QSwharfth.jpg (4017 bytes)Manly Quarantine Station

Gwen Woodward



in 1999

on site

in the past

Before 1900

1900 - 1920

1920 - 1950

1950 - 1984


Gwen  Woodward's
memories of Quarantine Station

Gwen Woodward moved into a house at the Quarantine Station in 1925. Her stepfather was was on the staff.

Gwen says "The Quarantine Station was a marvellous place to live - the views of Sydney Harbour, the free air, wide spaces and the perks from the Federal Health Department. The Manly Hospital was being built when we moved there in 1925."

My mother, a New Zealander, married Noel Woodward, a Master Mariner who travelled around the world 7 times in sailing ships.

Our family including my brother, Jack, lived in a solid brick  house on the Quarantine Station. There were 15 men working at the Station in 1925 - the gatekeeper was Mr Ericson and he had grey whiskers and hair.

Childhood Activities

Jack had a bike but I walked to school, 2 miles each way. There were no cars on the road but on Friday night after shopping with my mother, we would take a taxi home.

Jack's favourite pastime was fishing down the gully where a steep and slippery track led down to the rocks below. Jack would tie himself with a rope to a big iron stake in the rocks and fish whilst the rolling waves came in. Jack caught lovely fish - yellow bellies, taylor, bream - and gutted them for us. He sold some in Manly for 1/- (one shilling). Jack made his own rod and fishing tackle.
He also swam and rowed. There was a natural swimming pool in the gully and children swam with no bathers.

At night we played cards and sang songs. My stepfather strummed a guitar. There was a tennis court.  The roller was there and we all took turns to maintain the court. There was a sort of lean-to so we could make tea and cakes for our friends after a tennis game.

Jack and his friends (one later became Sir Roden Cutler) would make barbecues at Store Beach and have swimming parties at Manly Baths.

My brother went to the Cinema every Saturday night in Manly wearing very shiny shoes.

My idea of happiness was to lie on a rug down near Quarantine Beach under the red flowering tree reading my favourite books - quiet, soothing, serene - with tiny waves lapping the clean white beach, no one nearby, the grass so green, a few seagulls about. Later getting up to look for tiny seashells and paddling in the sea (not too far though as there were sharks in the Harbour).

Manly Hospital had a tuck shop manned by volunteers and this was a good place to meet with friends. It cost 6d (sixpence) to go into the Hospital to visit anyone.

Life in those days

My mother would regularly wander into the bush wearing her second best winter coat and solid flat shoes and gloves and gather Banksia cobs, some black from fires. She would collect these in sugar bags. My father would bring them home for our fire and our woodburning stove.

We had a bunker on the back verandah full of coal for the stove too.

The Depression

During the Depression (late 1920s early 1930s) it was hard to find work but people were very kind. I worked in a law firm till they had to reduce staff. I cried but the staff gave me a silver thimble which I have given to my neice.

There were many men out of work. Some of them - including doctors and lawyers - were put to work building a big wall with an arched gateway around the Quarantine Station. The wall is still there - at Parkhill near Manly Hospital - but the Quarantine Station grounds do not extend up to there now.

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Gwen  Woodward in the house
at the Quarantine Station

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Brother Jack Woodward on the beach
QSgwen19.jpg (10903 bytes)
Daguerreotype of Gwen Woodward
made on iodine-sensitized silver plate
using mercury vapour.

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Brother Jack Woodward and friends near Store Beach

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My brother Jack Woodward in army uniform
- he went to war during 1938 and 1944
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Gwen Woodward at age 35
On the Manly ferry, in the 1930s, there was a piano and often someone would be playing sad melancholy music on there whilst another person played the violin. During the journey, they would push a box near your face to ask you to contribute money.

The Ferry fare was 7/6 (seven shillings and sixpence) per month for a regular ticket. The regular travellers on the ferry each had their own places they liked to sit. The young ladies of the day were pretty - dressed in floral frocks, denier stockings, high heels and hats - they knitted, read books and did sewing and regularly went to the Ladies Room to do up their make-up.

A friend gave me a ticket to the Opera and the Ballet - up in the Gods - and afterwards home I went in the last ferry of the evening then the 2 mile walk up to the Quarantine Station at 1:30 in the morning!!  It was very dark and frightening.

Many rich people had yachts moored in the bay. Every 2 or 3 weeks the staff on weekend duty would go out and check on the yachts and their permits to anchor there.

World War II

My brother enlisted in the 1939-1944 War and this was a very worrying time - we wrote to each other every week. He also wrote regularly to Eleanor Harris whom he met when the ship she was travelling on as an evacuee from Britain, the "M.S.Batory" was quarantined in 1940.

Food and water

We had tank water but there was a reservoir at the back.
Fowls and bantams, in our yard, laid us fresh eggs.
Everything was delivered to the Station during active Quarantine  but at other times, the orders were left at the gate. The fruiterer, baker, grocer, milkman and mailman all left our belongings at the gatekeeper's cottage at the top of the hill.

During the Depression, life was hard but the Corso Restaurant kept operating and you could get a very good meal for 1/6 (one shilling and sixpence).


We had no electricity until the North Head Barracks were built but when a ship came into the Quarantine Station, the powerhouse was used to make electricity which we could use as well. In active Quarantine, we had electric lights but lovely soft kerosene lamps and candles at other times.

We had fires in every room. There was a great copper heater in the bathroom and with a few twigs and paper burning we could have a lovely hot bath.

Dr Bloomer had a motor bike he rode around the Station.

There was a switchboard in the lovely sandstone Head Office building and at first each house was given a phone but these were later taken away. During active Quarantine, my brother Jack stayed home from school and acted as switchboard officer. He rode his bike like fury up to the big gates for messages and parcels. The chefs and cooks that came off the ships cooked for the passengers and they gave my brother, Jack big roast dinners.

My mother, who was a great dressmaker, made all our clothes on her Singer sewing machine - powered by pedalling with her feet.

Manly had a carriage and pair (or grey horses).  People paid to ride in it with the Coachman. it cost a few shillings and was a great attraction.

The work of the Quarantine Station

My stepfather fumigated big ships with cyanide to kill rats from the Berrys Bay Marina at Balls Head. This was dangerous work which was mostly done at night. There were 2 staff cottages there and 2 tugs called "The Pasteur" and "The Jenner" which carried big pipes that were needed for the fumigation work. Then he came to the Quarantine Station.

The staff at the Quarantine Station fumigated the bristles of hairbrushes imported into Australia to protect against a very dangerous disease called Anthrax.

There were not very many active quarantines between 1925 - 1940. Cholera and smallpox were the main problems. There would usually be 2 days notice of a ship coming in. In between times the staff maintained the station, did a bit of road work, cared for the gardens and keeping the quarters clean and tidy. My stepfather cooked for the seamen who were being treated for venereal diseases in the building which became the Police Academy later.

Many thanks to Gwen Worthington (Née Woodward) for supplying the photos and all these fascinating insights to life at the Quarantine Station in the past.

Before 1900

1900 - 1920

1920 - 1950

1950 - 1984

This page was created 7th October,1999  by Judith Bennett,  Friends of Quarantine Station,
and was last modified 20th January, 2007.