100 years later, Clarence response is eerily similar
AFTER scouring old newspaper clippings, a Yamba researcher has some interesting insight into the similarities between two pandemics separated by more than a century.
Using historical records accessed from the comfort of his home, John McNamara - research officer at the Port of Yamba Historical Society - has been busy piecing together the Clarence Valley response to the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919.
And the responses to the outbreak are remarkably similar.
"What stood out was mainly the similarities between what happened then and how it has been dealt with now," he said.
"Closing the borders and restricting travel it is pretty similar to what they have done now."
Mr McNamara said while Spanish flu wiped out millions internationally and infected 40 per cent of Australians, the country had one of the lowest death rates in the world.
And as somewhere around 15,000 people died, the Clarence Valley managed to escape the worst of it.
Using articles from The Daily Examiner and The Clarence River Advocate, Mr McNamara was able to get a picture of how it affected different parts of the region.
"The first case was a prisoner that came up on the ships from Sydney - then when the first case was reported in Grafton and they stopped travel," he said.
At the beginning of the outbreak Grafton City Council requested the Health Minister place restrictions on people coming from Sydney to Grafton by rail or steamer.
The Council wanted to prevent anyone travelling at all unless they had a "clean health certificate".
By the end of the outbreak Grafton Base Hospital had been "absolutely handed over" for the treatment of influenza patients, with 500 cases treated there.
Mr McNamara said all but one nurse contracted the disease and all went back to working at the hospital.
The Lower Clarence fared better, with Mr McNamara unable to find a single confirmed case in Yamba, though there were isolated outbreaks elsewhere.
"There was a bit of an outbreak in Harwood and Yamba pretty well escaped it,"
"There was one family (suspected to have Spanish flu) in Yamba but they were later found to have had ordinary influenza."
The response in the Lower Clarence began with a public meeting on February 3, 1919 where a central committee was formed and " arrangements were immediately made to combat the scourge."
"An isolation ward was then established at Maclean Showground and the first patient was admitted on May 20, and up to the end of that month eight patients were admitted."
He said when the quarantine centre closed in mid-August, they had treated 46 patients.
"The Lower Clarence managed to escape the worst effects of the virus thanks to the swift quarantine response by the Government and by the end of August 1919 was declared virus free," Mr McNamara said.
"It was reported that the citizens and Red Cross League of Yamba were willing to assist in every way possible way," he said.