Heidelberg Historical Society

Taking Influenza TO the school 1919

Posted on Saturday, 25th April 2020 by Janine Rizzetti

*From our Facebook page 16 April 2020)

Fairfield Park State School SLV http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/174848

During our present coronavirus pandemic, there is concern about keeping the illness out of the schools, but during the ‘Spanish Influenza’ epidemic of February 1919, influenza sufferers were brought right into Fairfield Primary School on purpose.

The 1919 epidemic was gathering pace during January 1919, so the school holidays were extended and the school year did not start until March 1919.

Each of the ridings in the Heidelberg Shire was expected to set up local arrangements for influenza patients, but only Fairfield actually created its own hospital at the Fairfield Primary School. All was in readiness to receive patients on 12 February 1919, and the first patient was admitted on 16 February.

The staff included Dr Heffernan, a matron, an ambulance driver, two nurses, two wardsmen and a cook. The services of the hospital were free, but patients were asked to provide certain items of clothing and sheeting should the need arise. The telephone, gas and electricity were laid on to the school, and beds, bedding and medical equipment purchased.

It’s not clear how many people were admitted to the makeshift hospital. It closed in early March and the school building was disinfected and fumigated in readiness for the children who returned to the school on 8 March. There was a second wave of influenza in July and August of 1919 but there was no move to requisition the school again. The equipment, including bedding, stretchers, crockery and linen was auctioned off by the Shire in November 1919. The financial report of 1920 noted that 418 pounds had been spent by the Shire in dealing with the epidemic.

And the advice of the Minister for Health in 1919? “travel as little as possible, avoid crowds, live as much as possible in the open air and lead quiet and cheerful lives.”

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