Culture and heritage

Heritage of NSW

North Head Quarantine Station

The North Head area was used for quarantine of travellers by sea and then by air, for over 150 years from 1828. While only a small proportion of immigrants to Australia were interned at the Quarantine Station it is important as a symbol of this process and particularly of the concern that diseases would be contained and the populace would be kept safe.

The evolution of the present form of the Quarantine Station was influenced by the modernisation of public health, Australian self-management and a response to local conditions. The layout, range of accommodation, wharfage, services and quarantine practices reflect the complexity of the administration of immigration policies, including the requirements of water access, medical and scientific knowledge and beliefs, and changing social attitudes through time.

The principles of human quarantine in the 19th and 20th centuries are illustrated in the overall layout of the Quarantine Station and in its isolated setting. Overlaid on the functional concerns of disease control is the evidence of social stratification, shown in the segregation of passenger accommodation into classes, and the different standards of accommodation which were provided for each. Very few places in Australia retain a setting or a complex of buildings which is so clearly able to demonstrate the notions of class and racial segregation practised in Australia until after World War II.

The surviving buildings, their equipment, arrangement and setting, as well as the associated inscriptions, documentary and artifactual evidence, make the Quarantine Station a rare and virtually intact example of a significant aspect of Australian history.

The Quarantine Station has been a part of Sydney Harbour National Park since 1984 and has recently been included on recently been included on the State Heritage Register and the National Heritage List.

The Quarantine Station Conservation Management Plan 2000 (see below) identifies the entire Quarantine Station as being of national significance. Particular elements, even of lesser significance, contribute to the evocative character of the place, which is unique within Australia as a historic place.

Aboriginal heritage

It is acknowledged that the Aboriginal community has been using North Head for many thousands of years. At the time of first contact with Europeans the place was known as a special place of koradgee healing and burial ceremonies. It is one of the first sites of contact between the Aboriginal communities and the First Fleeters. It is also the site of the kidnapping of Bennelong, Colebee and Arabanoo and the spearing of Governor Phillip.

The Quarantine Station and the need for quarantine facilities also dramatically represent the spread of disease and the resulting decimation of the Aboriginal population. The contemporary Aboriginal community continues to remember these events through the oral histories which have been passed down through generations. There are physical reminders of Aboriginal use of North Head - middens, rock shelters, art sites, open camp sites and burial sites surviving on the Quarantine Station.

There has been a recent re-survey of Aboriginal sites on the national park areas of North Head which has identified some additional sites and established the significance of the area to the contemporary Aboriginal community. The review of significance has demonstrated that the place has always been of significance to the Aboriginal community. The significance of the burial sites is extremely high.

The historical events associated with the initial contact at North Head continue to be of significance to all Aboriginals as these events shaped the nature of the relationship between black and white Australia.

Natural heritage

The geology of the area and the flora and fauna present on North Head and parts of the Quarantine Station are of outstanding significance. The biological diversity remaining within the natural areas is considerable:

  • five species of terrestrial mammal, including the locally endangered long nosed bandicoot (recovery plan in preparation)
  • seven terrestrial reptile species
  • 90 native bird species, including the little penguin.

There are records of some 460 species of flora, including five identified as rare:

  • Camfields stringybark, Eucalyptus camfieldii
  • wet heath, Rulingia hermanniiflora
  • Gonocarpus salsoloides
  • the regionally rare ground orchid Erythrorchis cassythoides
  • the rare subspecies of the Sunshine Wattle Acacia terminalis ssp terminalis.


The Quarantine Station was leased to Mawland Quarantine Station Pty Ltd for adaptive re-use and conservation works in October 2006. The lease is for a period of 21 years, with options to extend for 15 and 9 years.

Mawland Quarantine Station Pty Ltd will operate the Quarantine Station as a cultural tourism based facility with a range of visitor facilities and services, including accommodation; a restaurant, visitor centre and museum; and site tours. Activities on the site will be regulated through a comprehensive environmental compliance framework.

Site wide plans outline the direction for the management of the North Head Quarantine Station in Sydney Harbour National Park.

Conservation management plans

Visiting the Quarantine Station

Visit the Quarantine Station web site for more information.

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Page last updated: 16 September 2013