Notebook

Some notes and reflections

‘They were dying 12 at a time’ – recollections of the Spanish flu pandemic at Barambah Aboriginal settlement

17th October 2019

2019 is the centenary of the Spanish flu pandemic that infected more the 500 million world wide and caused between 50 and 100 million deaths. It was one of the deadliest epidemics in human history.

The Barambah (later known as Cherbourg) Aboriginal settlement in the South Burnett was severely impact by the pandemic. Eighty-seven died in a little over a month in May-June 1919. The mortality rate on Barambah – 143 per 1000 – was seven times the rate for the rest of Australia. The swiftness and severity of the epidemic was like a mini holocaust, claiming almost one-fifth of he settlement population.

In the early 1980s I interviewed two women who grew up on the settlement and had first-hand experience of the pandemic. These interviews are very rare first-hand accounts and provide an exceptional insight into the impacts of the pandemic.

Eddie Meredith vividly recalled assisting the Matron in going round to the camps. She was 17 years old at the time.

We’d go around to the humpies where these old fellows were sick. We’d find them almost lying in the fire crooked, bend around trying to get warm. Many times we found them dead like that – as cold as ice. She used to just roll them over and have a look at them, feel them, and fix their eyes up, bring their eyelids down, and just cover them over … Charlie Blair, he would get hold of these old fellows that had died and he’d have to straighten their legs. He’d have to break them to make them straight to wrap them.

When they were dying in the fives, sixes and sevens, sometimes 12 one night. They would have to spread them in the blanket, roll them in the blanket and stitch it up with a bag needle because there was no time to make coffins.

Evelyn Serico was 12 years old when the pandemic hit Barambah and her mother was one of the casualties. She recalled:

That plague was a terrible sad thing.

My mother died from it. I remember sitting outside, and of course no one took any notice of a little girl sitting outside. I was very devoted to my mother. I was all alone and they said we need a blanket.I remember running and saying ‘take my blanket, take my blanket, take my blanket’. We were all given a blanket. And my mother was wrapped in my blanker.

The full excerpts about the pandemic from their interviews, listen here.

Ettie Meredith Spanish flu Barambah 1919


Download Meredith interview

Evelyn Serico Spanish flu Barambah 1919


Download Serico interview

Queensland Annual – utopian Queensland

31st March 2018

Several years ago, I chanced on a set of the Courier Mail’s Queensland Annual magazine in a second-hand shop. I wondered whether I should but the set – I already had enough books and most likely I could always look it in the State Library. I took the plunge and paid $150 for 15 issues. To my surprise, the State Library only has a couple of issues. Being able to pursue the set at leisure, I realised that what appeared to be just a popular magazine, the Queensland Annual is an important collection for two reasons.

First, it provides an insight into an understanding of Queensland’s self image in the 1950s and 1960s. I’m not sure when the phrase ‘Life is great in the Sunshine State’ emerged, but that is the key theme of the Queensland Annual. It unashamedly promotes Queensland as the place to live, work and visit for holidays. There is no mention of labour strikes, the treatment of the Indigenous peoples, the destruction of the environment, police corruption etc. Queensland is an utopia according to the Queensland Annual.

Second, the Queensland Annual is a source of photographs that possibly are not accessible anywhere else. In particular, most issues contain one or more aerial photographs of Queensland cities or towns.

The Queensland Annual is an invaluable record of Queensland from the late 1940s in the 1950s to the early 1970s.


Aerial view of Coolangatta, Queensland Annual 1955

For a sample of pages from the Queensland Annual, see image gallery .

What a camera – Sony RX 100III

9th August 2017

What a marvellous camera

About three years ago, I decided to but a small camera. While I had no complaints with my Pentax DSLR and all the lenses I had, the one limitation was the lack of portability. I had almost decided on a Micro 4/3 camera. However, I was convinced by a guy in the camera shop to check out a new model of the Sony RX100 series. It was probably the most expensive compact camera on the market but looked impressive and most importantly, I shot shoot in raw format.

I have used it extensively now for three years. For traveling it has been ideal and a couple of images demonstrate.

I took this image of the observation tower at the Helsinki Olympic stadium in October 2015. One of hundreds of images from a rail journey around Europe. I thought it wasn’t bad but didn’t think much of it until I saw a very similar appear on a website.

This image by Sebastian Weiss was short-listed in the best architectural photography year awards of 2016.

Now not for a moment do I think I am as good a photographer as Weiss – he is very good – see his website. Rather a demonstration that good photography is not about the latest and greatest and that with a “simple” point and shoot camera, great shots are possible -even almost good enough to win a international architectural competition.

My second example of what is possible with a compact camera is of the Tour de France in 2015. On a cycling trip in 2015 with two friends, we took the opportunity to see a few stages of the tour. One day required a rather arduous climb of 20 kilometres with a maximum of 35 degrees plus to the top of Mount Glandon where we had a spectacular view of riders going over the top of the mountain.

Click to enlarge

I was fortunate to capture the action. You be the judge but these images would not be out of place in a cycling magazine or on a website.

Again taken with a simple point and shoot camera that fitted into my back pocket. They was no way I could have carried a full sized DSLR up the mountain that day but the Sony RX100 did the trick.

The best pocket camera around.

The last post at the Menin Gate

8th June 2014

In the Belgium town of Ypres, the last post is played each day on at the Menin Gate. Ypres was at the centre of major battles during World War I with major casualties on both sides.

I had read about this ritual 30 years ago and thought it was extraordinary that the last post was still played each day. I then had the opportunity to visit Ypres in 2004 and attend the ceremony. I imagined that it would be a rather modest affair with an elderly Belgium playing a rather beat-up bugler and just a very small crowd in attendance.

How wrong I was. I arrived with my wife and son to find that the police and blocked off the main street and the crowd was in the hundreds. And not one bugler but six. I asked aftwerwards the main attendant whether this was a special occasion. And no crowds in the hundreds were common and in the summer many more.

The Menin Gate was destroyed in the war and rebuilt as memorial to all those Allied soldiers who died on the Ypres salient but their bodies were never recovered – more than 50,000 names are on the memorial.

Crohamhurst images

1st June 2014

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Two images that exemplify the impact of closer settlement on the environment in the 1890s. These images were taken by the Department of Agriculture and Stock photographer (Source: Queensland State Archives)

Cycling through the web

27th May 2014

The growing world-wide popularity of cycling is reflected in the number of bikes sold annually, increase in number of people riding either for pleasure, competition, or commuting, television coverage of major events, etc etc. Another indicator of the growth in cycling in the number of websites, blogs and online articles.

Here are a few of interest

INRNG The Inner Ring

A site with excellent analysis of the major European races, also book reviews and other interesting insights.

Things you can do on a bike

This is not for the faint-hearted.


Great Infrastructure for bikes

Some cities are investing heavily in improving bike infrastructure. Indeed very heavily for some of the projects shown here.


Bike stunts – Edwardian style

Now for something completely different. The bike has always seemed to invite challenges for the ridiculous and extraordinary. Stunts from 100 years ago.

Flood markers

7th July 2012

Flood marker on the Bremer River

It is not uncommon to see next to rivers that flood frequently, posts or markers indicating flood heights in the past.

This is a flood marker with a difference. A piece of timber lodged in a tree next to the Bremer River that indicates the height of the flood in January 2011. This timber is about 19 m above the river. Viewed from normal river level in a kayak, it provides a striking sense of the height of the flood and enormity of water that is missed when viewed from above.

A cyclist’s map for Brisbane

26th April 2011

Cyclists map of Brisbane

Cycling is increasingly popular in Brisbane where I live. There are plenty of guides and maps about cycle routes throughout the city. Online sites such as Bikely.com have a extensive number of routes constantly being updated by local rides. The Brisbane City Council has published a series of maps highlighting dedicated bike paths.

If you think bicycle maps are a relatively new phenomenon, think again. In 1896 the Queensland government produced a Cyclists’ Road Map for Brisbane and Surrounding Districts. The above image is a detail of the map and indicates the interesting comments about the difficulties encountered on various routes.
View the complete map

Of drought and flooding rains – a history of floods in Queensland

27th February 2011

Queensland has experienced some of the most widespread and devastating floods since European occupation in the past two months. Arguably never before has the floods been so extensive in the extent of area inundated and the number of towns and cities affected.

But floods are not a rare occurrence in Queensland. Most towns and cities have all experienced serious and very damaging floods at some point in their history. Brisbane has had major floods in 1890, 1893 and 1974. Rockhampton had experienced major flooding on numerous occasions with the worst in 1918.

Surprisingly the impact of floods has not attracted little attention by historians. Certainly there is no definitive history of floods in Queensland and the general histories of Queensland only mention floods in passing. The most notable exception is Barbara Webster’s Marooned Rockhampton’s Great Flood of 1918 (2003). This publication provides a detailed analysis of the social, economic and political impact of the flood on Rockhampton and district.

There is a urgent need to research how floods have shaped Queensland. Some questions include:

  • economic impacts – the cost of rebuilding infrastructure, how many businesses went bankrupt or never recovered;
  • the impact on the natural environment with the changing of watercourses, erosion, subsequent dredging and straightening of rivers;
  • the relocation of towns and settlements; for example the township of Clermont was relocated after a major flood in 1916 – likewise Texas in 1890;
  • flood proofing and migration. The construction of the Wivenhoe Dam on the Brisbane River in the 1970s was widely regarded as a means of flood proofing Brisbane. Various towns in western Queensland have been extensive levee banks to prevent flooding – some have been very successful such as at Goondiwindi.

Of course there are numerous other questions but certainly worthy of systemic research.

The Middle East – where to begin?

6th August 2006

The current conflict in the Middle East highlights that, even for the most optimistic, enduring peace in the region is long way away. What is the answer. The claims of Bush, Blair er al that the battle will be won have become increasingly hollow as they are incapable of preventing the ongoing violence in Lebanon and Israel. Is there an solution, a way forward ?

The most useful comment I have read was quoted by Alan Ramsey in his column in the Sydney Morning Herald (29 July 2006). He cites an article by Rami Khouri, editor at large of the Beriut Daily Star.

“The Lebanon and Palestine situation today reveal a key political nd psychological dynamic that defines several hundred million Arabs. It is that peace in the Middle East requires three things: 1) Arabs and Israel must be treated equally 2) domestically and internationally, the rule of law must define the actions of governments and all members of society; and 3) the core conflict between Palestine and Israel must be resolved in a fair, legal and sustainable manner.”

These ground rules seem utterly reasonable and certainly not ‘radical’ or – but how long before they are acknowledged as the basis for a way forward and lasting solution for peace.