The next meeting of the 17 Group will take place at 7 pm on Wednesday the 3rd of July in unit 6 at 20 Drury St, West End. It will be addressed by Matthew Wengert on the topic: “Red Flags in the North: Townsville erupts, July 1919“. This will be an interesting sequel to Ray Evans’s recent lecture about the Brisbane red flag riots in March 1919.
The men imprisoned for their part in Brisbane’s ‘Red Flag Riots’ were in Boggo Road at His Majesty’s pleasure when the 1919 ‘Flu epidemic hit the prison. This was part of the ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic––the deadliest event in human history, which killed more people than the two world wars combined.
The ‘Flu killed around 15 000 Australians that year, including more than 300 in Brisbane by its peak in late June. People were terrified of this disease for which there was no effective treatment. A massive demonstration in Townsville saw over a thousand unionists march to the city wharves to protest against one vessel’s violation of quarantine regulations. But within a few weeks residents were falling ill, and the infection was spreading between workers at the biggest workplaces––including several meatworks and the railway workshops.
When two union leaders were arrested at the end of June there was a violent eruption of political anger in Townsville. One of the arrested men was gravely sick with influenza, and police were blamed for not getting him to hospital quickly enough. Riots broke out in early July 1919, and a group of radicals stormed the police lock-up. Firearms were taken from local shops, and gun battles occurred between police and socialists. A special train took police from Brisbane and other regions to bolster the force at Townsville––but railway comrades were not so keen for this train to run on time.
Matthew Wengert is an historical researcher and writer, with a particular interest in medical history and stories from Queensland’s colonial frontier. He worked as a research assistant on Ross Fitzgerald’s political biographies of Ted Theodore and Fred Patterson. His recent book––‘City in Masks: How Brisbane fought the Spanish Flu’––was funded by the Brisbane City Council’s award for local history research. With his colleague Louise Martin-Chew he was awarded the 2019 John Oxley Fellowship from the State Library of Queensland, to research the visual history of the Government Printing Office.
Unfortunately, after Lenin’s death, his son Artyom Fedorovich became an adopted son of the monster. When he himself died prematurely in 1921 there was an official day of mourning. He was buried in the Kremlin Wall, a signal honour. And though, to borrow a popular phrase, it is not his State of Origin, but in a sense his State of Departure, Queensland may share, however reluctantly in his posthumous glory.”