The Bundaberg Post Office on June 7, 1918.
The Bundaberg Post Office on June 7, 1918.

Flashback: Bundy’s pandemic history with Spanish flu

THE outbreak of Covid-19 has thrown social and economic normalities into a time of unprecedented change.

This pandemic has seen social distancing and gathering restrictions ruled at a federal level and implemented in communities across the country; closing pubs, restaurants, beauty salons, gyms, and places of worship.

All while supermarkets have limited the amount of toilet paper one can purchase and created specialised shopping times for the elderly and healthcare workers because people bought in bulk.

While for many people, this is the first time they’ve endured a major health crisis, it isn’t the first time Bundaberg has experienced one.

As reported in an article in the 110 Years of News publication, the Spanish flu in took its toll on the region in May 1919.

The Spanish flu 1918 influenza pandemic is regarded by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention as the most severe pandemic in recent history.

It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin with the CDC putting the number of deaths estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide.

According to the 110 Years of News article, four doctors worked at a public inoculation depot set up in Bundaberg, vaccinating 173 people in four days.

The Mail reported on May 30, 1919 that deliveries of the paper had been delayed considerably when “several of (the Mail) staff and (delivery) boys did not turn up for work.”

The article states that while Dr Egmont Schmidt continued to recover, there were five new patients, 15 nurses were ill, and a nurse at Gin Gin and a woman at Bundaberg had died.

“Matron Donaldson said there were three or four serious cases in the hospital, although they

could not be termed dangerous,” it read.

“She was being assisted by nine volunteers, whose help was of great value.

“Speaking at the St George Society’s meeting, Canon Beasley said it would not be long before the influenza position would be serious and there might be a call on citizens to help.”

The article reads that it was nearing a time when people could be called upon to help.

The Mail reported the epidemic appeared to be abating in Gin Gin, but increasing in severity in Wallaville.

In a June 3 editorial, the newspaper condemned the State Government’s abrogation of responsibility for dealing with the epidemic and restrictions it proclaimed on June 2.

It goes on:

“At this large stage, when the epidemic is so general, when there are a hundred and one ways by which infections may be spread, and when the community has realised the necessity of doing everything conducive to preventing sickness, the regulations came as a sort of apology,” the paper said.

The restrictions weren’t too dissimilar to what the nation is facing today with the closure of public spaces, but the 110 Years of News article states that they also included the closure of schools for 10 to 12 weeks.

On June 5, it was reported that Dallarnil hotel keepers were doing a roaring trade in rum, whiskey, and brandy, which were “eagerly bought (up) by all classes as a preventative against the influenza.”

“The scare is quite acceptable to some people for an excuse, although the majority of purchases are for genuine purposes.”

The article states the a second wave of influenza hit Bundaberg in July and by July 11 “whole families were struck down”.

The Mail on July 12 was reduced in size to eight pages because of a “severe recurrence of the influenza among the mechanical staff.”

The next day the Mayor Ald Martin Dunn received a telegram from the Home Secretary in Brisbane, advising the restrictions had been repealed.

“In consequence the schools can now re-open and amusements may carry on as usual,” the Mail said.