Black and white image of beds in men's ward on the ground floor of the Exhibiion Building (REB). Original from "Sydney Mail" of 19 Feb., 1919. Located in Folder 36, Building Hospital.

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Exhibition Building used as a hospital during influenza epidemic.


The influenza epidemic which swept Victoria in 1919, killing 3,530 people (2,319 of them in the metropolitan area) cast the Exhibition Building in a strange new role as a hospital. Between January and April about 500 people were nursed at a time at the temporary hospital. The matron, Sister McKinnell, claimed that, in an emergency, up to 2000 people could be nursed at the Building at the one time.
The Red Cross was called in to set up the makeshift hospital, the first time it has been called on to do so in peacetime. In a week, volunteers made 8000 sheets, 1500 drawsheets, 1300 nightgowns, 700 locker curtains, 6000 masks, 440 pan covers and 100 shrouds. Others turned 100 packing cases into bedside tables and scrap timber into wardrobes. Ingoing ambulances with attendants wearing masks and undertakers' hearses leaving by the rear gate soon became familiar sights.
The approach of winter made the problem of heating the huge hall a daunting proposition, and the Building was closed as a hospital on May 3 1919.
(Source: display label, 'Makeshift Hospital', prepared by the REB Trustees' Museum, c.1990.)

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