Because of the institutionalised racism against non-Europeans in Australian quarantine policy in the past, Asian heritage and history are relegated to the region of contested ground at the site of the former North Head Quarantine Station. In its current incarnation as Q Station since April 2008, which is a hotel entity with a museum inside the former Luggage Store (A15-17) at the old wharf on Spring Cove, there is a complete absence of memorialisation of past non-European presence on site. This state of affairs is in total contrast to the active and respectful memorialisation of Chinese heritage and history at the former Angel Island Immigration Station, which once served as a major quarantine station to protect the San Francisco community from dangerous infectious diseases. However, as any critical analysis of its history will show, Angel Island was also used as an institutional tool to assert the white supremacy of American society between 1910 and 1940.
At North Head, not to name white supremacy for what it is through memorialisation of past racist injustice is to allow its spectre to linger in the continued life of the site, even if the Quarantine Station now only exists as an aesthetic reduction of its former self as a public health institution of great national significance.
Yesterday afternoon I received a positive response from the top echelon of Q Station management in regard to my petition for interpretive signs of memorialisation to be erected at the former Asiatics’ Quarters, the former Third Class Precinct and in the vicinity of the Quarantine Beach at Spring Cove. I wrote the petition in one go, most possibly under invisible guidance, in the early hours of the morning on 19 May 2014, in the dark, gloomy atmosphere of the former Quarters for Asiatics.
The author had a brief, contemplative sojourn in the former Isolation Precinct of the North Head Quarantine Station during the last weekend of June 2015 and sadly witnessed no progress in the abovementioned matter, more than a year after his petition was initiated.
Upon enquiry by phone on Saturday 14 November I was told yet again by a sympathetic hotel staff member that an interpretive sign for the Quarters for Asiatics was at the printer’s but not yet ready – the same scenario that has been described to me for quite some months now.
Another Lunar New Year is coming in a week’s time – this time it is Bing Shen – and yet, as I have observed in the Quarters for Asiatics this morning, there is no sign of the memorialisation that was promised nearly two years ago.
During my winter sojourn on site in June, I discovered that some recognition of the history of the Quarters for Asiatics had just been introduced: former dormitories P15 and P16, now used as conference rooms, were each given a small sign saying “Former Asiatic Passenger Accommodation”. The dormitories P14, P15 and P16 were in fact mainly used for accommodation of Asian and other non-European crew members (such as Arabs and Papuans). In the case of a British-owned steamship from Hong Kong, the Chinese crew members could easily number over a hundred.