'Fear of the latent germ': Government versus artists during the Spanish Flu

by
June–July 2020, no. 422

'Fear of the latent germ': Government versus artists during the Spanish Flu

by
June–July 2020, no. 422

In 1919 a major outbreak of pneumonic influenza threatened the livelihoods of actors and musicians throughout Australia, and forced a tense confrontation between artists and government officials in Melbourne.

In contrast with the current pandemic, Australians had plenty of time to prepare. Prompted by reports from abroad of a deadly disease that was killing thousands, authorities in November 1918 ratified a plan for responding to the threat. Strict travel restrictions, however, only delayed the arrival of the virus. On 29 January 1919, Victoria joined New South Wales in implementing a federal order that ‘all theatres, picture theatres, music or concert halls, and all public buildings where persons assemble for the purposes of entertainment or instruction, shall be closed forthwith, and not again used until permission is given’.

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