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Heidelberg Historical Society

1919 Influenza Epidemic: a tip for avoiding contagion?

Posted on Thursday, 16th April 2020 by Janine Rizzetti

From our Facebook page March 29, 2020

Dog Box train carriage PROV12800-P0003-000-112-030

During the first phase of the 1919 Spanish Flu epidemic in January and February 1919, there were lots of stories circulating about ways to avoid contagion. The patent medicine companies were hard at work, making all sorts of claims for their products. It was also claimed that false teeth, alcohol, smoking, and gargling or inhaling a mixture of menthol, eucalyptol, camphor, oil of cinnamon and spirits of chloroform would also safeguard against catching influenza.

On 21 January,a rumour ran through the morning train on the Heidelberg and Collingwood line that a hot and dusty northerly wind was a good protection against influenza. Because the Heidelberg line was not electrified until 1921,the train would have been one of the old dog-box carriages which,amazingly, were still being used until 1974. Here’s how The Age reported it:

“This information spread from carriage to carriage and within a few minutes all windows and ventilators were flung wide open. Though the hot wind blew through the open windows and covered everyone with dust, very few complaints were made as to the uncomfortable condition of affairs” (Age 28 January p.9)

Dog Box train carriage PROV 12903-p0001-000-341-040

I have this vision of the office workers of Heidelberg and Ivanhoe stumbling off the train at Flinders Street, buttoned up in their collars and ties on a hot January morning, hair standing on end, covered in dust - but hopefully safe from the influenza!

Photos: Public Records Office of Victoria http://www.prov.vic.gov.au/

There’s a fantastic collection on the PROV site if you search under “Railways” then select the digital records.

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