Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

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

Thursday, October 17th, 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 blanket.

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

Saturday, March 31st, 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 .

The new tyranny

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

Tennesse Williams, I think, once commented about the thin veneer of civilisation over barbarism. Alan Ramsay in a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald (12 Nov 2005) highlights some of the signs of tyranny in contemporary society. He quotes from a speech by Dr Davidson Loehr, a US pastor with the First Unitarian Church in Texas. He also quoted by an essay by Dr Lawrence Britt a political scientist ‘Fascism Anyone?’

Britt identifies 14 identifying characteristics of fascism. ‘These included the constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs. Flags are seen everywhere. Disdain for human rights: because of fear of enemies and the need for national security, people are persuaded human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of ‘need’. People tend to look the other way or even approve. Identification of enemies and scapegoats: people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe – racial, ethnic ore religious minorities; liberals, communists, socialists and terrorists.

Supremacy of the military [which receives] a disproportionate amount of government funding. Obsession with national security: fear is used as a motivational tool. Corporate power is protected, labour power is suppressed. Unison are either eliminated or severely suppressed, the industrial and business aristocracy are often the ones who put the government leaders into power. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts.

It is too easy to think never in Australia but …

Chopsticks – an environmental hazard

Monday, December 12th, 2005


It is hard to imagine that the humble chopstick is an environmental problem. But it does become one when chopsticks are the principal eating implement for a country such as China and when the use of disposable chopsticks is rising rapidly. A recent article in the China Daily suggested a return to fingers. Why?

China has 300 plants with 60,000 workers exporting some 140,000 to 165,000 tons of chopsticks. China itself uses 45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks per year. That consumes 25 million fully grown trees per year – about 2 million square meter of wooded land. Yes a problem indeed.

The world’s largest museum exhibit

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

Qantas jumbo longreach

Longreach aerodrome. What’s a jumbo doing there. It has been donated to the Qantas Museum by Qantas and must be one of the largest museum object in the world. But what of its long term future. How will it be conserved. And what of public access.

Update: January 2020.
I have recently been contacted by Chris Dudar who works at the National Museum of Natural History, Washington. He has pointed out that Howard Hughes ‘Spruce Goose’ is the largest museum object inside a museum with a length of 66.6 m. it is housed in the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. The Boeing 747 has a length of 76 m but it is outside so does it properly qualify as a museum exhibit? Regardless of what constitutes a museum exhibit/object, both are very large.