With the flu season upon us in a big way, we might consider the big flu pandemic of 1919 and its consequences.
The ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic emerged at the end of the First World War, killing more than 50 million people worldwide.
Despite a swift quarantine response in October 1918, cases of Spanish flu began to appear in Australia in early 1919. About 40 percent of the population fell ill and around 15,000 died as the virus spread through Australia.
The 1918–19 influenza pandemic is often called the ‘Spanish flu’, not because it originated in Spain, but due to it first being widely reported there.
This pandemic started in 1918, the last year of the First World War, and passed through soldiers in Western Europe in successively more virulent waves.
Unusually, the Spanish flu affected healthy young adults much more than its usual targets: children, the elderly or those with weakened immune systems. In Australia, the virus became known as ‘pneumonic influenza’.
The virus spread rapidly around the world as soldiers returned from active service at the end of the war. Because of its remoteness from Europe, Australia had months to make the necessary preparations.
The first case of pneumonic influenza appeared in Melbourne, on 9 or 10 January 1919. Early cases were so mild, however, that there was initially confusion about whether the virus was the Spanish flu, or simply a continuation of the seasonal flu virus from the previous winter.
Glennie reopened for classes in February 1919 despite rumours that all schools would remain closed. As the border between NSW and Queensland was closed for quarantine, it was fortunate that not many students were from the south. Two staff members were caught and replacement staff and ‘old girls’ were recruited to assist.
The Government closed all schools in May when the pandemic came to Qld. Fortunately, only 4 boarders were sent for by their parents and as far as Glennie was concerned, it was all over in 10 days with only mild cases recorded. After the many sad losses of family and friends during the war, then the fear of disease, Glennie bounced back quickly with increased enrolments, the building of new classrooms and the Assembly Hall.
(Refs: Glennie Gazette July and November 1919
Mrs Noeleen Fleming