Matthew Wengert p1

READERSVOICE.COM aims to collect a few interesting reading tips. This issue features Matthew Wengert, author of City in Masks: How Brisbane fought the Spanish Flu Epidemic in 1919. He recommends a couple of good novels: a western and a war story.

The Spanish Flu was brought to Australia by soldiers returning from the European battlefields of WW1. Soldiers returning to Brisbane were quarantined at Fort Lytton at the mouth of the Brisbane River. Four returned WW1 soldiers broke out of Fort Lytton, eager to return home. Police tracked them to their homes and they were put under guard by police. No one was allowed in or out of these houses because of the risk of infection.

Matthew Wengert’s book City in Masks: How Brisbane fought the Spanish Flu Epidemic in 1919, is a well-researched book, that gives a good snapshot of Brisbane at the time, as well as a daily account of how people responded to the epidemic. 

The Spanish Flu killed up to 50 million people worldwide. There were more deaths than from WW1 and WW2 combined. “We were the country that got off lightest with the flu,” Mr Wengert said.

More than 300 people died in Brisbane from the Spanish Flu by the time it waned in mid-July 1919. 

The virus could only be spread from person to person.The sick coughed up blood; their skin turned brown and bloody with haemorrhages under the skin. Young men died the most because of an overreaction of the immune system. 

The flu also had a devastating effect on Aboriginal settlements. 

Mr Wengert said the death toll was minimised in Brisbane because of  measures introduced by the state government. (At the time, Labor’s Ted Theodore was acting premier.) Nurses and volunteers came to the fore, and used basic nursing care: good food, liquids, clean laundry, and rest and comfort for the sick “to get them through another day”. 

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