Frontline of the Pandemic: Australia 1919

The book provides a dark account of the impact of Spanish Flu on Australia, a dramatic and alarming revelation of tragic mortality, but with numerous descriptions of heroism across the country.  It should come with a warning of graphic content.  It will distress most readers, but will captivate them too.

The epidemic killed between 50-100 million people worldwide and left most Australian families devastated.  “Nearly 15,000 people died within a year, yet little is known of its generational impact”, wrote Dr. Peter Hobbins from the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry at Sydney University. 

Jean Curlewis, early 1920s

Many Australian women joined the Red Cross as Voluntary Aides.  One of these was Jean Curlewis, a young Sydney socialite, who volunteered for work at the Walker Emergency Hospital in Concord West.  She wrote numerous letters to her family.  Jean’s mother, Ethel Turner, was the author of Seven Little Australians.  Dorothea Mackellar reveals Jean’s tragic fate.  Henry Lawson relates of his despair while a patient at the Walker Hospital.

I transcribed Jean’s letters years ago.  Recently, in National archives, more stories and first-person reports from doctors, nurses, patients, chaplains and teachers spoke from the past of an alien world becoming so familiar to us today.  Social distancing, schools and businesses shut, borders closed, wearing masks;  death and devastation in our communities.  State versus State in lockdown.  Our community failing.

“Filled with a deep humanity, it is a work that is both distressing and inspiring.  It is a chapter in modern Australian history shat should never be forgotten”, wrote Professor The Hon. Dame Marie Bashir in her foreword.

Fully illustrated with graphics from the past, this book is dedicated with deepest respect to the frontline workers of today.

For more information or to pre-order the book go to or you can obtain a copy at the City of Canada Bay Museum, 1 Bent Street, Concord any Wednesday or Saturday from 10:00 am to 3:30 p.m.

For the modest price of $20 (plus postage is necessary) this would make a great read and a great Christmas present.


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One Comment

Patricia Farrar

The recently published book, “Sydney: A Biography” by Louis Nowra contains a lengthy chapter on Concord and the Walkers. Drawing on the work of Patricia Skehan, Nowra has produced a potted history of Concord which in itself is worth the price of the book.