Another century, another pandemicPrint
As World War I drew to a close a new and dreadful scourge appeared – influenza or Spanish Flu. The pandemic gradually spread throughout Europe. The Australian Government watching its approach drew up stringent quarantine regulations. By November 1918 the disease had struck in its most virulent form in New Zealand and was spreading rapidly.
In Australia, the States had decided upon extensive quarantine measures to be imposed once the disease had been identified in Australia. After cases were identified in Victoria, NSW imposed further restrictions. Traffic was stopped at the borders and a quarantine period of seven days was imposed on all travellers by land or sea. As time passed, New South Wales was accused of causing serious trade and commercial dislocation and aggravating severe shortages of food and fuel. The quarantine measures proved of no avail and as the epidemic spread into New South Wales the restrictions between states became redundant.
In an endeavour limit the spread of the disease, public health measures were introduced in the Sydney area. Major public events were cancelled, public places were to be avoided, and the wearing of masks in public made mandatory. Schools did not resume following the holiday break and church services and public meetings were prohibited. An uproar arose, especially among churchmen who were prohibited from conducting services, when at first no restrictions were imposed upon hotels. In response, a proclamation was issued restricting the number of people permitted in the bar areas of hotels. The protests continued and a few days later hotel bars were also closed.
Local hospitals were full to capacity and emergency hospitals were set up around the city in places like the Royal Agricultural Showground and the Deaf and Dumb Institute. There was a shortage of doctors as many had not returned from war service, so medical students were enlisted to assist local doctors as they treated the sick and dying. The Mother Rectress at St Vincent’s cancelled non urgent cases and transferred patients to the Private Hospital to make wards available for flu victims. As the schools were closed teaching Sisters were able to assist with home visits and nursing duties.
A newspaper account of the time describes how:
Twelve Sisters of Charity – six from the Sacred Heart Hospice, four from St Vincent’s Hospital and two from Mount St Patricks Covent Paddington, nursed the sick in the Paddington area. They attended 231 patients in their homes and not one death occurred. In one case the whole household was afflicted and the Sister before starting to do the washing, had to chop the firewood herself. Besides nursing the Sisters did the washing and scrubbing in other houses. They also spent their own money on medicines, invalid food and clothing.
To overcome the prohibition on church services, Monsignor O’Haran, the local parish priest obtained permission to say mass in the open air provided people were scattered and not grouped together. He asked Mother Cecilia Bruton if she would allow mass to be offered in the pavilion in the Hospice grounds for the parishioners of Darlinghurst. Mother Cecilia was delighted at the prospect and considered it an honour. Accordingly on three successive Sundays Mass was celebrated at the Hospice, an event recorded for posterity by a local photographer.
From Cooke, A., Open Wide the Doors – unpublished history of Sacred Heart Hospice, Darlinghurst 2020
Kindly reprinted with permission of the author.