A couple of weeks ago I went to a conference on the Mornington Peninsula. At the end of the meeting I took the optional tour of the Point Nepean Quarantine Station. It was used as a quarantine station between 1852 and 1980 and the buildings now reside within a national park on the tip of the peninsula. It is so good to be out of the city with wide open spaces and to be able to look out over the sea. It felt like the best of Australia but if you were dumped here with an infectious disease at the end of a long sea journey it probably felt less impressive.
The end of the Peninsula where the Quarantine station is located is where ships would first enter Port Phillip Bay on the way to Melbourne. It is not quite the end of the Peninsula. Just a bit further along is Fort Nepean. Point Nepean was an important site for protecting Melbourne and surrounds from threats in seafaring vessels.
Our tour guide (you can see him in the bottom right corner of the top photo) started with the story of the Ticonderoga. When this ship came through the heads in 1852 with about 100 people dead and more ill from an outbreak of Typhus and Scarlet Fever, the yellow flag was raised, to signal the contagion. The fledgling government in Melbourne activated plans to use this area in Point Nepean for a quarantine station. Though the acquisition of the land had been discussed, being moved off his farm must have been a shock for Patrick Sullivan.
The above monument lists the 168 passengers who died either during the voyage or in quarantine. What really struck me were the deaths of 86 babies and children. So sad for the families (mostly from Scottish Highland clearances) who were travelling to Australia in search of a better life.
The above notice reminds detainees that they are subject to the rules of the station. I am not sure what they did all day but they were definitely forbidden to leave the quarantine station. When it was first open, the police station for the area was located at the entrance and the only way to travel to Melbourne was by boat or walking along the seashore. There was no road at the time. This did not stop some determined detainees making it all the way to the village. Note that the penalty of $200 is in the decimal currency that was introduced in 1966 so it is quite a recent poster.
We then went through the "Foul Luggage Station". When passengers
arrived at the quarantine station they would be taken to the bath house
to be stripped of their clothes and washed. Their luggage went to the foul luggage station to be disinfected, at
first in boiling water (which did not leave some clothes in great shape) and later during its history with a hot air system. I think the large chimney was from the huge boiler used to heat the water. It all looked very Auschwitz to me.
So I was not surprised when the tour guide told us that some passengers from Poland in the late 1940s were pretty freaked out by the whole set up. Imagine escaping Hitler's Holcaust only to fear you had found it over the other side of the world!
By the 1880s, the complex had 5 "hospital" buildings. Four were actually sleeping quarters for passengers under observation: two up the hill for first and second class passengers and two buildings for steerage or third class passengers. Hospital 5 was for the sick to be under isolation.
We were able to go into Hospital Building 3 which had some displays about the history over time. The biggest extended use of the quarantine station was in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic. From the 1950s and 60s the increase in people coming to Melbourne by air rather than sea made the quarantine station less useful as it was so far from the airport.
During the tour we quickly passed by an art exhibition: While We Were Sleeping, by Liz Walker. So once the tour finished I returned and had a quick look. The artist had collected plastics and made it into art to explore the damaging effects of plastics in our oceans.
There were exhibits on a mortuary slab and pictures made of found plastics. I was quite taken by this table of food. On closer inspection it was not real food. But from afar it could have fooled me.
Here is a close up of some of the "food": pizza, sushi, fish and chips, kebabs, licorice. I really loved the kebabs which were made out of bottle tops and all the colourful plastic on the pizza. But it is sobering to see how much plastic was in the exhibit.
The conference at Cape Schanck had been incredibly busy as I had helped with organising (it was also so much fun - networking bingo and a Billy Joel Piano Man lip synch competition were big hits at the Banquet)! I had wanted to quickly visit the beach, being so close, but it was not easy. At one point I went on what looked like a quick drive on GPS but ended at a locked gate with a sign saying: Dead end, GPS is wrong. All I could manage was to finally find was a lookout to the coast.
So I was pretty happy after the tour to find some rocks to climb down to the beach. It was a warm day and so nice to take my shoes off and walk along the water's edge. The beach was just perfect, despite a few jelly fishes washing up in the tide. Velvety sand, cool clear water and blue skies. I only saw one other person further down the beach. I walked up to view the first class hospital building from the beach and then back again.
I really enjoyed visiting the Quarantine Station. It was quite interesting to see the history of quarantine after all the quarantine dramas during the Covid pandemic. Our guide from the Nepean Historical Society had some great stories and was very knowledgeable. Tours can be organised for a minimum of 15 people. If you can't do a tour, there is quite a bit of information about the history on the Nepean Historical Society website.