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Historic graffiti at Quarantine Station.

Rain and wind are gradually erasing

unique records of maritime history on sandstone cliffs at the quaran- tine station near Sydney's North Head.

For nearly 150 years passengers and crews taken from newly arrived ships because of contact with infectious diseases have been carving and paint- ing flags, crests and names on the cliffs.

The quarantine station is set on more than 50 hectares of land on the slope of a hill running down to Spring Cove.

The history-conscious quarantine

staff have made repeated efforts to save the graffiti, but need further expert help. "We've tried painting the carvings with water-proofing and lacquer but nothing seems to work," officer in charge Roy Walker said.

"We touch up the colours on the more elaborate carvings when they begin to fade. But of course this doesn't stop the erosion."

What nature has failed to destroy, vandals may well finish off when the area, or part of it, is included in the

projected Sydney Harbour National Park. The NSW and Federal govern- ments are discussing plans for the Commonwealth to relinquish its hold over hundreds of hectares of scenic land around the harbour.

"I've been here 23 years and the quarantine station is now like a home to me," Mr Walker said. "If the public is finally allowed in I hope the carvings are fenced off against vandalism."

The quarantine station was opened in August, 1832, after an outbreak of

Infection suspects, landed from a Dutch steamship, left this carving.


Later came the steamer Shelley, after one of her crew had died.

Record of a stay by Chinese seamen.

quarantine station

Cholera in England and Ireland. The beautiful site, with its white sand beach and freshwater stream, became the graveyard of hundreds of seamen and


Some of the carvings and gravestones tell of ships like the William Rodger which entered Port Jackson in September, 1838, after six adults and 10 children died on their way to the colony. Another 29 died after the ship reached the quarantine station.

Six months before the William

Rodger moored at Spring Cove the typhus-ridden ship Minerva had already unloaded its dead and dying.

Aboard the Minerva was Peter McNeil, whose headstone tells how he died within sight of his long looked for goal - Sydney Town. The rock carvings are often immaculately chiselled. A seagull is frozen in flight, a lifebelt encircles stylized initials, a flag is caught in mid-flap.

But the early, finely detailed work of professional stonemasons stands in stark contrast to later efforts. After Cyclone Tracy flattened Darwin, 750 people were evacuated to the quaran- tine station, and some of them made scratchy attempts to emulate the sta- tion's previous "guests."

The quarantine station has also served as a base for troops of three wars. Military insignia from the Boer

War and the First and Second World Wars have been chiselled into the sandstone.

While the British chose to work on the rocks near the Spring Cove beach, Japanese and Chinese seamen did their carving on high rocks overlooking a vast stretch of ocean and harbour.

The eight quarantine station staff have assembled a small museum in an old disused dining hall, the walls of which are now lined with leg-irons, firearms and ships' flags.

Logbooks with detailed entries of diseases and deaths go back as far as 1881. Earlier records have disappeared.

In the dining hall, antique crockery and silver are carefully laid out on polished tables as if in preparation for the arrival of a ghostly sailing ship

flying the dreaded yellow quarantine |

I flag.


Port Jackson Quarantine Station,

inside the Sydney harbour heads.

--_- ^ยป MIMI.!: ?

One of the ships' insignia left on a rockface.

This seabird was carved and painted by someone

hom the Aorangi.

Pictures by Neville Waller.