Having braved Sorrento in the rain, I returned the next weekend in the sunshine. This time I passed straight through and stopped a short distance along at the Portsea Pier, in Weeroona Bay, for my morning coffee.
There’s nothing much at Portsea, other than the lovely old Portsea Hotel and holiday homes owned by seriously rich Melburnians. Scuba diving must be good, though, going by the amount of people gearing up for it.
Just the other side of Portsea is the Point Nepean Quarantine Station.
It was established in 1852, to protect Melbourne from highly contagious diseases. When disease-carrying ships arrived, the passengers were taken ashore to be stripped, scrubbed in hot showers, medically examined and vaccinated.
A new Disinfecting and Bathing Complex was built in the early 1900s, in response to the threat of a plague epidemic coming out of Hong Kong and Bombay.
Luggage also had to be fumigated. Tram tracks brought it from the ship to the foul luggage store and then on to the boiler house to be disinfected inside one of the two disinfecting chambers.
There were five hospitals facing out towards the bay and forming the spine of the station. From the 1870s, first and second class passengers were in the two on the hill, steerage class were on the flat in hospitals 3 and 4, and hospital 5 was for patients that needed to be isolated. One of the hospitals on the hill was open so I had a wander around.
If you can imagine it with furnishings, I think it would be quite a comfortable place to stay.
But then again, Typhus Fever patients could maintain temperatures of up to 105°F. This resulted in disorientation and delirium. In some cases, straitjackets were needed to protect the patients from harming themselves. Horrible thought.
A dining hall was built in 1916 to service the first and second-class passengers from Hospitals 1 and 2, with a central wall separating the two. Interesting how they still separated passengers even after they left the ship. I can’t imagine that would have lasted long once they got out into the Australian community.
From 1870, Hospital 5 was the isolation centre for passengers with infectious diseases.
Later on, a timber-framed isolation ward was added, along with a morgue and a mortuary.
Twelve timber frame huts were built during the worldwide Spanish flu pandemic in 1919. Around 300 ships were processed, mostly bringing home World War One soldiers and almost 12,000 passengers were quarantined. It’s been a busy little place over the years.
With advances in modern medicine, the need for the Quarantine Station declined and was taken over in 1952 by the Department of Defence. It’s a fascinating place and I’ve just scraped the surface here. If you happen to be down this way, I suggest dropping in for a really good look around.
I was feeling peckish after all that so I sat by the beach for awhile with my sandwich and my muesli bar, my normal very economical lunch.
I have to say, if I had some horrible disease and had to recuperate, this would be a good spot to do it.
On the way back, I stopped off at Sorrento’s back beach to walk Coppins Track, something I didn’t have time for the week before.