It’s 1901 and you’ve been at sea for months on a damp ship, infested with rats, dirt and contagion.
If you thought sailing into the crystal-clear waters of sunny Sydney Harbour would be enough to boost one’s immune system and shake off a lingering bout of small pox and bubonic plague, you’d be wrong.
Immigration in post-convict Australia was harsh. If there was a slight chance of infection, you would be confined at the frightening North Head Quarantine Station.
From the 1830s, the facility operated for more than 150 years, incarcerating more than 13,000 passengers, 600 of those never left and most probably died in agony. After anchoring in Spring Cove, a yellow flag would be hoisted on a ship to signal contamination and a doctor would row out from the Quarantine Station to inspect the passengers. Those at risk would be forced onto Quarantine Beach, a private sandy paradise where you can now snorkel and enjoy stand-up paddleboarding after a spot of lunch at the Engine Room Bar. What a different place it is today.
In the early days, passengers would be forced from the beach into a disinfection shed on arrival, so reminiscent of Nazi gas chambers, Polish and German guests would scream in fear at the request to enter.
I experienced two nights at Q Station, including one of their famous ghost tours, and there’s a morbid feeling of patients’ miserable last days lingering in the haunted hospital, still fitted out with beds and surgical tools of the time. Along with the wards, guests can explore the eerie shower block, mortuary, and nursing quarters which are starkly juxtaposed to the boutique accommodation in the former passenger lodgings on-site.
With a fancy restaurant, museum, café, bar, and wedding function facilities it’s like staying in a very comfortable giant museum and it could be one of the most unique stays Down Under.
Although I didn’t see any ghouls on the ghost tour, I felt the cold presence of those forced to spend time here. I could imagine the unhappy and depressing endings of those who perished on-site including one Dr Reid, who haunts the old hospital block. Story goes Dr Reid was one of the brightest doctors during Q Station’s heyday in the ‘20s, who would stop at nothing to help his infected patients. Residing in Watson’s Bay, the doctor would often take the ferry including 3 November 1927 when the doomed Greycliffe ferry was split in two by the RMS Tahiti. Reid was trapped in the men’s-only smoking room when the ferry sunk within minutes of being hit off Bradley’s Head, his body apparently recovered days later.
Q Station guests have reported seeing his ghost on the hospital veranda, stroking his beard and smoking his pipe.
I enjoyed the stories from one of our country’s most historic sites, and although I don’t believe in ghosts, I concur it is a truly unique and informative way to spend a weekend.
*Carly was a quest of Q Station and booked through the Hotels.com App which is packed with deals and extras like the ghost tour experience.
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