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Quarantine Station North Head 1900-1984: a history of place
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 23:17 authored by Carmel Patricia Kelleher
In 1984 the Quarantine Station North Head – the oldest, largest and longest serving station in Australia - was closed and handed over to the New South Wales Government. In the following years the material degradation of the site threatened its survival, despite the promise of government funds to conserve its heritage value. After the site was leased to the heritage tourism group Mawland Hotel Management in 2006, it re-emerged as QSTATION, a retreat and conference facility where, via interactive experiences from dramatic performances and ghost tours, visitors could pay to learn something of the cultural and historical significance of the site. Packaged for public consumption and Mawland’s financial viability, the history of the station was compromised. Sandwiched between a ghoulish nineteenth century past which had little relevance to the station as a place of protection and work on the one hand, and a broader historiographical meta-narrative linking quarantine to policies, particularly in Australia and the Asia-pacific region, of restrictive immigration, nationhood, and white Australia, the twentieth century story, particularly the human face of quarantine is lost. This is exacerbated by the view that the station was in complete decline following the drop in maritime quarantines after the mid-1930s. Yet the twentieth century history of the site is a rich story of continued protective activity from the threat of disease, effective disinfection of imported goods and provision of temporary accommodation for diverse groups affected by war, natural disaster and immigration policies. This thesis aims to recover the twentieth century story by focussing on the history of the station as a history of place which allows us to consider the human face of quarantine in the built environment. Far from a ghostly site, the station was place of work, life and death, of shelter and refuge against the backdrop of some of the most important social and political changes in the nation’s twentieth century history.