A social laboratory
In 1913, Australia enjoyed an international reputation as the social laboratory of the world. Relatively free of the entrenched class divisions of the ‘old world’ and richly endowed with land and mineral resources, Australia’s population of ‘transplanted Britons’ lived in a democracy with progressive social policies. To many, the country offered ‘infinite potential’ for the improvement of the race.
Scientific research and new technologies transformed approaches to health, housing and nutrition. Traditionally disadvantaged groups looked for opportunities to shape the conditions of their lives. Women seized the vote in federal elections in Australia from 1902, and turned their attention to international suffrage and improving conditions for women to work and raise children. Trade unions sought to establish fairer conditions for workers.
Adoption of the White Australia policy, and the commonly held belief that Indigenous people were a ‘dying race’, allowed the misconception that Australia would soon be a purely white nation to flourish.
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SMALLPOX. LIFT THE QUARANTINE. HEALTH BOARD APPEAL.
Sea quarantine … has proved itself ineffective in preventing importation of this type of smallpox to Sydney. Therefore, land quarantine, which is of very little effective value in dealing with large communities, cannot be considered satisfactory or necessary … The proclamation issued by the Federal Government quarantining Sydney should be withdrawn, as it is … injurious in many respects to the State of New South Wales in particular, and to the Commonwealth in general.
Sydney Morning Herald, 18 September 1913, p. 9. Read the full article in Trove
A smallpox epidemic
In The History of Small-Pox in Australia 1909–1923, former Chief Quarantine Officer John Howard Lidgett Cumpston describes the following seemingly everyday event: On 12 April 1913, a 22-year-old female factory worker, known only by the initials ‘ED’, visited 23-year-old ‘BE’ at his mother’s house. A ship’s steward, BE had arrived in Sydney that day on the SS Zealandia from Vancouver. The couple were reportedly ‘very friendly’.
At the end of May, ED’s employer, the owner of an underclothing factory on Chalmers Street, Sydney, reported that a number of his ‘girls’ had been suffering rashes. The infection was traced to ED, who on 25 April had experienced influenza-like symptoms, followed by a rash three days later. Investigations revealed smallpox cases among those on board the SS Zealandia.
Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald voiced concerns that the North Head Quarantine Station, established at Manly in 1835, was no longer a safe distance from the city, the suburbs of which now reached Manly. Part of the Federal Quarantine Service since 1909, the quarantine station was obliged to receive ships consigned to quarantine from interstate. A representative of the Harbour Foreshores Vigilance Committee protested in the Herald that housing patients with infectious diseases close to Sydney’s ‘most popular seaside resort’ was an ‘insult’. He asked readers to ‘fancy visitors from the country writing back to their friends to state they have arrived at Manly only to find that the smallpox flag is flying on Quarantine Station adjacent to them’.
With confirmation that workers at the Chalmers Street factory were suffering a mild form of smallpox, the Federal Quarantine Service exercised its powers for the first time and declared an area 15 miles (24 kilometres) from the Sydney GPO to be in quarantine. The federal government then billed the state government £9403 19s 10d for the upkeep of those quarantined, a bill the state indignantly refused to pay.
Those known to have been in contact with a smallpox patient were sent to North Head Quarantine Station and, by January 1914, there had been 1402 admissions and 1037 confirmed cases. Sydneysiders’ worst fears were confirmed when the Herald reported that five ‘patients in a contagious state’ had escaped over a six-metre-high wall and ‘visited several business places and pleasure resorts, and had, in fact, mixed freely with the usual crowd to be found in Manly on a Saturday night’.
It was fortunate the strain of smallpox was an extremely mild one. There was only one fatality, the tragic case of ‘MM’, aged 29, who died two-and-a-half hours after delivering a healthy baby boy. She had previously lost three babies, all delivered stillborn at full term. The outbreak was particularly dangerous for pregnant women, and there were a number of miscarriages.
Quarantine restrictions largely contained the outbreak to New South Wales, where cases occurred until 1917. The North Head Quarantine Station remained under the control of the Australian Government until 1984, when objects relating to all periods of its history became part of the National Historical Collection at the National Museum of Australia.
Anthea Gunn, Curator, National Museum of Australia
Zeiss compound monocular microscope used at the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine, Townsville, 1912. National Museum of Australia. Photo: Lannon Harley.
‘An experiment worth trying’
The Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine, the first medical research institute in Australia, opened in Townsville, northern Queensland, in 1910, for the purpose of discovering if Europeans could live healthily in the tropics. Initially housed in former wardsmen’s quarters behind the Townsville Hospital, the institute’s first year budget covered only the purchase of basic equipment and the salaries of the director, Dr Anton Breinl, and his assistant, John Fielding.
The official opening of the new institute building, built on the same site, was on 28 June 1913. In his opening speech, the governor of Queensland, Sir William MacGregor, a medical practitioner and supporter of scientific inquiry, urged ‘the policy of reserving Tropical Australia as a home for a purely white race’.
Institute staff used microscopes like this Zeiss model in the laboratories to diagnose diseases, assess nutritional content of local agricultural produce, identify and classify insect and parasite specimens, and for public presentations. During 1913 and 1914, Breinl and his colleague Dr Henry Priestly tested the blood of more than 150 schoolchildren in Townsville for numerous deficiencies, including lead poisoning and anaemia. They found consistently low white blood cell counts, suggesting the influence of climatic conditions.
Institute staff analysed bodily fluids, solutions and climatic conditions using a range of thermometers, hydrometers and hygrometers, many of which are now in the National Museum of Australia’s collection.
In its first decade of research, the institute identified few diseases of concern in northern Australia and no evidence of mental or physical degeneracy in the white population. Doctors concluded that health in tropical Australia depended not on ethnicity but on how people lived: their access to clean water, houses with good shade and air circulation, effective waste disposal, loose clothing, a healthy diet, low alcohol consumption and protection from disease-bearing insects.
In 1930, the institute relocated to Sydney University where it became the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. In 1986, a collection of 108 items of laboratory equipment from the school was transferred to the National Museum. This included 30 items used in Townsville. The collection offers valuable insight into the work of the institute, the communities that it served and the foundations of tropical medicine in Australia.
Jennifer Wilson, Curator, National Museum of Australia
John Flynn's inland mission
Scenery, Oodnadatta, 1913. This photograph by John Flynn was one of many he used to raise awareness about life in remote regions. National Library of Australia AN24493541.
At the Presbyterian School Hall last night the Rev. John Flynn ... gave an interesting and instructive address on the work of bringing the Christian influence to bear upon the inhabitants of the Northern Territory and Central Australia. The address was illustrated by about 80 lantern views. He said that the total white population of the Northern Territory was 1729, of whom 456 were females … at the conclusion the lecturer was accorded a hearty vote of thanks.
Bendigo Advertiser, 20 May 1913, p. 5. Read the full article on Trove
In his 1912 report, A Call to the Church, young Presbyterian minister John Flynn made an impassioned plea on behalf of isolated Australians. Flynn’s call for ‘a mantle of safety over the inland’ inspired the establishment of the Australian Inland Mission. From 1913 ‘patrol padres’ were deployed to supply basic services to people living in remote inland Australia.
These versatile missionaries provided religious and pastoral care, library and mail-carrying services, basic dental and health care, and even hairdressing and station work, not to mention extensive tea-drinking and conversation. Bush hospitals were gradually established, in which nurses provided better health care than was previously available.
Ultimately, it was Flynn’s passion for the foundation of the Flying Doctor Service, established in 1928, that saw him recognised on the Australian $20 note.
Flynn used photography to raise awareness of the living conditions of people in the remote inland. He was able to inform, entertain and inspire audiences to support his mission to create a ‘mantle of safety’ across inland Australia by using photographs at lantern-slide nights and in the journal he edited, the Inlander.
Illustration, ‘Pure food and cleanliness will together make a healthy body,’ published in the Sydney Mail, 25 June 1913.
THE BABY BONUS
Should the Federal Ministry presume, in accordance with Mr. Cook’s intimation, to lay sacrilegious hands upon the Fisher Government’s Maternity Allowance Act, they will doubtless be charged by professedly shocked Socialists … with attacking needy mothers, diminishing the birthrate and committing similar grave offences! The fact is this extraordinary experiment in social alleviation fairly shrieks aloud for amendment in the direction of instituting a check upon the disbursements.
Adelaide Register, 30 July 1913, p. 12. Read the full article in Trove
The Editor of 'Every-lady’s Journal' ... has begun a campaign to help his readers to cut the cost of living without whittling down pleasure or comfort ... some most practical and helpful articles along this line appear: 'Short Cuts to Good Housekeeping,' the new crochet patterns with beautiful designs; 'To Make an Evening Gown at Home,' a complete lesson for amateurs; 'Economical Ways in Fancywork;' 'Housekeepers’ Problems;' 'Making Money by Raffia Work;' and a splendid cookery series.
Williamstown Chronicle, 3 May 1913, p. 2
In 1913 it was assumed that ‘natural’ occupations for women were the roles of wife, mother and homemaker.
New mothers that year, rich or poor, married or not, could claim the government’s maternity allowance of £5, provided they were white and resident, or intending to settle, in Australia. Aimed at boosting the white birthrate by reducing maternal and infant mortality, the allowance, introduced in October 1912, was intended to pay for medical assistance during the birth.
The allowance had to be claimed within three months of the birth of a live or ‘viable’ child, and was an acknowledgement of the many perils that disease, ignorance and inadequate nutrition posed for the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.
EDUCATING THE WORKERS. INSPIRING UNIVERSITY ADDRESS.
Mr. Albert Mansbridge, M.A., founder and Secretary of the Workers’ Educational Association of England, is a man of striking personality. Ten years ago he became impressed with the idea that there was a demand for higher education among the working classes … To-day nearly 9,000 members are ... wielding an ever-increasing influence towards the welfare of the nation.
Adelaide Register, 23 September 1913, p. 8. Read the full article in Trove
In 1912, the New South Wales Minister for Public Instruction reported: ‘It is possible for every boy or girl in this State who possesses the requisite ability and determination to pass from the public schools to any profession, whose doors can be entered only through the University, whatever the social or financial status of the parent’.
With governments of the day convinced that better education would benefit both individuals and wider society, new opportunities to learn flourished across Australia in 1913. Free high schools were built, opportunities for workers to undertake education expanded and, in Western Australia, the first free university in the British Empire enrolled its first students.
In 1913, Dr Maria Montessori held her first international teacher-training course in Montessori methods in Rome. Among the 90 students enrolled were Sydney kindergarten teachers Rhoda and Norma Selfe, and Martha Simpson, the mistress of the Infant Department of the Blackfriars School, Sydney.Martha Simpson promoted the virtues of the Montessori methods: ‘[B]ased as it is on liberty, the Montessori system is particularly well suited to the educational needs of a free, democratic country like Australia, where self-reliance, individuality, resource, originality and freshness of thought are qualities much to be desired in the future citizens.’
William Chidley and sex reform
Poster advertising William Chidley’s forthcoming lecture, 1914. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, V/120 .
CHIDLEY CASE. SIMPLE WILLIAM FINED.
William Chidley, the simple life advocate and author of 'Answer,' was fined £3 in default fourteen days in gaol on a charge of sending an indecent publication through the post. Chidley’s solicitor intimated his intention to appeal.
Lismore Northern Star, 17 April 1913, p. 5. Read the full article in Trove
William Chidley, a sex reformer filled with ardent concern for humanity’s miserable lot, was declared insane for the second time on 26 December 1913. ‘Anyone’, he wrote, ‘who has seen a few generations grow up need not study statistics to know that degeneracy is on the increase.’
Worried that ‘coition’, or sexual contact, between men and women had become unnatural and unhealthy, he advocated vegetarianism, plenty of sunlight and fresh air, light and unrestrictive clothing and a ‘natural’ method of sexual intercourse. Wearing only a short white tunic himself, he offered copies of his book, The Answer, to passers-by, hoping its effect would be ‘to make us more tolerant and kind’.
Continually offending Edwardian notions of propriety and frequently arrested for obscenity, Chidley felt his approach was ‘the only hope for humanity’.
Read The Answer on the National Library of Australia website
Please note this publication contains sexual references.