As we go through this uncertain period of lockdowns across the world, and particularly in schools, it is interesting to reflect on other crises that have led to a similar response. COVID-19 has not been the only disease to cause of the cancellation of events and the closure of Carey. A major outbreak in 1937–38 of poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis, also known as polio) crippled hundreds of Australian children and led to considerable fear of gathering in large groups. In Melbourne, 174 people contracted polio. Major events were cancelled and some schools closed.
By July 1937, after a few Carey boys had been quarantined at home, other parents gradually chose to keep their youngest children home from school too, because they were particularly susceptible to the virus. At the end of the month, with so few children at school, Carey closed. By this time, boarders had been isolated under the care of the school’s matron, Miss Hamilton. As soon as the boarders completed the term’s examinations, the headmaster sent them home. Much loved school events ‘gave way to the menace of the prevailing epidemic’ and were cancelled. They included the August school concert, the Associated Grammar Schools football premiership, and the highly anticipated annual exchange of sporting and debating fixtures with King’s College, Adelaide.
When Carey reopened at the beginning of Term 3 on 14 September, as schools then operated with three terms, the polio epidemic continued. After a student was suspected to have contracted the disease, Speech Night was cancelled and the school year ended abruptly on 8 December, six days early.
At the start of the 1938 school year, medical advisors again counselled the community against holding major events such as sporting competitions. At Carey, both the House swimming sports and interschool swimming sports did not proceed in Term 1. The School also postponed the fete. ‘It was felt that so long as parents were agitated by anxiety due to the paralysis epidemic, it was better to avoid all fixtures involving a general assembly of adults and children.’
Ian Hansen, who contracted polio at around this time, enrolled at Carey to become a boarder from 1940. Although he still had to sleep in his splint, nobody fussed over him, and he felt ‘suddenly part of a great family, and I loved it’.
The resurged polio epidemic in 1949 proved to be equally cruel. The combined athletics sports, preparatory school sports day, and senior House sports were all cancelled in Term 1, 1949, as were the final tennis matches of the season. Morning assemblies and some classes were held outside, and good personal hygiene was emphasised.
There have been many similarities in today’s closure and those of the 1930s and 40s due to polio, including the devastating cancellation of beloved school events and the importance of maintaining social distance. But in 2020, we are fortunate to have the resources which allow us to continue learning online and maintain daily contact with educators and other staff.
Stay safe and healthy and enjoy the upcoming school holidays.
Feature image: Carey's 1938 Prefects and Headmaster. Back row: H. A. H. Pickering, R. S. Gadsden. Front row: L. L. Newnham (Captain of School), H. G. Steele, Esq.; R. G. Webb (Vice-Captain). Carey Chronicle, Vol. XVI, No. 2, December 1938.