It looks like heaven yet once was hell.
Woodman Point is one of Perth’s most beautiful oceanfront parks, with a pristine beach and attractive green spaces, which is why it’s difficult to believe this was once a creepy place haunted by the horrors of past pandemics.
While Australians have been able to self-isolate in their homes or even in five-star hotels during the coronavirus pandemic, a century ago West Australians were sent to a grim quarantine station at Woodman Point.
Tours are now offered of this eerie complex in Perth’s southern suburbs where, from 1886 to 1979, hundreds of victims of infectious conditions like Spanish flu, bubonic plague, smallpox and leprosy were isolated from the general public. As a further safety measure, the patients who died were then incinerated at the station’s crematorium.
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It looks like heaven yet once was hell.Source:Supplied
A century ago West Australians were sent to a grim quarantine station at Woodman Point.Source:Supplied
Tour participants are allowed to enter this well-preserved crematorium, which is the oldest in Australia. The former quarantine station is now used partly as a museum, highlighting its long role as a health care centre, and partly as a recreation camp site.
Visitors who join tours of the station learn how during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920 this complex was so inundated with cases it was forced to treat some patients in tents. While Australia has largely contained the coronavirus, which has caused more than 800 deaths in the country, the Spanish flu ran rampant in 1919, killing more than 12,000 Australians and infecting up to one-third of the population.
This complex was so inundated with cases it was forced to treat some patients in tents.Source:Supplied
Woodman Point found itself in the eye of this viral storm with the patients who died there then incinerated at the station’s crematorium.Source:Supplied
With no vaccine available, and a death toll that topped 50 million people worldwide, the Spanish flu caused even greater panic in Australia than has the current pandemic. Woodman Point found itself in the eye of this viral storm. As explained by the guides who lead tours of the station, this was Perth’s main quarantine centre during this Pandemic, which arrived in Australia just as World War I was ending.
At that time, most people who arrived in WA by boat and were suspected of being ill were forced to enter quarantine. With the war over, thousands of soldiers and associated military staff were returning to WA from battlefronts across the world. Some brought with them Spanish flu infections. Despite the professionalism of staff at WA’s quarantine centres, they were dangerous places for both patients and staff due to the airborne nature of this virus.
At least 30 people died of Spanish flu while being quarantined at Woodman Point.
The site was a dangerous places for both patients and staff due to the airborne nature of this virus.Source:Supplied
Among them were several nurses and Australian military personnel, who are now commemorated by photos and plaques at the quarantine station. Most of these deaths were linked to one ship carrying Australian soldiers that arrived in WA waters in 1918. Its story is a highlight, albeit a sobering one, of the quarantine station tours run by the volunteer group Friends of Woodman Point Recreation Camp.
Called the Boonah, this ship’s arrival in WA waters embroiled Woodman Point in a controversy that mirrored this year’s furore about cruise ships with coronavirus-infected passengers docking at Australian ports.
Quarantine conditions these days are not nearly as harsh.Source:Supplied
With hundreds of Australian soldiers on board, the war ended just as the Boonah began to head from South Africa to the Western Front – and so it abandoned that mission and stayed in SA.
It then had a severe outbreak of Spanish flu on board while docked in South Africa. The Boonah set sail for Fremantle but, when it arrived, it was denied the right to deboard its passengers by WA Premier Henry Lefroy. With about 300 soldiers and crew members on the Boonah having contracted the Spanish flu, Lefroy wanted to avoid the disease being spread in WA.
The quarantine centre was only equipped for up to 40 patients which resulted in the establishment of outdoor tent care facilities.Source:Supplied
Eventually, the passengers were allowed to leave the ship, with the ill taken to Woodman Point. The quarantine centre was equipped for only up to 40 patients, which resulted in the establishment of outdoor tent care facilities. That same isolation hospital has been meticulously restored and is one of the main stops on the guided tours of this quarantine complex.
It is flanked by the crematorium, which was built in 1903 as a safe way of disposing of the bodies of bubonic plague victims. Such incineration facilities were uncommon in Australia at the time but WA authorities feared that plague-riddle corpses were contagious. Fortunately, quarantine conditions these days are not nearly as harsh.
It looks like heaven, but Woodman Point has a very bleak history.Source:Supplied
Many visitors to Woodman Point likely are unaware of the bleak events that took place here a century ago. They could be forgiven for thinking it is a place of paradise, rather than purgatory, given its natural splendour. Stretching more than 2km along the coast in the suburb of Coogee, Woodman Point Regional Park is idyllic.
It boasts flawless beaches, great fishing, fine walking trails, large playgrounds, sailing and windsurfing clubs, sprawling lawns, and brilliant facilities for camping, picnicking and barbecuing. In the space of 100 years, Woodman Point has transformed from a pandemic nightmare to an oceanside dream.
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