Secrets of the sandstone unveiled at Quarantine Community Day

19 September 2013

University of Sydney archaeologist Dr Annie Clarke will shed light on the enigmatic sandstone inscriptions at Sydney's former Quarantine Station as part of the Family Fun Day at Q Station Sydney Harbour National Park - Manly this Sunday 22nd September.

In three separate talks, Dr Clarke will draw upon her Australian Research Council-funded project at the site to expose a fascinating picture of Australia's multicultural past, as revealed in the carvings along the cliff face. This work is part of a University-industry linkage project in partnership with the Mawland Group, who operate the site as the Q Station boutique hotel.

Over 1200 inscriptions were chiselled into the rock at the Quarantine Station between 1835 until 1984, many by passengers and crew from quarantined ships at their port of call in Australia. A team of archaeologists and historians from the University of Sydney have begun the meticulous process of uncovering and investigating these inscriptions to piece together a more complete story of immigration and quarantine in Australia.

The National Heritage-listed Quarantine station is essential for understanding not only governmental approaches to disease control but also the origins of Australia's multicultural roots, says Dr Clarke.

"It's a site that offers a reflection of the ways in which Australia as a nation has thought about the makeup of its society over time," she says.

"In the inscriptions you've got this amazingly multicultural presence, with names and ships that have come from all over the world, not only Britain but also China, Hong Kong and the Mediterranean. There are also inscriptions in Chinese, some in Greek, Russian and Japanese."

She points to Arabic inscriptions of a Koranic verse, likely made by a North African crew member on the SS Caledonien, as just one example of the diverse fabric of the site.

"I'll look at the inscriptions and what they can tell us about Australia's multicultural history, and how we can use them as a tool to understand the history of migration and quarantine into Australia from the mid 19th Century."

Quarantine Project researcher Peter Hobbins, from the Department of History, says the wide range of carvings and paintings include not only stories of disease and incarceration, but also a rare sense of community among inmates. Led by Professor Alison Bashford, University historians are digging into the details of the people who left inscriptions at the site.

"There are certainly tales of misery and woe about being in quarantine, but for some it represented a continuation of their voyage," Mr Hobbins says.

"A lot of the inscriptions from the 19th Century were very much about the communities onboard the ship. These were very long journeys, taking between 3-6 months. The passengers identified with the ship as much as their destination, as the ship was their shared home for such a long time."

A group of current undergraduate students from Dr Clarke's unit 'Public Archaeology' will also gain a taste for public engagement on the day by assisting at museum stalls featuring information on the Aboriginal cultures of New South Wales.

More than 1000 visitors are expected to descend on the Quarantine Station in Manly's North Head for the community day, which also features talks, activities, ghost tours and exhibitions at the site.

The Family Fun Day @ Q Station Sydney Harbour National Park - Manly is part of the Manly Arts Festival; a full program of events is available at their website.


What: 'Stories from the Sandstone' Inscription Talks, part of the Q Station Family Fun Day

When: 11am, 1pm and 2.30pm, Sunday 22nd September

Where: Sydney Harbour National Park - Manly, 1 North Head Scenic Drive, Manly

Cost: Free, RSVP essential

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Contact: Kate Mayor

Phone: 02 9351 2208

Email: 1b36394e67270b0f020029204f33585113602b3346015830