Youanmi Quarantines

As the influenza pandemic spread and cases increased in Western Australia, the Youanmi Local Board of Health held a meeting. On 12 June 1919, upon the advice of the Medical Officer, the board members decided to keep the town “free from an outbreak of the scourge.” Youanmi was to be protected, and all arrivals to the district had to undergo seven days quarantine. Furthermore, pickets were to be placed on the road to prevent people from entering.

Youanmi Hotel circa 1911

A follow-up meeting took place a week later. The Medical Officer, Dr Arthur Stenning, explained the seriousness of the illness and the dangers of it reaching the mining community. He recommended they follow the precautions put in place.

Engine-driver, James Jones, was the chairman of the Local Board of Health. He explained the action the Board intended to take and requested the full cooperation of the residents. After answering some questions regarding the Board’s authority to carry out and finance the restrictions, they passed the following motions:

  1. That the meeting endorsed the action taken by the Board to keep Youanmi free from influenza, and pledged to support any future action.
  2. That residents agreed to contribute an initial two shillings and six pence and then one shilling per week afterwards to pay for the equipment in the quarantine area as well as the wages for the pickets.
  3. That the Board of Health was to administer the fund.

Despite agreeing to the restrictions, not everyone was happy. A correspondent writing to The Daily Telegraph (Meekatharra) complained, “This blanky town has been quarantined…” A possible reason for their annoyance was that the Board put the regulations in place on mail day. They explained that the mail car had to drop off the bags and leave them for the postmaster or the assistant to pick them up and bring them into town. Those involved had to wear masks. Any passengers wanting to enter the town had to wait at the ‘rest camp’ for seven days until they were sure they were free from illness.

An early mail van servicing Youanmi

Delivery teams from Paynesville had to stop six miles from the town. They then handed over the team to a resident from Younami and waited until they returned with the empty wagon. The writer predicted that it would not be an issue for locals, but would be “damn inconvenient” for newcomers.

The restrictions continued, and on 28 June, it was reported there were seven people in quarantine. Indicating that the Board was not taking the situation lightly, a summons was served on Robert Allen for breaking the regulations.

Weddings and football games continued. In mid-July, the Local Board of Health held a meeting and stated that the “financial support promised by the public was not forthcoming equal to the expenditure.” Those present debated whether there were any cases of influenza in Western Australia, and Charles Bown moved a motion that the restrictions be immediately lifted. The majority voted against it.

The Board’s attempt to keep the town free from influenza did not succeed. On 15 August, it was reported that Youanmi was one of nine country towns found to be infected. Dr Herbert Clarke, Medical Officer at Cue and Day Dawn, did all he could for patients and the community in the Murchison. After receiving an urgent call for help (Youanmi’s doctor was away in Melbourne), Dr Clarke drove to the town from Cue (a journey of over 400 km). He found over 40 cases of pneumonic influenza. Three deaths were noted to have occurred at Youanmi: Alberto Belingheri, Guiseppi Bonomi, and William James Palmer.

By 4 September, the number of cases at Youanmi had grown to 86. Those who were sick eventually recovered. Thankfully, there were no more local deaths from influenza. Considering the earlier action by the Local Board of Health, it is not known if they changed their views with regards to quarantine and ended it or (more likely) if the virus simply managed to slip through.

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