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Matthew Wengert p2

How Brisbane people responded to the Spanish flu…

City in Masks tells how the Spanish Flu broke out in Melbourne at the end of January, 1919. In a couple of days it had headed north to New South Wales. The Queensland state government closed the border with NSW on January 31, 1919. Quarantine camps were set up in the border towns of Coolangatta and Wallangarra. If people arrived in Brisbane on a steam ship, they had to spend seven days in quarantine. The train from New South Wales to Queensland stopped at a quarantine camp in Tenterfield, NSW. 

Police tracked anyone who crossed the state borders, no matter how remote their wanderings. 

Red Cross volunteers went door to door, street to street, to help the sick in Brisbane. Young boys rode their bikes around the streets, looking for signs in windows saying people needed help. The Voluntary Aid Detachment, which was part of the Red Cross, went into hospitals and freed up nurses. There were 200 beds installed at the Exhibition building and grounds, for a hospital for the care and isolation of patients.

Archbishop Duhig handed over the new Catholic boys school, St Laurence’s, and the adjacent brothers’ accommodation, to serve as hospitals.

There was a call for volunteers: they asked for widows and single women without children, and men with cars.

Women formed organisations like the Womens Emergency Corps, to go into homes to feed and comfort families stricken with the Spanish Flu. They had rules for avoiding infection: adequate rest; wear masks; boil masks overnight in washing soda for hours; take care of each other; take each other’s temperatures and force them to rest at the first sign of a rise in temperature.

Department stores like Overell’s, McWhirter’s, Finney’s and T.C. Beirne sold masks. The dress circle of the Tivoli theatre became an inoculation depot for thousands. Every second seat in churches was kept empty. Food was rationed.

By mid-July, the government, nurses and volunteers managed to get on top of the flu in Brisbane.

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