Saturday, 1 August 2009


MY SHORT FICTION 'LABYRINTH' (which you can read here) 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.

The photo above from the NSW State Records pictures a group of ratcatchers who fought to rid the town of vermin at the time.

Gangs of rat catchers like these ranged the streets and official figures showed 44,000 rats were killed and incinerated. This team posed alongside their haul for the day. One of the men is holding a trap used to catch the rodents.

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.

This was also a period when single women on their own (such as my heroine Miriam) still had few options of earning a livelihood other than in household service or prostitution. Many rented space in houses such as these - crammed with people creating insanitary conditions which must have encouraged the spread of the disease.

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. A majority of such small buildings housed more than 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' 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.

Another post of mine (with reference to the plague) can be found here.

Did those who live in Sydney know that your town suffered greatly from The Black Plague?

Have you ever looked at the history of the area where you live?