Zooming history: ‘Records and Recollections: the pneumonic influenza pandemic in Australia 1918-1919

How naive we were, thinking that once 2020 came to an end, the year of COVID would be over. We only have to look back to the ‘Spanish’ flu to see that epidemics can spiral around the world again and again. This ANU Annual Lecture is presented by Anthea Hyslop who lectured in History at ANU from 1989 until her retirement in 2009. She observes that there is quite a bit of written material about the ‘Spanish’ flu- Richard Collier wrote a global history in 1974 based on a questionnaire which included the Australian experience, and there was an oral history project on the Flu epidemic in 1980. From these questionnaires and interviews we learn that at first people conflated bubonic plague and pneumonic influenza. I’d always wondered about the ‘vaccination’ that was spoken of at the time. There was a ‘vaccine’ but it didn’t really affect the influenza, but it did help to avoid secondary infection. It came in A and B doses, with the second dose stronger than the first, and CSL produced 3 million doses. There was also the inhalorium or “a course of whiffs” which was supposed to prevent transmission. Once people contracted the influenza, they treated it with APC (terrible stuff- I was given it when I had tonsillitis as a child), proprietary medicines or onions. Schools and public resorts were closed, but factory work continued, so there was no lockdown. And what happened in the end? Well, it just petered out after about a year. We’re still waiting.

2 responses to “Zooming history: ‘Records and Recollections: the pneumonic influenza pandemic in Australia 1918-1919

  1. Covid seems to be weakening with its strength and effect, just not its infectioness. Here’s hoping. Happy New Year J.

  2. artandarchitecturemainly

    How naive we were/are… yes! It is interesting that Richard Collier wrote a global history in 1974 based on 1. a questionnaire and 3. an oral history project in 1980. People in 1918-9 may well have conflated bubonic plague and pneumonic influenza, but I think I would have relied on contemporary reports. As we can see EVEN TODAY, a sizeable minority of the population don’t trust science and medicine!

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