22 December 2012 - The Case for Vaccination

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G'day guys,

Here is another article by Kay Koenig who has often featured on this blog. Thanks, Kay ...

Do you believe that the past can teach us lessons for the present, and indeed for the future? If the answer is yes, then why do we not listen to these lessons?

Take the case for immunisation.  Many people think that there is a risk in immunising babies against childhood diseases.  After all Autism is on the rise and there must be some environmental cause.  Could this be the measles vaccine?  Certainly, if your child is allergic to the vaccine, the consequences can be dire. There is nothing more heartbreaking than to meet a beautiful young girl suffering from intellectual disability and epilepsy, due to an adverse reaction to the measles vaccine. Maybe the risk is less if your child is not vaccinated. After all, the measles is only a mild childhood disease, isn’t it?

Today few people remember the epidemics of the past.  No longer does everybody know a child in leg irons due to polio. In these days of modern medicines, it simply could not happen, could it?

In Victoria, Australia, the little village of Blowhard sits amongst rolling hills, not far from Ballarat. During the 1860’s it was a prosperous little town serving a vibrant farming community. It was boom time. All the people, who rushed to the area to make their fortunes from gold mining,  had to be fed. There was an eager market for all that the farmer could produce.



Fryer’s Mill stood on the rise of a hill just outside Blowhard. Beneath the mill was a row of well kept cottages, home to the mill workers and their families. Each morning a horse and dray would collect children from the cottages and transport them up the hill to the local school.  You can imagine the scene- little girls in pinafores, boys in shirts and britches and the morning mist rising from the fields.  One day, in the winter of 1866, a little girl woke up with a sore throat. Never mind, sore throats and colds were common in winter.  But it wasn’t a common cold. A grey web developed across her tonsils. Diphtheria had arrived in the town. Children suffered from Diphtheria every year and sometimes a few died. Childhood diseases were common and every parent feared that it would be their child who would succumb.  But 1866 was different.  The disease spread like wildfire. So many children died, that the town carpenter lacked the time to construct enough coffins to bury them in.  It was common for the father to attend the funeral of one child, while a mother nursed and prayed for several others sick at home. Every family in the town was affected.

When the epidemic finally abated, Blowhard had lost a young generation.. There was no longer the need for a horse and dray to collect children each day and take them to school.

My great grandparents lived in the nearby gold mining town of Creswick.  He was a carpenter, wheelwright and father of nine healthy children. In the winter of 1866 two of his daughters died of diphtheria during the first three weeks of the epidemic.  With two sons fighting for their lives and a new baby to care for, a nine year old daughter was sent to live with her grandparents in Ballarat. It was to no avail. She also died of the disease, as did the baby boy, John.

The two older boys survived but they never really recovered. Both died in their twenties from tuberculosis.

Sadly, many families experienced similar tragedies before the advent of vaccination. Today we cannot imagine such events. Many of us think that some diseases no longer exist. This is not so. Each year there are cases of Whooping Cough. In some parts of the world Diphtheria is still feared. Tuberculosis is on the increase and is often not immune to antibiotics. We should learn from the past.  We should  have our children vaccinated.

The past can teach us many lessons.  The story of a family is much more powerful than statistics in a history book.  We must preserve and tell our family stories. This is what I hope can be done via Australian Family Stories.  If you have written a book about Australia, or if you have a story to tell, why not visit www.australianfamilystories.com.au ?   Together we can put a human face on our past and keep it alive.

Clancy's comment: Thanks, Kay. Another interesting article. Visit Kay's Kay's site at:


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