PAST AND FUTURE: Billy Hill with the interactive iron lung display at the Bundaberg and District Historical Museum, located at the botanic gardens.
PAST AND FUTURE: Billy Hill with the interactive iron lung display at the Bundaberg and District Historical Museum, located at the botanic gardens. Crystal Jones

New technology tells tragic tale of our past

IT WAS a tragic era in medical history and a tale now being told to new generations through an interactive display.

Between 1936 and 1951, polio affected 70,000 Australians, thousands died from the illness and many more lived on, suffering its symptoms.

Tucked away in the Bundaberg and District Historical Museum is an eerie reminder of a time when polio was all too common - a 1930s era iron lung designed to help polio-affected children breathe.

According to the museum's staff, children and those who weren't around when the illness was all too common often had questions about the device.

That's when volunteer Billy Hill decided to step in and utilise some new technology to explain how and why the iron lung was used.

A 15-minute video now plays on an iPad near the iron lung, explaining its use.

"A lot of people don't know about polio,” co-ordinator and secretary Chris Spence said.

Instructions for using an iron lung at the Bundaberg Historical Museum.
Instructions for using an iron lung at the Bundaberg Historical Museum. Crystal Jones

"They're too young and have never been through the polio epidemic.

"It's something of a bygone era where you don't have polio now.”

Mrs Spence said the iron lung worked like a decompression chamber, breathing on behalf of the patient.

The display also includes a set of vintage instructions for medical staff.

In 2000, Australia was declared polio free, largely due to a high vaccination rate, but its origins go back in history, with cases recorded as far back as ancient Egypt.

Caused by poliovirus, the virus spreads from person to person and can invade an infected person's brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis.

And while Australia is now free of the disease, travellers going to polio-affected countries are still urged to get vaccinated first.

The interactive iron lung display at the Bundaberg Historical Museum.
The interactive iron lung display at the Bundaberg Historical Museum. Crystal Jones

Any single case of poliomyelitis in Australia is considered a public health emergency and would activate the government's polio response plan.

The polio display, and many others, can be viewed at the museum seven days a week from 10am-4pm.

Entry fees are $5.50 for adults, $4.50 for seniors and concession and $2.50 for children.

Mrs Spence said visitors were always welcomed and volunteers too.

"As a volunteer at the museum there's something for everyone from research, filing and administration work to meeting and greeting people,” she said.

"Especially for people who don't know the town or they've just moved to town it gives them an understanding of the area and its history.”

Mrs Spence said volunteers were especially needed for weekend shifts and would join a cheerful team.

"We have some very hard-working volunteers here which we definitely appreciate,” she said.

The museum is located within the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens.



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