Explore the History of australian football

​1919: "Spanish Flu"

The world had changed. Europe was no longer at its epicentre. The USA, whose losses during the war had been minuscule compared to numerous other nations, Australia included, could alone be described as a major global power. Germany, apparently vanquished and certainly impoverished, was seething not far below the surface. The two polar extremes of Communism and Fascism would all too soon be gorging themselves on the feelings of political helplessness enshrouding Europe. Already indeed Europe’s largest nation, Russia, had nailed its colours to the communist mast.


Communism was also becoming increasingly difficult to ignore in Australia, a nation which had punched above its weight during the war, but in which no fewer than fifty per cent of families had lost at least one loved one. As far as the establishment was concerned, the war had been fought with the aim of safeguarding White Australia, and common wisdom had it that success had been achieved in that regard. Nevertheless, there were doubters, including most particular the sizeable minority - many Catholics, the urban poor, a large number of women of all classes - who believed that the war had been a complete waste - of time, money, effort and, most particularly, lives. With no conclusive evidence yet available as to how Communism might manifest itself if permitted to hold the reins of power its ideology held a certain allure to many of those who felt disenfranchised or downtrodden.


Of more immediate concern, however, were some of the logistical problems associated with the end of the war, such as how to repatriate the thousands of Australians serving abroad. Such an enterprise would have been difficult in any circumstances, but it was rendered infinitely harder by the outbreak of a pneumonic influenza epidemic. Popularly known as the “Spanish Flu”, although there is no firm evidence as to where it actually originated, in the space of just over a year this disease killed somewhere between 40 and 100 million people worldwide - more than died during the entire course of the Great War. Unlike most strains of influenza which are typically only fatal for the very young or the elderly “Spanish Flu” was actually much more likely to kill you if you were young and healthy. This meant that soldiers returning home to Australia from Europe were just as much at risk as anyone else, and indeed possibly more at risk than many because they had been living in Europe where the illness had had a headstart. Consequently, many troop ships arriving back in Australia were held in quarantine. At one stage the entire state of New South Wales was declared an infected area, and schools and all public entertainment venues were closed. Paradoxically and rather perversely though, people were encouraged to visit beaches as sea air was considered to be beneficial to health. Not surprisingly, many instances of flu were contracted at the seaside.


Ultimately, somewhere in the region of 12,000 Australians died of “Spanish Flu” - a comparatively meagre total compared to 150,000 in England and Wales, in excess of 500,000 in the USA, and an estimated 15 million in India. Nevertheless its impact on Australian society was marked and very real. Among the casualties were the major football competitions of Tasmania (TFL, NTFA and NWFU) and Queensland (QFL) which had planned to resume in 1919 after having been in recess during the war, but instead opted to remain in abeyance for another season.


Elsewhere, even in New South Wales, top level football continued. Paddington won the NSWAFL premiership, defeating reigning premiers East Sydney by 20 points in the year’s decisive match.


The first recorded case of “Spanish ?Flu” on Australian soil occurred in December 1918 in Melbourne. However, overall the impact of the disease on both the city and the state as a whole was minimal. As far as the VFL and VFA were concerned it was business more or less as usual. The VFA, which was contested by the same ten clubs as in the years immediately prior to the war, reverted in 1919 to fielding eighteen players per team. Footscray ended North Melbourne’s run of success by accounting for the blue and whites by 22 points in the premiership decider.


The VFL enjoyed a financially lucrative season with crowds at an all time high. Collingwood won the premiership by defeating Richmond in the challenge final after losing to the same team a week earlier in the final. It was the first time since they entered the competition that the Tigers had played off for the flag and better things were just round the corner for the men from Punt Road. Another noteworthy event in the VFL in 1919 was the introduction of an official reserves competition.
Going one better than Richmond East Perth, which had joined the WAFL competition in 1906, won a first ever premiership by overcoming their conquerors of 1918, East Fremantle. Final scores were East Perth 10.8 (68); East Fremantle 7.4 (46).


In 1915, the last year of full scale SAFL competition before it went into recess, Sturt had won their first league premiership, and in 1919 they beat North Adelaide at the second time of asking to clinch their second.


In the NTFL Wanderers won their second consecutive flag with a 9.9 (63) to 3.5 (23) grand final defeat of Waratahs.


The political sphere in 1919 is dominated by the Versailles Peace Conference. Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes enhances his reputation by ensuring that Australia is included as a signatory to the eventual treaty. He also manages to get the League of Nations, formed as a consequence of the treaty, to approve a mandate whereby Australia is given administrative control over German New Guinea. Capitalising on his popularity in the wake of these developments Hughes calls a Federal election in November at which his Nationalist Party achieves a resounding victory. The 1919 Federal election was the first to use proportional representation rather than the first past the post system which had hitherto been used.

The End of the Affair


by Elizabeth Riddell


I do not forgive your old age.

I have liked lavishness, a splurge,

so I do not forgive caution, nor

the desire blurred, scribbled over, half-erased,

nor the corner of the mouth turned down

as if dragged by an aching critical tooth.


​I do not forgive the tufts, the patches, the stained skin.

Not your fault, of course, but still unforgivable

to go russet from red and white to dark in

so few years, to lose the spring,

the stretch, the hair, the glistening eye.


Most of all I do not forgive your tolerance

when I reject you. It is no substitute for rage.

{And most of all I do not forgive myself,

mirror image of your decay, the soon shredded flesh.}


Give me this, do not sleep through the cavatina

and I will stay awake for you, for the last time.