At Sydney’s enormous Rookwood Cemetery, a lichen-spotted headstone captures a family’s double burden of grief.
The grave contains the remains of 19-year-old Harriet Ann Ottaway, who died on 2 July 1919. Its monument also commemorates her brother Henry James Ottaway, who ‘died of wounds in Belgium, 23rd Sept 1917, aged 21 years’.
While Henry was killed at the infamous Battle of Passchendaele, Harriet’s headstone makes no mention of her own courageous combat with ‘Spanish flu’.
Harriet’s story typifies the enduring public silence around the pneumonic influenza pandemic of 1918–19. Worldwide, it killed an estimated 50-100 million people – at least three times all of the deaths caused by the First World War.
After the disease came ashore in January 1919, about a third of all Australians were infected and the flu left nearly 15,000 dead in under a year. Those figures match the average annual death rate for the Australian Imperial Force throughout 1914–18.
It feels like this may be my last Covid Chronicles for the time being.
NSW has just clocked over 10 days of no new community transmission cases of Covid-19. Restrictions have eased. gradually but dramatically over the past few weeks, and life is almost back as it was. Except for the containers of hand sanitiser at the entrance to every shop and coloured spots on the floor reminding us to social distance.
The occasional international traveller still tests positive, but all overseas travellers, regardless of Covid status, still go into a two week quarantine before being given the green light to emerge. As far as I can tell, it will only take one breach in this particular system for things to deteriorate again.
Travel restrictions have eased, and NSWellians can travel within the state again as of the 1st June.
We have a BnB property in the Blue Mountains. Less than an hour after the official announcement, we had our first booking. We are now booked solid until the end of July, with a new cleaning schedule in place that also includes disinfecting.
Given the year this area of NSW has had thanks to the summer bush fires (with almost no bookings throughout Dec, Jan, Feb and March) and now Covid (with no bookings at all during April and May) the flow-on effect to cafes, restaurants and tourist sites has been disastrous. It’s good to see and feel a buzz in local high streets again.
Winter junior sport is back to training, with a season start date imminent. Curiously, over 18’s are not allowed to return to training yet, but they are allowed to go to pubs and clubs again to drink and gamble. Obviously the gambling industry needs are more essential than playing team sport in the open air! Some things never change.
Schools are back full-time, although most uni’s are still offering their courses online via social conferencing platforms, to cater for the number of overseas students who cannot be in Australia for live classes. The over-dependence of our universities on overseas students for funds has been another exposed flaw in the old way of doing things. But will it change? I doubt it.
A number of sectors are struggling to get spare parts for machinery (farming, automotive, white goods etc), highlighting the mistakes we’ve made over the past decades in closing down and moving our reliance on small industry off shore. A few home grown companies producing farming equipment in particular have stepped into the breach and massively increased their production over the past couple of months, so maybe there will be some positive changes after all.
We still monitor the number of people who can be in our bookshop at one time. The cleaning schedule is far more rigorous than it used to be. So far everyone seems to be doing the right thing, although the close-talkers have really struggled to change their ways!
I’m completely over the elbow bump and refuse to initiate it, but I happily blow kisses and smiles in the direction of close friends and family. I’ve even bowed a few times.
I’ve had my first coffee date with a friend in our favourite coffee shop. In the past few weeks I’ve had a haircut and a massage for the first time in over two months. But I’m not keen to rush back into anything else.
I have yet to travel anywhere on public transport. We haven’t gone out for dinner with friends (although we do order takeaway to do our bit to help keep local businesses open). Our only guests at home have been B22 and his lovely GF and an occasional friend visit for B19.
It feels like we may have got on top of this virus…for now. Being an island nation has helped us once again. It was also one of the factors that helped Australia in 1919 with the Spanish ‘flu.
During 1918 as the ‘flu devastated Europe and the US after the war, our Australian soldiers and nurses were quarantined (stuck) overseas. This, naturally, caused a lot of hardship and unrest at the time.
The long boat trip home for them, when restrictions eased, meant that the ‘flu didn’t reach our shores until 1919. And when it did, it was a less deadly version. 15 000 young Australians still died thanks to complications caused by the flu. Curiously, most of them were young women. But then, I guess, most of the young man from that age group were still overseas, dead or waiting to return home.
Source – Centenary of ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic in Australia | The University of Sydney | 21 January 2019 | Dr Peter Hobbins
It’s astounding that most of us are only learning about the facts about the 1919 pandemic now.
I wonder what will happen to this Covid time in the future? Will their be articles marking it’s centenary in 2120? Will it spawn books, music, a change in thinking? Or will it fall back into the fog of history leaving nothing but a stack of stats and graphs? And memes.
I know that many countries are still in the grip of this virus and still have a long way to go before they can feel a degree of safety or return to any form of normal life. My thoughts are with you.
Obviously the virus is still out there. We’re aware that second and third waves can result in even higher rates of transmission, as people relax. It could all go pear-shaped pretty quickly.
But I am an optimist after all. I believe and hope that we’re over the worst, yet I’m still prepared (as much as one can be) for other eventualities. Please feel free to share your Covid updates below. I’d like to know how you’re coping too.
Take care; take heart.