Quarantine Station – General View. [Portsea.] [picture]. (1909).
Probably one of the most fascinating websites you could read now (at least for me) is from the Napean Historical Society titled: Spanish Flu 1918-19 – Deja Vu?
The parallels to what happened then and it’s happening now is uncannily scary. Implementation of strict measures. The belief that Australia beat the disease but flare up in new cases (in Melbourne) and closure of the borders with Victoria.
But that page also shows something that didn’t happen this time. The use of a quarantine station.
Early European settlers knew that Australia was free from diseases and pathogens that occurred overseas (the fact that they introduced disease that killed Aboriginal populations probably escaped them or didn’t want to know). So the different colonies on the Australian continent established quarantine stations.
In the early 1850s the peninsula of Point Nepean was inspected and subsequently found to be acceptable as the location for a permanent quarantine station. By the 1870s this grew to be quite a big establishment with cookhouses, large lodgings and a hospital. In the early 1900s even a bathhouse was constructed.
Returning servicemen were considered to be particularly at risk during the H1N1 influenza A virus pandemic, and on April 16th 1919 contracts were issued to build twelve wooden huts of 32 bunks each, based on the drawing below. The first hut was to be delivered within 10 working days with the completion of all within 5 weeks.
And these huts are still there today.
As the need to quarantine people decreased with the advent of medical advances and vaccines, the station was given to the Federal Government that used it as an army based.
In 1998-99, the buildings were used to house several hundred refugees from Kosovo, offered asylum on compassionate grounds as a result of the Balkan conflict arising from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
In 2004 ownership went back to the State of Victoria that has incorporated it into the Point Napean National Park.
Re-opening the station for quarantine not feasible but the principle still valid.
Poor Dan Andrews is copping it from all sides at the moment. I am a big Dan Andrews fan, but the decision of the Victorian government to employ private security firms to look after the people in hotel quarantine was a mistake.
True. The government is not responsible for security guards being lax with distancing and other precautions, or even….having sex with the people being quarantined, but as the Conversation article states:
“it should come as no surprise to anyone with a passing interest in labour standards in the private security industry or an understanding of governance issues in supply chains.
To put it plainly, the Victorian government used an industry with a long history of non-compliance with minimum standards for a critical public safety job.”
While we are thinking of contamination, the neoliberal practice of ditching government doing things, and contracting private companies to perform tasks that governments used to do has contaminated governments, including those of the centre left. My observation that this has been especially true in English speaking countries.
In the 1980s a belief that private enterprise was better and more efficient in running things than governments became the norm. Of course started by centre right governments but then it became the dominant paradigm in the media and everywhere and centre left governments were too scared to go against the trend.
In my opinion there are things that governments should not run, airlines for example, but provision of services like electricity, water and gas should be. But one that is on top of that list is health.
Some will argue that the fact that the Victorian government didn’t manage the hotel quarantine properly by choosing security guards it is proof that governments still are unable to run things properly. But I would say that the process of giving tasks to private companies, which are not under the control of government is vulnerable for exactly the type of things that have happened. Especially in an emergency situation.
So while the idea of government running a quarantine station with properly trained health workers may seem a bit of a quaint idea, if the Victorian government has a ‘Queenscliff’ Victoria most likely would not have been facing this outbreak, or at least not of this magnitude.