Aboriginal deaths influenza pandemic, 1918-19

Of the estimated 12,000 deaths in Australia from the Spanish or pneumonic influenza in 1918-19, 1030 were Queenslanders, 315 of whom were known to be Aborigines, representing 30 per cent of the State death toll.  In Queensland, the pandemic had arrived first at the main seaports of the middle and southern coast and had then moved inland to urban and rural regions. Initially, it affected white people then began affecting Aborigines, coming for them on top of an epidemic of pneumonia. The difference for the Aboriginal victims of influenza was that, unlike the whites, they were taken to disease compounds on the government depots, fenced areas resembling huge wire cages built with nine-metre high wire mesh fence and topped by barbed wire to prevent entry and escape. The huts at the relief depots were made of weather-boards with fire-places built outside for cooking meals. These compounds, constructed a decade earlier as places for punishing people infected with venereal disease, were now utilized to isolate the influenza victims from the other relief depot inmates.

Further reading: 

Gordon Briscoe, Counting, health and identity: a history of Aboriginal health and demography in Western Australia and Queensland, 1900-1940, Canberra, Aboriginal Studies Press, AIATSIS, 2003

Publication place: 
Aboriginal Studies Press, AIATSIS

Copyright © Gordon Briscoe, AO

Date captured: 
27 August 2010
Date created: 
27 August 2010