Historical and contemporary photographs of people wearing masks in the street, side by side.


  • Past Exhibition

This display compares two pandemics, one century apart.

Exhibition Information

Past Exhibition
Exhibition Galleries

1 Shakespeare Place
Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 9273 1414

This display compares two pandemics, one century apart.

Just over a century ago, the world was gripped by the pneumonic influenza pandemic. In 1918 the virus, then known as the Spanish flu, raged through military camps of ally and enemy alike. It continued to strike down soldiers and civilians through the Armistice celebrations and into the new year of 1919. More people died of influenza than fighting in the war.

Sepia photograph of three people walking down a cit street wearing masks.
People wearing masks in Sydney during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1919
Wentzel family graphic materials, ca. 1885-1963
PXD 994

In 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) started its deadly spread. As this new virus continues to impact our communities, our health and our economy, history shows us that pandemics occur with startling frequency, yet in each generation there are stories of sacrifice and service, of loss and compassion.

A couple wearing medical masks walk past the ANZAC memorial in Martin Place the day after an unusually subdued ANZAC Day, John Janson-Moore, 2020

Historical and contemporary photographs of a male posing for a portrait, wearing a mask.
The Gatherings Order - a new podcast series  

As we grapple with COVID-19, this five part series rakes through the archives of the State Library of NSW with historians, public health experts and scientists to trace the path of the 1918-19 pandemic.  

An eerily familar story of loss, resilience and discovery in a world turned upside down. 

Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and at https://audio.sl.nsw.gov.au/podcast/gatherings-order



Meet the curator

Photographic portrait of a smiling blonde woman wearing a white jacket.

Elise Edmonds

Elise is a senior curator at the State Library of New South Wales. With a background in Australian history and Museum Studies, Elise has worked with the Library’s maps, pictures and manuscript collections; acquiring, writing and promoting these to a variety of audiences. She has curated several exhibitions highlighting the Library’s nationally significant First World War collections; Life Interrupted: personal diaries from World War I in 2014, Colour in Darkness: images from the First World War in 2016 and Quick March! The Children of World War One in 2019. Her most recent exhibition, Dead Central – an immersive, audio experience, focused on the story of the Devonshire Street Cemetery, where Central Station now stands. She contributed to and narrated the podcast series, The Burial Files and the new Library podcast, The Gatherings Order.