How the Murraylands survived Spanish flu in 1919

A house which formerly belonged to Allan McDonald and was turned into an isolation hospital during the 1919 Spanish flu pandemic. Photo: Supplied.
A house which formerly belonged to Allan McDonald and was turned into an isolation hospital during the 1919 Spanish flu pandemic. Photo: Supplied.

How did the outbreak of pneumonic influenza affect the district from January til December, 1919?

When a young girl was diagnosed with pneumonic influenza, there was no area for isolating her, so she was taken to the Exhibition Hospital on North Terrace in Adelaide.

When a young man who returned to Murray Bridge from Adelaide became unwell, Allan McDonald, his former employer, made available a room in his home.

A doctor was called who diagnosed the young man with pneumonic influenza and advised that Mr McDonald and his family had to leave their home, which became an isolation hospital.

The Local Board of Health installed a nurse and quarantined the building, placing yellow flags at all entrances, and police guarded the place.

This had an obvious effect on the local residents.

The Local Board of Health made many requests.

The station master, Mr R A Cilento, closed the railway platform to the public when the Melbourne express was standing in the station.

Dr Macky, with Sister Scott and Sister Young, was one of the qualified medical persons that boarded the trains and carried out medical inspections of all the passengers - between 170 and 240 of them - for the presence of pneumonic influenza.

Tents were erected on the showground for an isolation hospital should an outbreak occur.

By March 1919 the Victorian border was closed and the Railway Commissioner advised it was useless to issue through tickets to travellers from Victoria as they would not be permitted to cross the border.

The decision was made when Victoria had 2684 deaths and South Australia had 309.

South Australia had to control its borders.

River vessels were not without risks, having to fly the quarantine yellow flag with the presence of influenza.

Many people in the district were stricken with pneumonic influenza including the local chemist, Mr F E Heddle, the Reverend W A and Mrs Terry from the Anglican Church.

Most recovered but unfortunately many died from this district.

By December 1919 there were no new cases of pneumonic influenza, also known as the Spanish flu.

The total death toll in the states of Australia was New South Wales 5870, Victoria 3347, South Australia 504, Queensland 286, Western Australia 338 and Tasmania 186.

In 1919 shopping was a monthly outing; flour, sugar and salt were purchased in large calico-type bags and most families were somewhat self-contained with vegetable gardens, chooks, fruit trees and a cow that produced milk and cream that could be made into butter.

Then there was the outdoor loo, where the newspaper was cut or torn into small squares for the wiping of one's bottom.

Everyone worked together to help control a deadly problem.