ON 31 JANUARY 1919, ACCORDING TO INFLUENZA OUTBREAK: Memorandum Published for General Information by the Influenza Advisory Committee the public should:
- avoid crowds – in streets, in trains, in trams…parties should be avoided;
- control coughing – all coughing should be smothered by a hankerchief or a rag, which afterwards should be boiled or burnt;
- discouragement of panic:
There is no reason for any panic. Fear is cowardly and very injurious. Cheerfulness increases resistance and prevents complications.
The Spanish ‘flu pandemic came to Australia in very late 1918, after it had swept through the Northern Hemisphere. Once again we draw on the collection of ESA member Andrew H to look at ephemeral records of this event.
The Museum of Victoria has a good post about the scale of the Spanish ‘flu pandemic in Victoria. (Although some of the information in the MoV site is at odds with other sources.)
Significantly, the establishment of the Federal Serum Laboratory is linked to the anticipation of illnesses like this. According to CSL’s website, the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (sic) was established in 1916 when the Australian government’s appreciated that events like war isolated Australia from its usual sources of vaccines and medicines. (MoV suggests it was established later.) The first challenge the Federal Serum Laboratory faced was the Spanish ‘flu pandemic. According to the CSL website:
In 1918 Melbourne and Sydney’s ports have been placed under quarantine in an attempt to avoid the introduction into Australia of the “Spanish Influenza” epidemic which is claiming thousands of lives around the world. One of CSL’s first actions is to prepare advance doses of a vaccine in case an Australia outbreak of the epidemic occurs.
CSL’s first challenge is the Influenza Epidemic of 1919 – the “Spanish ‘Flu”. When the epidemic reaches Australia in January 1919, public health authorities respond by closing cinemas, theatres, racecourses and schools. Masks are required of anyone moving through the streets. Schools and kindergartens – even Melbourne’s Exhibition Building – are turned into makeshift hospitals.
CSL’s staff numbers are temporarily tripled as the organisation produces 3 million doses of a mixed bacterial vaccine in an attempt to combat the disease.
The advice includes reference to the special vaccine which is being made at Royal Park by the Federal Serum Laboratory.
The certificates are not numbered. It seems they were awarded well after the influenza work – for example, Rev. J. A. Poole, rector of Moolong, received his certificate in June 1920. A Trove search did not find a reference to an equivalent award in states other than New South Wales.
This pamphlet runs to 11 pages and includes drawings of bed making and other care of the convalescent. It appears to have been published after the two waves of the 1919 epidemic and recommends an early response to any signs of illness.
CSL has maintained its interest in influenza. These late twentieth century publications are about influenza and the best treatment – which is prevention. There is no fear or panic. The messages are about prevention and staying healthy.
The earlier brochure advises that:
Vaccination is an effective way of preventing yourself against prevalent strains of influenza.
The second has been revised and notes first that:
Prevention is the best ‘treatment’ and this includes the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle with proper diet and adequate exercise. Vaccination is an effective way of preventing yourself against prevalent strains of influenza.
Of course other pandemics, epidemics, health scares have produced more dramatic messages and so ephemera. We may look at a later time at the ephemera of HIV/AIDS.
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