We're open Wednesday 26 January 2022, with changes to some services and opening hours ›

The Gatherings Order – new podcast unearths 101-year-old pandemic stories

Monday 7 September 2020

The deadly Spanish flu claimed more lives in 1918-19 than the First world War, yet we know very little about the people who were tragically impacted... until now!

The State Library’s new podcast The Gatherings Order – unearths first-hand accounts of the then world’s deadliest pandemic while tracing its startling familiar story of social distancing, quarantine blunders, dubious cures and mask wearing.

Over five episodes, Senior Curator Elise Edmonds rakes through the State Library’s archives with historians, public health experts and scientists to piece together lost personal stories of those ‘sacrificed to duty’ and those who succumb to the battle with the Spanish flu at home!

There’s Sister Egan, 27, who died, like many of her fellow medical professionals, after contracting the deadly virus during her first nursing post at Sydney’s Quarantine Station.

The unknown story of Sydney’s Butler family, whose 14-year-old son Keith died on 9 July 1919, is revealed through a rare collection of letters recently acquired by the State Library.

“There are almost no public memorials to those who died in 1919, so the condolence letters and cards sent to Keith’s parents and older sister are incredibly valuable and so moving – they show the grief and sadness felt by family unable to attend Keith’s funeral and had to mourn from afar,” says Ms Edmonds.

“It’s an eerily familiar story yet, until Covid-19, the 1918-19 pandemic’s catastrophic impact on Australian lives would have remained a forgotten blip in our history.”

Recording the podcast was a history-making exercise with production kicking off just as the State Library was forced to close, for the second time in 101 years, due to a pandemic!

Download full media release


The Gatherings Order is available here

Senior curator Elise Edmonds and featured experts are available for interviews.