The shape and development of industrial cities like Sydney was not just driven by house prices and factory conditions, but by random occurrences such as the arrival of a bubonic plague epidemic in 1901, and government/citizen response to this plague. As noted by Philippa Barr, government planning and people-power shape cities, for better and worse.
In her SOC208 UOW lecture this week, Barr relates how the Sydney plague created contestation between migrant and Anglo-Australian groups over issues of pollution and sanitation. Despite a poor understanding of the epidemiology behind the spread of plague (i.e. from rats, not airborne vectors), Barr notes that the 1901 arrival lead to the widespread instigation of quarantine on many communities in and around the upper Sydney CBD and Darling Harbour, because of the perceived poor quality of the ‘infected’ air in these regions. Many people, including large groups of Chinese ethnic migrants, were removed to quarantine stations, whole streets were closed, washed, and many hundreds of ‘unsanitary’ houses were demolished. Suspected quarantine persons were subject to public avoidance on streets and public transport (i.e. trams), and ‘citizen vigilant committees’ were formed to go around and identify suspect practices of poor hygiene (often identifying great ‘failures’ along ethnic/racial lines).
Barr notes, channeling ideas from Foucault and Elias, how these instances can be viewed as an example of historical governments exercising greater control over where and how people lived, and of the citizenry at the time exercising greater control over the standards of personal hygiene of their fellow (often non-white) citizens.