May 17

We arrived safe and sound in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia as of 8 am, Monday, May 17, Australia time or 6pm, May 16 EDT.   We had some hiccups with the flights, but we all arrived in good spirits.

Today’s goal: keep the group moving. We started by visiting some of Sydney’s most famous picture spots down at the Habour. Sydney’s harbour is the largest protected harbour in the world, and today, the students visited the Circular Quay (pronounced “key”) area in the Sydney CBD (central business district), as well as the North Head area where Manly is located. It was here on the North Head area that the original quarantine station was established for Australia. You might compare it to Ellis Island in the United States.

Today, the North Head area is made up of an old military facility and the Sydney Harbour National Park, which includes the quarantine station. Q Station ran as a quarantine station from 1832 through 1984. Originally, all boats coming to Australia would stop in the “remote and isolated” North Head and have its cargo and passengers off-loaded for quarantine. Funny to think about this major suburb of the country’s largest city as being isolated.

When off-loaded, individuals went through several treatments, including being gassed with various treatments, showered with a mild acid (to remove the first layer of skin), and having all their goods sterilized. The large steamers at the station were actually used until the 1980s to steam sterilize goods confiscated at the Sydney Airport.

Generally, individuals were held at the station for four weeks to make sure that they were not infected with disease. Just as we do today, individuals known to be ill were isolated from those who were well, and those who were exposed to illness were isolated from those who were not exposed.

Individuals who were obviously diseased or who developed an illness, such as smallpox, scarlet fever, typhus, or influenza, while in quarantine were treated at the station’s hospital (see picture). Those who were not sick lived in bunk houses that were divided into classes: first, second, third, and steerage (workers).

Q Station fell into disuse after 1984, and its 60 acres and 65 buildings were off-limits to the public, even though they fall into the NP region. For the last two years though, the Station has been open to the public as a tourist redevelopment. The old bunk houses now serve as retreat centers, the dining halls serve weddings, and the public has access to the site to view wildlife, swim, kayak, and participate in historical and ghost tours. Actually, the Ghost Hunters International group visited Q Station this year (you can catch the show on Syfy or see clips on

This visit provided a nice start for the students as they entered Australia. We were happy that we didn’t need to spend four weeks living in isolation (even if the views are marvelous!). More important than the history lesson though, the students got a nice example of sustainability.

First, the Station’s redevelopment has opened this natural and historic space to the public, allowing them to benefit from the trails and wildlife that live in the area. We learned today, for example, that a colony of Fairy Penguins live in the rocks around the site. In addition to opening the space , and protecting the space physically, the business plan provides for diverse business and tourist operations that have already turned a profit, despite only being in operation for about two years.

Also, the park is co-managed by the government and the local Aboriginal peoples. The area is sacred land for some local language groups, and the redevelopment effort not only included a management plan that aligned with the area’s co-status as a National Park, but it also included collaboration with Aboriginal peoples.

Beyond the park, I’ve personally noted that the students have realized that there are a large number of historic buildings being reused for different purposes in Sydney. For example, many old banks are now pubs or restaurants. This adaptive reuse is an important one for students to consider. The historic buildings give Sydney a sense of place and aesthetics that is often missing from the average American city. Instead of tearing all the old stuff down, maybe we should look for ways to preserve and reuse it for something new!



  1. They look great, so glad you all made it safe and sound, looking forward to your blogs.

  2. Spartans in Australia is a really good mix. Good to hear you are all safe and looking forward to hearing about your adventures in the days ahead. Get a bit of rest then burn the candle at both ends for four weeks. Enjoy mates!

  3. To add to the blog, at the Q Station- we were taught about the differences in treatment between the different classes. There was a first class treatment, which had larger rooms and more meal times. Other classes had less meal times but had other times such as “tea time”.

    Andy, we’re having a blast. Hope all is well back in Plymouth.

  4. The Q Station is an excellent way to provide the public with information on small pox and other deadly diseases that have greatly affected our world’s population. A quarantine period of 40 days was used here at the Q Station in order to isolate victims from others and to prevent others from catching this extremely contagious disease. The 40 day quarantine period was first introduced in the Venetian Colony in Italy in the 1930s-40s to help prevent the Black Death (also known as the Bubonic Plague) from spreading.

    ANDY! I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. Miss you and love you tons.

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