In 2021, just like 102 years ago, the border was closed to protect Queenslanders from a spreading virus. Research into the archival documents reveal the decisions and actions Queensland Government took when closing the border in 1919.
In an edition of the Queensland Government Gazette, from Thursday 6 February 1919, it was announced that:
No person shall enter the State of Queensland from an infected State … If any person enters Queensland, except in the manner prescribed by the Regulation, he shall, in addition to any other penalty to which he may be liable, pay the whole cost of his isolation.
This measure served to prevent the spread of the ‘threatened visitation of pneumonic influenza to Queensland’. Under the Health Acts 1900 to 1917, the Commissioner of Public Health implemented controls to curb the spread of this infectious disease.
Just like today life in those border communities was disrupted as were the plans of the travelling public. Soldiers returning from the battle fields of the First World War were placed into quarantine when entering Queensland. People tried to get across the border illegally and there were economic implications felt by those conducting business in the two states.
There was no quarantining in four-star hotels in 1919 – only quickly erected camps of canvas tents. Just like today you paid for the privilege, approximately £7 per day, which is about $568 today.
The primary purpose of the camps was to get Queenslanders back to Queensland. At its peak the Home Secretary’s Office had over 700 people on the wait list to access the camp.
The quarantine camp must have been a very large establishment as the registers held by Queensland State Archives show that there was more than one compound each containing up to 12 camps.
The nine extant admission registers for the camp (QSA Series ID 6604) detail people crossing the border into Queensland and placed in quarantine. This register has also been indexed and is available to search here under the ‘Government’ tab.
Camps were established along the Queensland-New South Wales border with the express purpose of quarantining Queensland residents returning from New South Wales and other states. Places such as Coolangatta, Mungindi, Goondiwindi, Hebel, Wallangarra and Goondiwindi were the only border towns in Queensland people could enter after a period of isolation.
Conditions in the camps were less than ideal as one businessman, Mr Henry Sykes, conveys when providing his remarks to the Under-Secretary:
During quarantine our tent was to our knowledge never once examined. The sanitary arrangements were simply shameful. We never had any cow’s milk, and as I said before we waited on ourselves and 90 others and for all this pleasure we paid our Government … We were examined for temperature daily, inoculated twice and compelled to go thought the inhalation chamber three times. Nine of our total were detained on account of temperatures. No one seemed sorry to leave the compound but we all look back on our quarantine as an experience as soldiers look back on the war.QSA ITM18246, Letter no 19.1243
Like today, there were instances of people breaking quarantine and attempting to cross the border by train, motor vehicle, boat or on foot. Authorities quickly tracked them down and placed them back in quarantine.
One such case was of a group of men, one of which was a railway employee, that left Tenterfield on foot, crossed the border into Queensland and flagged down a train using a railway issue red flag. They were returning home to Toowoomba after taking part in a shooting competition, and were ultimately dealt with under a breach of quarantine regulations.
We are all too familiar with the impact that the border closures have had on business and cross-border trade. Even graziers were unable to move their cattle into Queensland to ‘prevent them from starving’. Mr Ah Que, a storekeeper in Texas, wrote to the Home Secretary in February 1919 saying that he had a load of flour detained at the border and asked if he could take delivery of it. The Under-Home Secretary responded in his telegram saying: Flour may be taken delivery of but persons from New South Wales must not cross border (QSA Letter no. 19/1243 ITM18246, Batch file).
Queenslanders got on with their lives as best they could in 1919, working within the restrictions imposed by the disease. Just like Queenslanders today dealing with masks, lock downs and homeschooling, it’s fascinating to see the records of 1919 and how relevant they feel today. More than anything, it’s empowering to know Queenslanders have done this before.