Why this is not Queensland’s first time as ‘fortress state’

No person shall enter the State of Queensland from an infected state.

No person shall travel on the main line from Sydney to Brisbane beyond Tenterfield and all steamships from Sydney will be quarantined on arrival in Brisbane.

It's late January 1919, and Queensland remains a "clean state" with no suspicious cases of the pneumatic flu identified - yet.

The news was not a lot different to 2020 - daily case numbers, deaths, and efforts to contain the spread of the deadly Spanish flu.

In Sydney, race meetings were cancelled, church services banned, auction sales prohibited, and libraries and billiard rooms closed.

Then, at 2pm on January 28, Queensland closed its borders for the first time in its history.

Barricades went up so swiftly between Tweed Heads and Coolangatta that passengers on crowded trains returning from the summer holidays in northern NSW couldn't get home and Coolangatta residents who had popped out for groceries in the Tweed were stranded.

Temporary quarantine stations were established in Tenterfield and Coolangatta to help bona fide Queenslanders who had been caught out. Guards and cooks along with tents and equipment were dispatched to establish border camps.

More than 800 people had been stranded at Tenterfield. Many were told to return to Sydney and proceed by steamer.

Like today, there were those willing to try sneaking across the border. Picture: supplied
Like today, there were those willing to try sneaking across the border. Picture: supplied

Like today, there were those willing to try their luck sneaking across the border.

Soon after the closure, two shearers crossed the border heading to Cunnamulla in a motor lorry. A third man who joined them just over the border at Tuen also was suspected of making the illegal crossing, although he denied it. The three were detained and put into isolation.

A bookmaker heading home from Sydney crossed at Tweed Heads. He was arrested and quarantined at Coolangatta.

Four people in Warwick "adopted a very defiant attitude and laughed at the idea of being detained. The police, however, are on their tracks, and their arrest is hourly expected."

Action was taken against two women who reportedly crossed at Hebel, 4km north of the border on the Castlereagh Highway between Lightning Ridge and Dirranbandi.

Orders were given for them to be arrested and segregated from their families.

Three railway men at Tenterfield waved a red flag to stop a train. They boarded and proceeded to Toowoomba.

Spanish flu quarantine camp at Wallangarra in 1919 Picture State Library of Queensland
Spanish flu quarantine camp at Wallangarra in 1919 Picture State Library of Queensland

A Federal quarantine officer reported that all those who had crossed the border illegally had been traced and arrested.

On February 14, it was announced that permission to enter Queensland at Wallangarra may be permitted if twice inoculated and isolated for at least seven days at Tenterfield.

To enter at Coolangatta required isolation for at least seven days, and compliance with all the conditions of isolation, detention, disinfection, inhalation, and inoculation prescribed by the pneumonic-influenza regulations of 1919. Coolangatta quarantine camps closed on March 7, leaving Wallangarra as the only point of entry overland.

Guards were placed at Bethania Junction, near Grady's Gap, and near Kyogle to stop anyone trying to slip through. By March 12, about 3000 Queenslanders had passed through border quarantine camps.

The Home Secretary dared to say that he thought the chances of keeping the epidemic out of Queensland were now good.

A Brisbane quarantine camp during the 1919 Spanish flu outbreak. Picture: supplied
A Brisbane quarantine camp during the 1919 Spanish flu outbreak. Picture: supplied

On May 17, it was reported that preparations were proceeding for opening the Queensland border and in early June, the town of Texas, 2km from the border between Stanthorpe and Goondiwindi, was rejoicing.

"All the border restrictions were lifted as from 2pm on Saturday. The event was celebrated in a right, royal manner at Texas, on Monday. Residents from the New South Wales side trooped across in large numbers and heartily fraternised with their Queensland neighbours.

"It was a day of general rejoicing, and Texas had not been so gay for many a weary month."

The flu officially arrived in Queensland on May 23, when two women were the first to be diagnosed. It then quickly spread.

The Tweed Daily wrote on July 2: "The great war is forgotten, in favour of the great flu, the most hated thing on earth at the present time. The clergy would describe it as 'most unfortunate'; the businessman says it 'has killed trade' … no one will be sorry when Mr Flu clears out to China or somewhere."


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