Spanish Flu and Ithaca, Brisbane

sepia Sat 1 MayThis post was inspired by this week’s Sepia Saturday theme of “I am asking you to feature your tributes to all of those who are keeping us safe at the moment by featuring your old photographs of carers of all types and all times”. Admittedly it’s now more Sepia Monday but I wanted to include my discovery of workers who supported the Spanish Flu in a suburb near where I grew up, and near where my grandparents lived at the time. I have no doctors or nurses in my own history from this time so I turned to my good friend Trove.

May 1919 seems to have been the hot-spot of infections although at this time, the deaths seems small compared to what was experienced globally.


Influenza deaths Courier 1919

INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC. FIVE DEATHS YESTERDAY. (1919, May 24). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 5. Retrieved May 4, 2020, from

Soon after this, the suburbs or town Councils started to take action to support the community as people fell ill.

Ithaca May 1919 p2 Daily Mail

WOMENS REALM. (1919, May 28). The Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1903 – 1926), p. 2. Retrieved May 4, 2020, from

Ithaca gets busy pt 1 Telegraph 30 May 1919

Ithaca gets busy pt2

ITHACA GETS BUSY. (1919, May 30). The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 2 (SECOND EDITION). Retrieved May 4, 2020, from

Meanwhile activity in neighbouring Enoggera gives a sense of what was happening at the grassroots level.

Enoggera Emergency Corps Flu Courier 3 June 1919

THE WOMEN’S PART. (1919, June 3). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 8. Retrieved May 4, 2020, from

Ithaca emergency work

Metropolitan Area. (1919, June 20). The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 2. Retrieved May 4, 2020, from

Ithaca kitchen spanish glu

Ithaca influenza epidemic workers, July 1919.

The summary on this photo explains: A large crowd of people who were working as volunteers during the influenza epidemic. The group includes, doctors, nurses, ladies and schoolchildren, pictured outside the Ithaca Women’s Emergency Corps kitchen.

Ithaca workers during the influenza epidemic Red Hill 1919

Ithaca workers during the influenza epidemic, Red Hill, 1919

The State Library of Queensland provides this summary and explains the signs held up by the boys on the window sill: Volunteer workers outside the Ithaca Town Council Chambers during the influenza epidemic of 1919. The Brisbane area experienced an outbreak of influenza in May 1919 and it spread through hospitals in the area. Isolation huts were erected at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds to cope with the epidemic. Cards were issued by local authorities which could be put in house windows if people needed help. SOS for doctors and FOOD if needed. (Information taken from: Town of Ithaca Mayor’s Report, 1919, p. 6.)

Map Ithaca and family

Rather foolishly I hadn’t considered what the Spanish Flu Influenza meant to my ancestors who survived and who apparently remained well. They resided in the spread between the Ithaca Council Chambers (marked Ithaca Hall) and the Brisbane Exhibition Ground (blue marker), which was the influenza evacuation point. My grandfather hadn’t returned to his residence in Bally St from World War I until August 1919. His wife-to-be and her elderly mother and siblings were all living at Guildford St (red marker), fairly close to Ithaca Town Council Chambers. I wonder if we’ll ever know how the Influenza Epidemic may have affected them or their livelihoods. It’s made me realise that I need to research the impact of the epidemic on Townsville where my other grandparents lived. I already know from Trove that my great-grandparents’ house in Hughenden became an isolation hospital.

McSherry hospital Hughenden

Hughenden Notes. (1919, June 18). The Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1874 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved April 9, 2020, from


How much more sedate do things look a mere year later at the Ithaca Town Council chambers.


Ithaca Town Council Chambers 1920, 99 Enoggera Tce, Brisbane from Wikipedia.

This image is from a Sydney suburb in New South Wales but it is visually evocative of the current situation.

Kensignton nursesE00025

Image shows the influenza team at the Kensington School of Arts during the influenza epidemic of 1919. With the team is a blackboard listing the nurse, cooks and others on the team. Randwick City Library

Fab Feb Photo Collage Festival: Day 9: Primary School Days

4 x 7UP collage

At primary school, perhaps about aged 9 or 10.

At primary school, perhaps about aged 9 or 10.

When I chose this image for the college, I’d forgotten how extensively I’d written about my primary school in the 52 week series. So I’m going to let you read about the context in that post.

Just lately I was re-reading Hugh Lunn’s book Over the Top with Jim, on growing up in Brisbane. He captures the essence of attending a convent primary school only a few years before me. He even captures the same chants of learning the alphabet: a is like an apple, a says “a”; b is like a bat and ball, b says “buh”.

I don’t have especially fond memories of my primary school where I always felt like a fish out of water. In my first years at school, Australia, and the Catholics in particular, were in an uproar over the risk of the Red Peril coming from the north. Consequently one of the nuns felt she had to tell us (all of five and six years old), what the “Commos” would do to us if they arrived, with details of torture. No doubt it washed over many of the class but with my obsessiveness I took it all on board –and had nightmares for more than a decade after.

This photo includes at least two classes from my primary school.

This photo includes at least two classes from my primary school. If you recognise yourself, why not leave a comment?

At least some of the nuns (all our teachers were nuns) were mediocre and often elderly. When I couldn’t fathom aspects of maths in about Grades 3 or 4, it was my father who helped me to make sense of it so that I had no further problems. It was Dad from whom I got my love of reading, but in retrospect I think he may have been dyslexic and so his spelling and grammar weren’t strong. English and social studies were my mother’s jurisdiction because she was very good at them and she especially loved geography ( I get my travel bug from her).

From my autograph. The unusual spelling of my name has always been a challenge.

From my autograph. The unusual spelling of my name has always been a challenge.

Scattered over the years I had a couple of excellent teachers, especially Sister Gemma who was young and taught our final primary school class, Year 8 or Scholarship. This was a vitally important gateway to high school, especially for working class kids, because not only did you need to pass before you proceeded (I wasn’t worried about that), but if you wanted a government scholarship to assist with fees and expenses, you had to do well in the exam (that was very important!).

My father at a similar age. Unfortunately I can't find one of my mother.

My father at a similar age. Unfortunately I can’t find one of my mother from her school days.

Scholarship, as it was called, involved public exams, set universally for all children across the state. My memory tells me there were three components held in three different sessions: mathematics, English and social studies (history and geography). I distinctly remember going to visit Sr Gemma after the exams to talk to her about the questions that stumped me: one in particular was a “duh” moment as I realised I just hadn’t “translated” it correctly. Sr Gemma was definitely my star teacher in the nine years at primary school.

The delicious irony was that the Scholarship exams were held at the local state (government-run) school among those kids whom we’d loved to taunt (and vice versa!) as their bus went past. It was also the same school which my father had attended years before.

Between Sr Gemma’s excellent teaching, my mother’s many prayers and persistence with the high school, and my study, I got my scholarship and my gateway to the wondrous delights of my Catholic high school with its reputation for excellence.  The next year the government passed legislation to cease the Scholarship exam for various educational reasons. It’s strange to think that mine was the last generation to complete nine years of primary school, including a Prep year (aged 5), and also sit for Scholarship.

Kelvin Grove State School c1930. My father is in the 2nd back row looking rather pugnacious.

Kelvin Grove State School c1930. My father is in the 2nd back row looking rather pugnacious.

For my overseas readers it’s likely that it seems unusual for students to wear uniforms. This has not been a passing fad and the schools which permit the students not to wear uniforms are in the minority even today. There are arguments for and against of course, but I must admit I’m glad that I didn’t have to worry about what to wear every day and it avoided the hazards of economic difference.

Fab Feb imageFamily Hx writing challengeThis post is part of the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing Challenge.

Wordless Wednesday -Kelvin Grove State School children c1930

The lack of shoes is not indicative of financial poverty -this is a sub-tropical area.

Kelvin Grove State School children c1930

Kelvin Grove State School children c1930