Tuesday, 7 April 2020
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Fassifern and Typhoid Mary in 1920

Four days into the New Year the rains began. 

By the end of January, the countryside had begun to lose its brown wizened look and was overlaid with a tinge of green.

Was the drought of 1919 over? 

Would the normal season return with the new decade? 

Would the records show that by the end of 1920, the Fassifern would have received 100 percent of its average rainfall rather than the bare 50 percent which fell in 1919?

It was a question which played on the minds of many as the welcome wet of January was followed by an almost record-breaking dry in February.

The good news is that by the end of 1920, the district had experienced good rain and those who religiously kept their on-farm record up to date, could tell their friends and family, in fact, anyone who would stop long enough to listen, that the good seasons had returned.

While drought and rain were the chief topic of many conversations in the first three months of 1920, one man’s focus was on a very different subject.

A military medico

Lt Col William Fraser DSO arrived in Boonah to take over Dr Harold South’s practice on a temporary basis in early 1918. A family man and long serving district doctor, Harold South had decided he could no longer remain at home when the war effort was in such dire need of experienced doctors.

Dr Fraser had enlisted in 1914 and by the end of his service in January 1918, he had been wounded in action, hadbserved with the Light Horse Field Ambulance and had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order on the recommendation of General Haig.

His temporary takeover of the local medico’s practice, turned into a tenure of 27 years, when Dr South died on the operating table in London on September 9, 1919.

And so Dr Fraser remained in the Fassifern and continued his duties as both family doctor as well as Medical Officer at the Boonah Hospital and by default, Health Officer for the Goolman (later Boonah) Shire Council.

And it was in his role as Health Officer, that Dr Fraser’s mind was occupied with tracking down Kalbar’s own Typhoid Mary.

To those readers unfamiliar with the term, ‘Typhoid Mary’, it is commonly assigned to a person who is a carrier of the particular Salmonella bacterium which causes Typhoid Fever yet remains immune to the disease.

The first Mary

It was an Irish cook working in the US in the early 1900s, who was first dubbed by the newspapers of the time as Typhoid Mary.

Her name was Mary Mallon and it was ultimately found that she was unwittingly responsible for infecting 51 people with the debiliating and sometimes deadly, disease.

That was in 1907 - at a time when there were many theories about how Typhoid was spread from human to human.

In the Fassifern, there were a number of articles in the Fassifern Guardian in the early 1900s in which the then Health Officer admonished Council for cleaning the street drains during dry weather as he was certain that the dust kicked up in the air was the cause of Typhoid outbreaks.

Yet it was around the late 1840s that an English doctor noted that the infection could be spread by the excretions of Typhoid sufferers - especially when those excretions tainted the drinking water.

Forty years later, a German scientist identified the bacteria, Salmonella enterica subsp enterica, as the germ that caused the disease.

It became normal practise to treat Typhoid sufferers by first isolating them and then treating the symptoms. As a result, during a Typhoid outbreak, the Boonah Hospital would set up tents in the hospital grounds for patients with infectious diseases and quarantine them there.

Endemic not epidemic

There were intermittent outbreaks in all districts when Dr Fraser arrived - never enough to be defined as of epidemic proportions but rather in twos and threes or a few more and particularly in the Summer months.

In early January 1920, he reported to Council that he had treated two people for the disease in December - one in Maroon and one in Kalbar.

He did not seem concerned about the occurence of the disease in Maroon and perhaps that was because it wasn’t home to a comparatively large population.

However, he was concerned about the regular re-occurrence of Typhoid in the town of Kalbar and offered the Council three solutions.

One was to improve the drainage in and around the business centre in Edward Street.

The other was to test every man, woman and child who lived in or regularly visited the town in the search for Kalbar’s own Typhoid Mary.

The last was to innoculate everyone against the disease.

The cost of these options shocked the Councillors as it would all have to come out of their Budget.

But it was resolved that a free innoculation clinic be set up on a regular basis in the town and to engage an engineer to advise on improving the drainage.

A month later, Council considered the recommendation of the engineer which was to build a concrete street drain from Bickerton’s Corner (intersection of George and Edward streets) along the full southern frontage of the businesses and divert the run-off into the creek.

The owner of each building in the street would also be required to install a concrete drain around the back and sides of the building to stop water settling under the floorboards. Lastly, Bickertons would be asked to stop using the land behind their building as a horse yard.

The decision was made to go ahead by Council decree on Saturday, February 7.

Everyone was happy … except for those who would have to pay for it.

But the business owners had little time to form any protest as exactly ten days after the decision was made, most of the commercial buildings on the southern side of the street burned to the ground.

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