Sydney has suffered periods of time where the city was rife with disease. Smallpox, typhoid, Spanish Influenza and even the Bubonic Plague scarred and wiped out large portions of the population as they swept over the colony. It was scary time where the medical interventions of the time had little impact of the disease once caught. Quarantine seemed to be the only measure, but even then, its effectiveness was minimal. The Manly Quarantine Station was used from 1833 to 1984.
The Manly Quarantine Station (also referred to as North Head Quarantine Station and Manly Q Station) was put into action to isolate those in the population suspected of carrying contagious disease so that it would not spread into Sydney.
The site was originally selected as it was isolated from Sydney, had a safe anchorage point inside the heads and had a natural spring which would provide water for the inhabitants of the Quarantine Station. If a boat arrived in Sydney Harbour with a suspected disease on board, it was directed here where custom officials would usher the passengers off board where they would stay for at least 40 days to ensure they were free from disease.
We decided to tour the site ourselves having missed the morning tour. We parked our car, walked through the reception where we found a map and then headed down the hill to the First Class Quarters. The people who stayed in these quarters usually enjoyed the experience. It was a first class resort with amazing amenities for the time. For those in the lower quarters, life here was a little different – scary, isolating and disempowering. For those suffering disease, life was even worse. Today the area is used for accomodation – yes, you can stay here! We might have to consider this next time.
From the First Class Quarters we headed down a steep set of stairs to the lower area of the Manly Quarantine Station. We found the decontamination room where at least 40 people at a time would enter and be steamed with chemicals. The kids thought it would be funny to shut the door on me when I entered which scared me half to death. Have your phone torch ready to go if your family are also amused by scaring you.
We moved across to the showers next. Oh my! When you walk into this area you are likely to shiver. Painted in institution green and consisting primarily of concrete and corrugated iron sheets, crowds of people would have been ushered in here at one time for their showers where chemical water, mixed in vats in the room next to the showers, would pour on to them. You can see little peep holes in each cubicle where I imagine customers officers would peer to ensure each person was under the water. I hear that the chemicals would often lead to your skin peeling off a few days after the shower. We know today that this would make you more susceptible to disease.
The Autoclave was amazing. It was incredibly high tech for the day and thoroughly disinfected the luggage that was moving through the site. Luggage and belongings were piled onto a carriage that ran on rails into the autoclave where they were locked into while it was steamed. They would then come out the other end. Unfortunately, clothing and items made from natural materials such as wool would often shrink. Ek!
If you travel with kids you’ll know that all this ‘history stuff‘ can make the kids restless so we took a break in the cafe with ice cream for everyone. A bottle of water costs about $4.00 and soft drink is $5.00 so you may like to be better prepared than we were and take some water with you so you can splurge on ice-cream.
After our break we wandered through the museum where the kids were able to see and read about artefacts from the different points of the Manly Quarantine Station’s history. They enjoyed viewing (and sitting on) the first class and regular class beds the most. What a contrast!
As we walked up to the hospital, we stopped by the rock carvings which have been made into the sandstone. Between 1833 to 1984 over 2,000 different carvings have been made by passengers and crew from various ships. The provide a very details account of multicultural Australia and step you back in time with the names of the ships detailed, poems, dedications and so much more. I could have studied them for years but the kids needed to move on.
We climbed the hill to hospital precinct. The first thing that grabbed us was the view – oh my! The site overlooks the ocean with a view straight across to the Sydney. Now some of you may have clicked over here to read about the paranormal activity that is reputed to happen in this area (and many other sections of the site). I didn’t read up on any of this before we visited and I was adamant not to mention it with our kids were around as they are highly suggestible. As such, we didn’t encounter any orbs or voices, grumbling or strange shadows. The kids felt safe and secure throughout the visit and raced to and from each window to see the hospital rooms inside (they were locked on our visit). I would save the ghost tours for the adults and definitely do it at night.
After walking around the hospital precinct and morgue, we went back down the hill and found a table at the Boiler House restaurant. We chose the casual dining experience. The kids ordered fish and chips from the Children’s Menu and us adults shared a Prosciutto, artichoke pizza. It was absolutely superb and the service was amazing – thanks Heidi!
Before we left, the kids had a quick play on the beach. Our only disappointment? We didn’t see any Bandicoots or Little Penguins, both which are usually seen at dusk. Next time, right? To get back to the top of the site we caught the site mini bus that you can catch at your leisure.
You can visit the Manly Quarantine Station – www.quarantinestation.com.au most days for FREE! Yes, the site is accessible seven days a week.
If you’re interested in hearing about what happened when the Bubonic Plague reached Sydney, head to our post on Susannah Place in The Rocks where you will learn about the mass hysteria that swept across the city and scared the government enough to lead them to destroy most of the buildings in the area in an effort to stop the disease spreading.