Mayor Alexander Shaw and his family at home at Cliftonwood. Henrietta is standing second from the left and was recognised for her voluntary work during the influenza pandemic of 1919.

What will the world make of 2020, the year of the Covid19 pandemic? Closer to home, what will our grandchildren make of the effects of the pandemic on the Yass community? Our new local paper the Yass Valley Times will be a valuable record of issues that impact our community.

The Yass and District Historical Society (YDHS) also wants to help by coordinating a special project to collect the everyday stories of life in the Yass district in the year of the pandemic.

All sorts of things have been cancelled: weddings, birthday celebrations, trips of a lifetime, public gatherings. Businesses, coffee shops, school, churches and organisations have had to close or adjust their way of doing business. People have devised ways of staying in touch, working from home, commemorating Anzac Day. It has been a tense and trying time for health workers. New and old hobbies and exercise routines have been taken up. Experiences have ranged from the traumatic and sad to the hilarious.

These are the stories, specific to the Yass community that the YDHS wants your help to collect. Enough material will allow a small exhibition or e-book to be compiled as a record of these challenging times. Submissions can be emailed direct to yassarchives@gmail.com or mailed to YDHS Inc, PO Box 304, Yass NSW 2582. You can specify that your contribution remains anonymous.

The Yass experience of the 1919 Spanish flu pandemic, ironically almost exactly one hundred years ago, was put together from material held in the Yass Archives and the Yass Courier reports of that year. Some of the measures taken sound so familiar.

Citizens were barred from the train because they were not wearing a mask. The Yass Chamber of Commerce requested the Government to prohibit travel from flu affected areas.

Citizens were requested to refrain from meeting in buildings or public areas. The Courier warned, “Isolation as far as practicable is said to be the best method, and the opposite—mingling with crowds—the worst… it was agreed by all medical men that dancing was the most dangerous of all disease spreaders.”

Often people on the front line in 1919 were private citizens. The 1940 obituary for Mayor Alexander Shaw revealed that “during the epidemic of pneumonic influenza, when the town was stricken, he and his son, Mr Parkes Shaw, and Mr Roy Williamson did practically all of the stretcher bearing work.”

The certificate issued to Miss Henrietta Shaw by the Department of Public Health for her voluntary work during the influenza pandemic of 1919

Interestingly his daughter Henrietta Shaw was presented with a certificate by the Governor of New South Wales on behalf of the NSW Government commending her service to the Yass community as a volunteer who “rendered valuable service in assisting to stamp out the pandemic and by caring for sufferers, thus rendering eminent service in the cause of humanity.”

The Courier of April 1919 reported “Yass residents are not perturbed over the influenza outbreak yet. They are taking it calmly.” However, those affected may not have felt so confident. The Council sponsored free inoculations, and there was a demand for rum at the hospital as a flu preventative!

Please send us your stories to become part of the archived record of the 2020 pandemic. Email direct to yassarchives@gmail.com or mail to YDHS Inc, PO Box 304, Yass NSW 2582.

Judith Davidson for the Yass and District Historical Society, Images courtesy of YDHS Archives