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Talk looks at local effects of first global pandemic

Posted at 10:00am Tuesday 27 Apr, 2021

Along with the Wilson’s Cement Works manager’s house, Warkworth Cottage Hospital was turned into an emergency Spanish flu facility in 1918. Photo, Warkworth Museum.

The way that Warkworth and the surrounding areas were affected during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 is the subject of a talk at Warkworth Museum next month.

Sandspit resident Dr Jenny Collins says her “Living in Extraordinary Times: The experience of a 1918 flu pandemic in Warkworth and Rodney” will focus on how the region dealt with the disease that killed close to 9000 New Zealanders.

She says that while the flu was very different to Covid-19, there are some parallels with the current pandemic – schools were closed and people quickly realised the importance of isolation and hygiene.

Jenny, who has a PhD in education and history, first became interested in the Spanish flu after researching family history following the death of her aunt late last year. She realised her relative had been born in November 1918, at the peak of the pandemic, which made her curious as to how local families had been affected by the disease.

“The interesting thing about this area is that there are a lot of families who've lived here for generations.

Every family was affected in some way,” she says.

Victims included soldiers returning from the First World War, as well as nine members of the same family, the Algies of Mullet Point, who all contracted the virulent disease.

“The kind of grief those families experienced is something people can really relate to now,” Jenny says.

She began her research during the first level 4 lockdown, emailing archivists and convents around the country and studying newspaper archives.

While Warkworth and Rodney had fewer resources than cities with which to face the pandemic, the area did have the advantage of social cohesion, Jenny says. The community formed “citizen committees”, where volunteers organised and set up local hospitals.

Jenny recommends her talk for anyone who is interested in local history, and who wants to frame the current coronavirus pandemic into a contextual historical experience.

The talk will start at 10am on Tuesday, May 11 and costs $5, which also includes a cup of tea or coffee and entry into the museum. Booking is essential and can be done by emailing warkworthmuseum@xtra.co.nz.

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