Race and quarantine

Under Australia’s Quarantine Act 1908, deadly communicable diseases such as cholera and smallpox had to be present on an incoming ship for it to be quarantined – crews and passengers were never quarantined on the basis of their race alone. However, once the criteria for quarantine were met, race immediately became a criterion that quarantine officers stringently applied: the segregation of non-Europeans, particularly the Chinese, from the white race was effected without delay. A separate area of quarantine for non-Europeans, called the Quarters for Asiatics, was set up in the major quarantine stations of Australia such as North Head near Sydney and Point Nepean south of Melbourne. Under the administration of Superintendent James Vincent, who took over the North Head Quarantine Station after Superintendent John Carroll’s permanent suspension by the Royal Commission in 1881, the Quarters for Asiatics, which existed below the Third Class Precinct and above the First Cemetery on a hillside facing west and overlooking Spring Cove, was pejoratively referred to as “Wexford Street”, a neighbourhood in Surry Hills just east of Haymarket where the residents were predominantly Chinese and regarded by many white Australians at the time to be a slum or an area of ill repute.


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