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.
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!