Former quarantine station as a site of isolation

Quarantine stations were built and administered as sites of infectious disease control and as a countermeasure against the spread of epidemics. This being the case, quarantine stations were essentially sites of isolation from the rest of society in order to ensure the health of a nation. Whether in recovery or in death, a sick internee in quarantine had the liminal experience of isolation from friends and family in the anxiety-causing temporality of uncertainty. He or she was placed under the care of strangers: doctors, nurses and quarantine staff. Familiarity was expunged from the quarantine experience.

Should this isolation be preserved as part of the heritage of a quarantine station such as North Head, which re-opened as a hotel and as a venue for conferences, weddings and birthday parties in April 2008? The six-volume Detailed Area Conservation Management Plan, published by the National Parks and Wildlife Service in 2001 and prepared for them by heritage architects Paul Davies Pty Ltd, states the following regarding the hermeneutics of isolation:

The Quarantine Station is currently under NPWS authority, which has permitted only controlled and limited public access. Historically there has never been open access to the place. Unrestricted access is not appropriate and will diminish the cultural value of the place.

The nature of access has also been controlled. Internees who were infected with disease were isolated either in hospital or isolation wards. They could not go beyond these boundaries and others could not enter. The Precinct was fenced to enforce this. The fencing remains in this area to reinforce the experience of isolation.

Passengers who were not infected were segregated on site by class (often defined by passenger class on the quarantined ship) and race. This is reflected in the physical layout of the site but is no longer reinforced by fencing.

Staff were also segregated within fenced areas that were isolated from the passengers. Over time there has been varying and controlled access of different groups to parts of the site. This experience should be retained (DACMP, 2001, 189; italics mine).


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