Saturday, 8 March 2014

Sepia Saturday – Memories of the Polio epidemic

My Dad (left) and his mate Brian,
up on the back trellis fence.
This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt photo is from a series of images showing the areas in Sydney affected by the outbreak of bubonic plague in 1900.
The suggestion is fences, backyards and bubonic plague.

I have fences, a big backyard and a polio epidemic.

Australia’s first polio epidemic was between July 1937 and July 1938. In 1947-48 and 1951-2 Australia had its 2nd and 3rd polio epidemics. 

Most of those affected were children under the age of 14.

My parents remember a little about these epidemics.

During one of these epidemics, my Mum’s parents sent her and her little sister to her grandparents farm in the Western District of Victoria for a month or so. 
Mum thinks her mother was with them for most if not all of this time. 

She can remember helping around the farm, feeding turkeys and lambs, and also having picnics.
Mum (right) and her sister on the farm with
some kittens (paling fence around backyard)
Mum said they went for a very long time but it may have only been a month – everything seems longer when you are a kid!

My Dad was still living in country Victoria, in Yallourn at the time of the 1947-48 epidemic. 
He thinks they were probably a bit isolated down there so wasn’t aware of much.

Both of my parents were living in Melbourne at the time of the 1951-52 epidemic. 
They can remember, “kids just disappeared from school, never to be seen again”. 
Dad says he remembers friends (young people) in iron lungs.

They then reminded me of the fuss I made when taken to get my polio vaccine. Seems I was a source of amusement for my brothers!
Time to stop the questions :)

Mum (right) and her sister feeding lambs, and keeping an eye on their
cousin Tony and his mate (barbed wire fence - very big backyard)
Mum (right), her sister and Nanna (Sarah Long) feeding turkeys on the farm
with a post and rail fence
Mum (left) with her sister and cousin Tony on the farm
(fence in background and big backyard)


  1. Polio was a scary thing when I was growing up & I still remember, as a young adult, going into Gallen Kamps shoe store in the Plaza shopping center to receive polio vaccine-laced sugar cubes over a period of weeks. I went to high school with a girl in a wheelchair who had had polio. She had a wonderful personality, got good grades, and belonged to all sorts of school clubs. Unfortunately she passed away at a fairly young age. Thank goodness for the vaccine now.

  2. It's a terrible thing. My husband and I were both in primary school when the vaccines started but we both knew kids who had disappeared (to lengthy stays in hospital presumably) because of polio. And a cousin who has been physically effected all his life and now, in his 70s, the polio symptoms appear to have come back.

  3. It looks like you dad and Bryan are about to swing down?

    Have you come across the site below? I have recently requested log in details to add photos. I found some relevant things on there and also like the map of the old township, which included a house plan where my grandparents lived. Hope that you can find something too.

    Regards, Sharon

    1. Thanks Sharon, I'll pass this on to Dad as his house plan is in there too.

  4. I remember a polio epidemic c.1955 in Blackpool, Lancashire when two of my friends from school were affected - fortunately not too badly. I recall my mother being very worried. . As a child I had an absolute dread of hospitals I must have heard abut iron lungs and the thought of them was very scary. indeed.

  5. Good post. Fortunately we tend to remember only the good times. If I think about it some, I can remember when the vaccines started. I was in about the fifth or sixth grade.

  6. Your mother and sister look as though they enjoyed getting to know all the animals

  7. Fun for all. Great photos. Your picket fence is just like the one we had when I was growing up!

  8. I remember when people were really afraid to go places with crowds in the summer because of polio.

  9. Great photos, and I particularly like those of your mother and aunt feeding the animals. No doubt they felt a lot safer on their grandparents' farm in those worrying times.

  10. I remember my grandmother warning us to stop playing so so hard in the summer because of polio. The 1950s in Detroit. I also remember later on when polio shots started being given at the elementary schools.

  11. Lots of different styles of fencing this week - thanks for sharing yours.

  12. I did try to post a comment before but hadn't checked the right box and it didn't go through. Good to see you posted a photo of a post and rail fence, there are still a few of them around.

  13. A fine set of family photos. The lamb feeding and turkey feedings were great -- brought back memories.

  14. Lovey photos. I thoroughly enjoyed them. But oh dear, you people make me feel so old ! You see I was at school for the 1937 epidemic. The school was closed down for a while and some work was sent home in an exercise book each week. It must have been hot because i remember my friend and myself being placed to play in cold water in the pair of concrete troughs in the washhouse - the forerunner of the modern laundry, A brother in law had a deformed leg as a result of this epidemic but he was one of the lucky ones - he survived. This is a wonderfully nostalgic group. It certa ly brings back memories.

  15. A great post to cover both aspects of this weekend's Sepia theme. I read recently that polio is very close to being eradicated except for those countries torn apart by war. I can remember getting the sugar cube vaccine in school but was too young to understand why it was such an urgent health concern.

  16. Really charming photos. The two on the farm have such a nice feeling to them.

    It is strange to remember back to the iron lungs. A friend's mother had had polio and forever wore a brace and walked with a severe limp. At the time we were all still getting vaccinated and still fearing the idea of those iron lungs.

  17. I had a friend whose sister had polio, and another whose mother had polio. I also remember all the talk about the iron lung - what a frightening term! And the sugar cube vaccine -- like Mike, I recall standing in line to get my sugar cube too. But most interesting in your post is your parents' recollections of being sent away during the epidemic.

  18. Yes I had the sugar cube vaccine too. I remember my mother saying she missed a lot of school because her mother was so frightened of her catching polio there. Must have been frightening times and yes - iron lung does conjure up all sorts of frightening images. But I do like the phrase "couldn't or wouldn't work in an iron lung" or whatever it is....