Echoes from the past float over Victoria this Easter, a state in shock at the lock down caused by Covid-19. In 1919 the Australian troops returned unknowingly bringing the Spanish Flu with them.
Lexton is a small town in central Victoria, forty-five km from Ballarat on the road to Ararat and like many towns settled in the 1840s, has a hotel, general store, hall, football ground, church and school and a population of around one hundred and fifty.
At the time of the First World War the Naylor and Smith families were long established in the district. James Smith emigrated from Ireland, joined the Victorian Police Force in 1860, and settled in Lexton when he retired.
George Naylor, born in Tasmania in 1839, worked around the Victorian gold fields until he settled with his ten children in Lexton in 1880. In 1900 Tom Smith married Mary Naylor with both families very involved in local affairs. Mary also wrote a diary covering these years detailing the life of her family, those of her brothers and sisters, their families and the daily life of the town.
When the First World War was declared, George Naylor, Mary Smith’s unmarried brother aged forty-two enlisted. He said he went to the war so a man with a family could stay at home.
The Naylor family received the sad news that Gorge had been killed on the 4th February 1917, missing in action on the Western Front. The news devastated his family especially his father whose health was never the same after this news.
The war ended and the Australian soldiers returned home to a country with many families in mourning.
George senior’s health deteriorated after the loss of his son and in May 1919 he had a stroke. His two sons from Melbourne, Tom who had a Billiard Saloon in Chelsea and Jack a blacksmith from Epping visited their ailing father. Jack soon returned to Epping to see his family and arrange to spend more time with his father, but he never returned to Lexton.
The Spanish flu had started to spread to country Victoria when Mary Smith received the terrible news that Jack had succumbed in Epping. He was rushed to the Melbourne Base Hospital but died there after a few days illness. The loss of two brothers and a father in such a short space of time was a blow to the family with Jack leaving a sick wife and four small children. It was ‘too sad for words and leaves a blank in our lives never to be filled’ Mary wrote in her diary.
State borders were closed, the Exhibition Building in Melbourne was turned into a hospital, schools, churches and places of entertainment were closed and around four thousand Victorians died from the Spanish Influenza. Hidden behind those statistics are countless untold stories of the private grief of families and the long trail that grief left.
Mark Twain supposedly said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes“.