Saturday, 16 August 2008


My short fiction story 'Labyrinth' was set in the year 1900 in Sydney - a time when rats on board ships coming from overseas brought the Black or Bubonic Plague and spread it throughout the town.
It was also a period when single women living alone (such as my heroine Miriam) still had few options of earning a livelihood other than in household service or prostitution.
According to NSW State Records the Plague hit in January and at the end of eight months 303 cases were reported and 103 people were dead.
A huge clean-up campaign was launched to disinfect the labyrinth of filthy hovels clustered in back lanes in the town, and many were demolished.
Gangs of rat catchers ranged the streets and official figures showed 44,000 rats were killed and incinerated.
This is a selection of photographs from the State Records web site:

This team of rat catchers posed alongside their haul for the day. One of the men is holding a trap used to catch the rodents that were then incinerated.

The standard of construction of these houses at 12 Robinson Lane Sydney was fairly typical of the crowded lanes, although the yard itself was more orderly than many others. Many small buildings housed 20 people each.

Not the most hygenic of butchers shops ... Presumably the sausages hanging from the roof were sold for human consumption. Sutton Forest Butchery 761 George Street Sydney in 1900. Photographs courtesy NSW State Records.
Mercifully, how things have changed!
My story 'Labyrinth' in the next post speaks of stark days, but I'm one who supports the old saying 'She who ignores history is destined to re-live it'. Read 'Labyrinth' now.

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Cheers June