IN 1919 a influenza epidemic was brought to Australia by the returning soldiers from the Great War. The Bega Municipal Council, local health committee and the Red Cross met on the 1 st February to prepare for the "plague". It was decided to open an isolation hospital to meet the situation and volunteers be asked to assist in the nursing and other work.
Those with previous nursing experience would be preferred and they would be inoculated and isolated in the hospital. Anyone willing to assist was asked to communicate with the secretaries of the Red Cross, Mrs A A Wren and Mrs V Ritchie.
They wired for a nurse for the proposed temporary hospital on the Saturday and she arrived on the Monday. Her services were to be used at the Bega Hospital until the flu appeared in the town. It was the unanimous opinion of the meeting that it was advisable to meet any emergency that may arise.
However before anyone in Bega came down with the flu, the matron and the rest of the nursing staff "struck" saying they would not nurse flu patients. This was reported in the Tweed Daily, the Winghamn Chronicle and the Manning River Observer and the Gundagai Independent.
All these papers noted that the medical officer had referred the nursing staff to the Board of Health, the whole nursing staff had resigned or were suspended and and the committee was inviting applications to fill the vacancies. The Candelo paper regarded the nurses as Bolshies for their blank refusal to nurse influenza patients and "they were a disgrace to their profession". In Bega on May 28 the Bega Budget reported that "the matron and nursing staff of the Bega District Hospital have resigned. This should clear the atmosphere with regard to the institution and help to restore general harmony".
No paper seems to have reported what was behind the nursing staff making this decision.
The first case recorded in Bega was on June 7 according to the Bega Budget. It was Mr Snowdon, who had recently returned from Sydney. At first it was thought he had only the usual flu but then he was diagnosed as having "genuine pneumonic influenza". Another patient with the "pneumonic plague" was taken to the isolation ward of the hospital. In a short time cases were located throughout the municipality, easily traceable to Mr Snowdon, whose wife and brother were also affected, as were two Fletchers, two Spindlers and eight others. "It is pleasing to know that the outbreak is evidently of a mild form, and will probably be suppressed"
Local women volunteered their services. Mrs Brigden, who had considerable experience, took up the duties of a nurse, as did Miss Ida Ritchie, Miss Stiles of Kanoona.