North Head Quarantine Station

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The Quarantine Station, North Head, also known as the Manly Quarantine Station, was a quarantine station at Manly in Sydney, Australia. It was in operation from 1828 to 1984. It is now part of the Sydney Harbour National Park under the management of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and is operated as a tourist and historic site.

Aboriginal heritage

There is no immediate evidence of very early Aboriginal presence in Sydney itself, but material found in rock shelters and a few open sites points to Aborigines inhabiting the area for at last 20,000 years. North Head seems to have been part of Kuringgai territory, occupied by the Cameraigal (or Gayimai) clan. Evidence of the historical Aboriginal presence at North Head suggests that the original inhabitants gathered seafood on the rocky shores and adjacent waters.

David Collins, Judge Advocate of the First Fleet, wrote about the killing of a whale by Aborigines at "Manly Bay" in August 1790. During the subsequent feasting, in an incident considered an accident, Governor Phillip was speared while attempting to try to coax his Aboriginal protégé Bennelong to return to Sydney.

Although relations between the original inhabitants and the colonists were initially positive, they soon deteriorated. One cause was the spread of contagious diseases such as smallpox from the Europeans, which, as early as 1789 (only a year after the colony was founded), killed a vast number of Aborigines around the harbour, in the Sydney region, and probably beyond. It is speculated that had the later quarantine practices been in place 50 years earlier, this tragedy may have been avoided.

The Quarantine Station in operation

For more than 150 years North Head area was used to quarantine sea and then air travellers. Only a small proportion of immigrants to Australia were ever quarantined there, but the station remains an important symbol of the process, particularly of the anxiety over communicable diseases being introduced into the country. It represents safety for the populace.

The ways in which the Quarantine Station was built and administered, and its isolated setting, reflect perceptions and understandings of public health and the principles of human quarantine in the 19th and 20th centuries. Social stratification is also in evidence; passenger accommodation was arranged according to class and race. Very few places in Australia so clearly exemplify the way in which class and race were viewed in the nation until after World War II, and the segregation that was practised as a result of those views. The site, with its buildings, fittings and fixtures, and even its layout and setting – all of which is virtually intact – is a rare example of such a significant aspect of Australian history. (Australia continued to quarantine immigrants long after it became accepted practice in Britain, which usually informed Australian practices, to no longer do so.)

The Quarantine Station became part of Sydney Harbour National Park in 1984 and is on the State Heritage Register and the National Heritage List.

Current use

In October 2006 the Quarantine Station was leased to a private company for 21 years, with options to extend the lease. The station will be operated as a cultural-tourism facility, including accommodation; restaurant, visitors centre and museum; and tours. A detailed environmental compliance framework will determine the types of activities that are able to be carried out on the site.