The Quarantine Station today - Villawood tomorrow? : the political discourse of heritage tourist attractions

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Edelheim, JR 2006, ‘The Quarantine Station today - Villawood tomorrow?: the political discourse of heritage tourist attractions’, working paper presented at Landscapes of exile: once perilous, now safe, Byron Bay, NSW, 26-28 July.


The Quarantine Station at North Head (QSNH) in Sydney is managed by the NPWS as a heritage attraction containing traces of Aboriginal, European and Asian history in Australia. The station was used for almost 150 years as a first stop for immigrants arriving to the nation, and is presented and remembered as an integral part of the nation’s history. Villawood Immigration Detention Centre (VIDC) in Western Sydney, accommodates foreign nationals that have not complied with the visa rules set out by the Department of Immigration of Australia (DIMIA) for staying in Australia, or people that have been refused entry to the country at airports or seaports. In a similar fashion to how popular culture, in cultural studies, is studied to find traces of how the society structures an understanding of itself and to underlying politics (Mankekar, 2001), tourism can be seen as both a sign of the society that has constructed it, and also as a normative force reconfirming the powers of that same society. For example, how ‘value, meaning, control, interpretation, authority and authenticity’ of heritage attractions develop (Stam, 1993, p. 267); all themes integrally part of tourism, and of the way individuals learn to act and understand themselves in relations to their social context (Jamal & Hollinshead, 2001). This paper discusses initially how the QSNH is presented and consumed as a tourist attraction, and the type of narratives that surround the issue of historical immigration to Australia. It thereafter mirrors this discussion with the official narratives surrounding the VIDC. The paper finally asks if the nation in 50 or maybe 100 years time will be allowed entry to the VIDC as a heritage attraction that tells something integral about how the nation was formed when it was functional. My suggestion is that heritage attractions are following the motto of Byron Bay’s lighthouse: ‘Once Perilous, Now Safe’.