FIRE, HEAT……AND A MYSTERY ‘EPIDEMIC’

A LONG, HOT SUMMER.

It has been such a dry winter here in the Blue Mountains. We have already had one total fire ban day and it’s only September. I notice my husband quietly clearing undergrowth, and testing the petrol fueled water pump.  I’m glad he does it, but it’s a bit unnerving.

Preparing for summer, Blackheath, Blue Mountains

Checking the fire hose and preparing for summer at Blackheath.

THE FURY OF FIRE

The summer of 1952 was one of record temperatures in New South Wales. Fires broke out  all over  the Blue Mountains.  One of the worst villages affected was Blackheath, where numerous  houses were destroyed  and many others threatened.  Residents dragged their possessions  into the street only  to have flying  cinders start fires in  piles of bedding and furniture. It was said that almost every man, woman and child fought the fires.

Medlow Bath also came under serious attack. The Hydro Majestic lost six buildings. One was  the boiler room , with its upstairs staff quarters. Another was a huge storeroom attached to an art gallery and museum. The owner, Mr Mel Ward, lost a substantial proportion of his collection, including a Cobb & Co. coach. Thankfully, many  Aboriginal artifacts had been moved to safety.  The previous summer had been very hot too.  This had prompted the hotel  to  make firebreaks in the spring of ’52, but  it was still  not enough.

It has never been determined whether the  ladies in the photograph below are  townsfolk or staff from the Hydro Majestic. I don’t think they were guests, judging by the luggage.

Evacuees at Medlow Bth station 1952

Evacuees at Medlow Bath railway station. (Fairfax Archives)

At  Newnes, north of Lithgow, a  2,000 acre pine forest burst into flames  with a roar that sounded like an ammunition dump  exploding. The entire plantation was destroyed, as 90 fireman fled for their lives.

The temperatures at Lithgow’s Small Arms Factory rose to over 100 degrees   day after day.  For weeks the  dam in the factory’s grounds was packed with residents and workers.

Dam at Small Arms Factory, Lithgow

The dam at the Small Arms Museum was always popular during  heatwaves (Lithgow Mercury).

Some locals even  risked fire  and thick smoke to  travel down to Blackheath, where the   pool was open until late at night.

And then, another problem began to emerge. People in Lithgow began falling ill.

Chemists and doctors were besieged with patients.  They were complaining of acute, influenza type symptoms,  dermatitis and painful swelling of the glands.   Some presented with a lump in the groin  or under the arm and were given penecillin injections. Many were ordered to bed for at least two days. On Friday,  February 8 , the Lithgow Mercury published an article on the crisis;

MYSTERY HEAT DISEASE ATTACKS LITHGOW RESIDENTS

DOCTORS AND CHEMISTS HAVE BEEN DELUGED BY ENQUIRIES CONCERNING THE INFECTION, WHICH IS BELIEVED TO BE ATTACKING THE VICTIMS THROUGH THE PORES OF THE SKIN.

This was the 1950’s, not the 1850’s. It seems odd that no-one  could accurately identify the complaint. Public health official Dr Graham Drew  of Sydney said that symptoms appeared to indicate a seasonal complaint in an extreme form, with some type of skin inflammation aggravated by  extreme heat and humidity.  He suggested that smoke from the bushfires carried dirt particles which would become clogged in open pores of the skin. Tepid baths and antiseptic ointments were suggested as relief (Lithgow Mercury Feb. 8).  It would become known  simply as Summer Disease.

As cooler weather arrived the incidence of the infection  reduced.  However, it was estimated that damage caused by  fire that summer  in New South Wales cost £6,500,000, the highest in forty years.

I do hope we get through this summer unscathed.

Don’t forget the birds, they will need their baths.

Bowerbird in a camellia bath.

Morning shower.

 

Bowerbird preening.

That’s better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angry satin bowerbird.

But don’t put flowers in my bath!!!

FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT, ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE MEMORIES OF THAT HOT, HOT SUMMER.

 

 

2 Comments
  1. We’ve had one of the hottest summers on record. I hope that where you are it isn’t going to be so extreme. It has meant wild fires, severe hurricanes, and even a damaging earthquake in Mexico.It’s a relief for us in north America to be heading into Winter, although it has been forecast that temperatures at the end of the coming week will be in the upper 80’s F.

    • Pauline

      Oh dear Heather, so many dreadful weather events. Was such a hot day here. One town in New South Wales reached 40C, first time on record that has happened in September.

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