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Sunday, August 15, 2021

Day 3

Curious to know how information was relayed - case numbers, contact tracing, etc (image I) - during the 1918-19 pneumonic influenza, I browsed through Trove and found a snapshot of an outbreak in Auburn (Sydney). What hits front and centre is the absence of privacy (which interestingly doesn't seem to impede rumours or accusations; see Day 2). The first article (image II) reports the “case” of Mrs. Glendenning, the proprietor of a boarding house, who along with her three children, are swiftly taken to hospital. Reading on in the same paper we learn that a “case” was taken to hospital from Lidcombe the next day, a Mrs. Nagle, who was employed at the boarding house, and we are given a run down of her contacts: her father, mother, husband, two children and brother, James Carter. James was taken away the following day: “he [was] 25 years of age and unmarried” (The Cumberland Argus & Fruitgrowers Advocate, 15.02.1919). A week later an article in the same newspaper reports 14 contacts (and I understand residents) of the boarding house “were told by the proper authorities what to do and what not to do during their enforced isolation of four days.” The article goes on to claim that there was “practically no oversight of the contacts at all” and that they were seen “going about the street and into places of business”, nor was there any indication from the street that the house was in isolation, stating a “Chinese hawker ... walked in and remained there half an hour”. A letter to the editor in the following Saturday’s edition signed “Those who know” declares that it was “...unnecessary for anyone to be in charge, as everyone in [the] house has enough intelligence to know right from wrong..” and “..the Chinese hawker … [was] in the yard for as many seconds as you put minutes” (01.03.19). The accusation of isolation mismanagement resulted in a letter of response from the Under Secretary, Department of Health the following week, concluding there was no continual outbreak and “the facts of the case have been considerably exaggerated” (19.03.1919). The newspaper was unapologetic in drawing attention to the laxity of quarantine, as a sense of duty in the public interest.