Egyptian pyramid but it was interesting. I don't hold that all 'history' needs to be ancient.

Kate, I wouldn't mind betting these places existed in many colonies. I haven't researched it but I'm imagnining it's a British initiative so they probably had the same deal in Canada and maybe New Zealand at a pinch.

Bimbimbie said...

Tsup*!* Fascinating place Baino ... I would have wanted to have seen inside the gravediggers cottage, bet that's where they keep their Tim Tam supply ;)

Jill said...

Isn't this completely INTERESTING!
What a educational and intriguing trip!
I thoroughly enjoyed learning about all this!

Betsy said...

Wow! That was really interesting. I agree the 'view, fresh air and sunshine' would make you feel better!
Those vapor rooms look scary! And the ghost tour...hmmm...I would have to think about that one, but I probably would have gone!

Fish and chips along the beach...that sounds wonderful!

Colette Amelia said...

Very veryyyy interesting! You spin a great yarn!

Baino said...

Bimbimbie, go back to Anonybird's site, I'm sure she would have gone in there!

It was fun Jill but wouldn't you know it, this week's Theme Thursday is Shadow! I should have reserved the last photo!

Betsy it was wonderful although Manly is a very touristy and busy beach.

Thanks Collette, I thoroughly enjoyed telling it.

Renee said...

Helen I love these little trips. You take me with you every time you go.

What a beautiful place you live in.

Love Renee xoxox

Quickroute said...

Great tour and love the photos. How long does it take to upload all those?

Harnett-Hargrove said...

Wow, a lot of work went into this great tour post. Thanks for making the photo come to life!

Baino said...

Renee, if I can take whisk you away for a few seconds, I have achieved my mission.

Akshully Quickie. not too long,just have to change the margin widths and the photo size. Easy peasy. Fast naked broadband helps.

No Jayne, choosing the pics takes the longest. Took me about half an hour.

Candie Bracci said...

wow!That was so interresting Baino!I really did enjoy reading that post!Thank you :)

Ribbon said...

Great tour Baino

thank you :)