Covid 19 in Western Australia:

Observing, Recording and Documenting Local and Community Experiences for the Historical Archive


The Centre is encouraging people to keep a journal or diary of their observations and experiences during the Covid-19 outbreak.  This will create primary evidence of the outbreak for future researchers and historians.  We believe this is especially important in local communities, and encourage, where this is feasible, local people to record and document their personal experiences and the experiences of their local communities as they unfold, and how they feel and think about these experiences.

The Covid-19 outbreak will come to be seen (if it is not already) as a hugely significant historical event with very real consequences.  The experiences of local communities are an integral part of this event, and will be central to the stories by which it is remembered.  



Significant epidemics and pandemics in Western Australia during the twentieth century include the bubonic plague outbreaks between 1900-1907, the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919, and the Poliomyelitis epidemics of 1948-1956.  Other epidemics are evident from the colonial period up to the present day.

Western Australian historian Dr Michelle McKeough gives an insight into the plague outbreak:

At the turn of last century, an international pandemic of bubonic plague was rapidly transported by shipping throughout the trading world, taking only a few years to reach every continent. The experience of this pandemic varied dramatically; whilst millions were killed in India, China and Indonesia, Western Australian epidemics were relatively mild. Between 1900 to 1906 approximately 27 residents of Western Australia actually died of bubonic plague, out of around 60 identified cases. The difference between cases of the pandemic can be almost entirely attributed to size of population and living conditions. In Fremantle and Perth, sanitary shortcomings and overcrowding certainly led to the bubonic plague taking hold.  

Epidemics and pandemics do end, and societies and their economies are often changed by the experience.  Once the crisis has passed, however, they tend to recede in popular memory and in historical writing.  Whether that is a deliberate or conscious forgetting, or just the passage of time, remains an open question.


Creating Your Archive

There is no particular recommended format for doing this, and no organised program.  It is an encouragement for people to make a record in a way that best suits them and their local circumstances.  

A journal or diary could be hand written, or it could be kept on a computer or other device, or it could be a voice recording of some sort, or it might be a visual record of photographs or sketches or other images, or it may be some combination of these forms.  You might include photographs or drawings of artefacts such as ‘closed’ signs in shops, or empty (or otherwise) streets, or everyday ephemera that records your experiences such as shopping lists, utilities bills, notices from banks or landlords, personal notes and cards, and so on.

These records could be retained in your personal or family collections or preferably, in time, donated to local library or historical society collections or State collecting institutions.  

Keeping a journal or other sort of record is one way to ensure individuals, families and local communities can ensure their stories become part of the archive, and may be able to bring their recorded experiences to bear upon the ways in which the post-Covid-19 world is shaped.



There are many ebooks available to State Library members on the subject of keeping a journal. For example, The Journal Writer's Companion: Achieve Your Goals Express Your Creativity Realize your Potential and Art Journal Courage: Fearless Mixed Media Techniques for Journaling Bravely. You can find more titles by performing a keyword word search of the SLWA catalogue (e.g. "journaling") and then limiting the results by format to 'Electronic Resources' using the left-hand 'Refine by' menu.

If you wish to access these or refer to the State Library's ebooks, it is easy to join the Library if you are not already a member. Membership of the State Library of Western Australia is open to all residents of Western Australia. To join the Library from home please fill out the online form. Once you have completed and submitted the online form a State Library membership card will be sent out to you. For more information about membership and its benefits please see the SLWA website.

The National and State Libraries of Australasia's Personal Digital Archive Toolkit and short film, Preserving Your Digital Treasures will provide you with information on how to collect and ensure the preservation of digital materials if you are seeking to keep digital or online materials.
(Thanks to the State Library of Western Australia for these references)

Instead of keeping your own journal, you might prefer to contribute to an international online journal called A Journal of the Plague Year.  This online shared journal is curated by the Melbourne History Workshop in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne and the School for Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, Arizona State University.




Articles in the Historical Encyclopedia of Western Australia (UWAP, Crawley 2009)

•    Criena Jean Fitzgerald, ‘Tuberculosis’: 888
•    John H Smith, ‘Poliomyelitis epidemic’: 702-703
•    Kristy Bizzaca, ‘Quarantine’: 737-738
•    Mary Anne Jebb, ‘Bungarun’ [Derby Leprosarium]: 154-155
•    Paul Sendziuk, ‘HIV-AIDS’: 449
•    Phyl Brown, ‘Royal Perth Hospital’: 783
•    Sue Graham-Taylor, ‘Influenza epidemic’: 480
•    Sue Graham-Taylor, ‘Public Health’: 728-732
•    Sue Graham-Taylor, ‘Venereal disease’: 901-902
•    Vera Whittington and Jenny Gregory, ‘Typhoid epidemics’: 889-890

Articles in Studies in Western Australian History (CWAH, since 1978)

•    Criena Fitzgerald, ‘Compensating the Tubercular Miner: An Occupational Health Solution to a Public Health Problem’ ($), Social Policy in Western Australia, Volume 25, 2007
•    Mary Ann Jebb, ‘The Lock Hospitals Experiment: Europeans, Aborigines and Venereal Disease’ ($), European-Aboriginal Relations in Western Australian History, Volume 8, 1984
•    W. S. Davidson, ‘Havens of Refuge: a History of Leprosy in Western Australia’ ($), Bryan Gandevia (book review), Bosses, Workers and Unemployed, Volume 5, 1982
•    Su-Jane Hunt & Geoffrey Bolton, ‘Cleansing the Dunghill: Water Supply and Sanitation in Perth 1878-1912’ ($), Volume 2, 1978

Articles in Early Days, Journal of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society (since 1927)

•    Suzanne Jacobs, ‘Drachms, Draughts and Drugs’, Volume 10, Part 3, 1991
•    Criena Fitzgerald, ‘Sanatoria in Western Australia: the Institutional Response to Tuberculosis 1903-1940’, Volume 12, Part 3, 2003
•    Earle Seubert, ‘The Hidden Community: Woodman Point Quarantine Station’, Volume 13, Part 4, 2010
•    Michelle McKeough, ‘Bubonic Plague in Western Australia, 1900-1906’, forthcoming, 2020

Other articles

•    McKeough, Michelle, ‘Caught in an International Crisis: How Fremantle fell victim to Bubonic Plague 1900 to 1906’, The Great Circle, Vol 40, No. 1, 2018: 1–19.
•    McKeough, Michelle, 'The bubonic plagues in Fremantle, 1900'Fremantle Studies, 5, 2007: 22-29

Contact us

Dr Bruce Baskerville
+61 8 6488 2143
[email protected]

Assoc/Professor Andrea Gaynor
+61 8 6488 2137
[email protected]