A long career in quarantine relived

Kevin Davis recalls his long career at Sydney's Animal Quarantine Station

Kevin Davis surrounded by his quarantine memorabilia at his home. Photo by Virginia Harvey.

Kevin Davis surrounded by his quarantine memorabilia at his home. Photo by Virginia Harvey.


Now retired to Nelson Bay, Kevin Davis is full of memories from his time at Sydney's Animal Quarantine Station.


IT may have been during early times when imported animals were housed at Sydney’s famous Taronga Park Zoo site, Mosman, but history shows that Australia’s first official quarantine station developed on a five and a half acre block on Spring Street at Abbotsford Sydney in 1920.


Recently I met former manager – Kevin Davis – who had its lead role for 36 years, as well as being later instrumental in its relocation to Eastern Creek.

Retired to Nelson Bay, the spritely 88-year-old was full of memories as the stories came tumbling out regarding his time “in quarantine”, and was surrounded by numerous old photographs and a staff picture book during my visit.

The Animal Quarantine Station lay on the banks of the Parramatta River at Hen and Chicken Bay in Abbotsford which today is a public recreational area named “Quarantine Reserve”.   

It had accommodation of 64 dog kennels, two piggeries, could house 40 to 50 head of cattle, stallion facilities which included five double brick horse boxes, extra yards, and later a cattery.

While Kevin received some animal experience during his youth via his uncle who arrived from Jersey Island (near England) in 1933 with a shipment of cattle which relocated to Navua Stud, Grose Wold (which later was turned into a Thoroughbred stud), his address played a part with his job application.  

“When I was a young fella I lived opposite (the Abbotsford Animal Quarantine Station) and a job came up for someone to look after cattle,” Kevin said.

“Even during my schooling (in the 1940s) before school I used to go over and muck the stalls out, and I got six-pence off the grooms.”

“The grooms were a lazy lot – they were English, and the Australian climate did not suit them.”  

I have seen mares foaling, cows calving, had plenty of puppies and kittens born under my watch. - Kevin Davis

While there were a number of other quarantine stations around Australia, Sydney was the most used port, and from 1953 Kevin moved across the road - as it was a live-in job, and was officially employed.

“A few horses arrived in the early 1960s but mainly work/heavy horses, then in the late 1960s and early 70s, the horses began to fly in – with the first company to do so called ‘Flying Tigers’.”

Kevin recalled that there were 17 horses in the first plane-load, which went up to 40, then in the 1980s the number went to 100 - “and that was mainly bloodstock” Kevin said.

“I think it was a stretched DC8 (aircraft), they ripped everything out and erected the stalls around the horses as they were led in, then they would dismantle the stalls as they were led out.”

According to Kevin, dogs were quarantined for 60 days, while horses for one month.

“Visitations were allowed on a very restricted basis of one visit per month for the dogs and cats, but no owners were allowed to visit the horses (accept veterinarians).”

The great Kingston Town (returning from racing in Japan in November 1984) and early shuttling grey stallion Godswalk (to Lindsay Park, South Australia) were among horses Kevin cared for, while another was Highland Chieftain, an Irish bred gelding by Kampala, who finished second to Beau Zam in the 1988 Group One STC Tancred Stakes.

Being an imported racehorse, Highland Chieftain had one-week of quarantine, then released to go to the races, came straight back after his race into quarantine again for a further week, before departing.

Quarantined horses were lunged on a “needs basis”, however racehorses were allowed to be ridden by their accompanying strappers within the complex.

“Sometimes it was a 24-hours a day job with many “shipments” arriving at night,” Kevin said.

“You had to get them settled in, then it may have been an early start next day as there was a first-up early load out.

“There was no such thing as business hours.”

Among Kevin’s memorable moments includes misbehaving yearlings, handling Queen Bees (which were imported from Italy) and a Santa Gertrudis bull who came off second best.

“The bull charged me but luckily he connected first with the muck-barrow which went up into the air,” Kevin said. 

“I escaped to safety just before the bull came crashing through a bolted stall door.”

With the rising numbers of imported animals particularly horses, cattle and pets, a new site had to be found with the inner Sydney facility relocated to Eastern Creek in 1980.  

“My dedicated staff and their love of animals made it work,” Kevin said.

“Many of them (staff) worked overtime in order to make sure that the animals were happy.”

While Kevin retired in 1989, the Eastern Creek site continued until 2015, after which it moved to Victoria now named “Post Entry Quarantine”, a new $380 million site at Mickleham, just north of Tullamarine airport.

“I have seen mares foaling, cows calving, had plenty of puppies and kittens born under my watch; I always had a set of clothes next to my bed in case I had to get out (to attend to an issue) in a hurry.”

Magic Millions

The 2019 Magic Millions annual yearling sale kicked-off at the Gold Coast on Wednesday.

Record support from breeders has led to the Magic Millions cataloguing a record number of lots.

More than 1100 lots will pass through the ring, across six days of selling, featuring the progeny of 103 individual stallions, including 19 first season sires.

Book one featured 265 lots on offer, including progeny from group one winning mares Peggy Jean, Secret Admirer and Snitzerland.


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