1919 flu pandemic cartoon
What a month! Of course coronavirus has been around since the start of the year but here it only started to impact on my life a month ago. Back in November Mary Sheehan gave a talk to the Box Hill Historical Society on the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919. Schools were closed, many turned into temporary hospitals as was the Royal Exhibition Building. The only public gatherings allowed were church services, on condition that worshippers wore masks, thus the cartoon shown here, caption: “These are not anarchists en-route to a rendezvous. They are really nice people going to attend a church service.” Unlike Covid-19, the 1919 pandemic hit 20-40 year olds hardest.
Fast forward to 2020. February 29th saw friends get married: a large open-air gathering. On the Labor Day long weekend (March 7th-9th) we at the Newport Railway Museum partnered with Steamrail for their biennial open days. On a typical Saturday we get 70-100 visitors; over the three day weekend more than 2,000 visitors passed through our gates. The following Saturday we opened as usual, the last time until this is over.
That weekend saw the end of normal church gatherings – unlike 1919, no exemption for churches. Our Sunday services put together by a handful of people (including our seriously gifted tech team) are now live screened – check out City on a Hill Digital, with our weekly church home group meeting taking place over Zoom. That week all the other groups I belong to suspended their normal activities. On Monday morning I met up with an old school friend visiting from UK at the Docklands Library coffee shop. At 2.00p.m. all city libraries were closed.
Moreland Hotel interior
That Monday afternoon I drove to the airport to collect one of my cousins + husband from UK who had arranged to stay with me for the week starting March 16th after visiting WA. Their plan to return home via USA had already been changed, but they were still planning to go on to Queensland and Sydney. I met them at the airport and we had a good meal at the Moreland Hotel with its quite extraordinary interior. It wasn’t long before they got a message from one of their daughters, telling them that things were deteriorating, they needed to get home asap, and she’d booked them on a Wednesday night flight.
A near deserted Sovereign Hill, 18 March 2020
To make the most of their short visit, on Tuesday we took the ferry to Williamstown, then on Wednesday the train to Ballarat, to visit the Sovereign Hill open air museum, then still open (it closed a few days later). Not surprisingly it was very quiet.
Then back to Docklands for dinner before I saw them on to the airport bus. I was due to have other UK friends visit in April with the high spot of their visit being a road trip to Broken Hill and back but, needless to say, that’s cancelled.
So the new (for now) normality has taken over. Lots of time to work, some online contact, minimal interaction with others. Outdoor exercise is still allowed so I take a daily walk to get to my 6,000 step target – harder work now, since pre-virus a good portion of this was generally attained without trying, trips to supermarket (even if I didn’t really need anything), library coffee shop, Men’s Shed walk on Mondays, church mums and bubs group on Tuesdays etc.
But compared with so many I am truly fortunate: a spacious home, a business that so far has been unaffected by events, and good health. Here in Australia we’re currently counting the daily death toll in single figures; back in the UK it’s hundreds: with all my family there, including my mother, siblings and niece and partner working on the NHS front line, I’m far from complacent. To all those working hard to keep things going, and especially those on the front line, thank you.