Pulmonary phthisis, also known as Tuberculosis, consumption or the white scourge, was one of the many diseases that faced soldiers during the First World War.
Tuberculosis was the main cause of death in Australia during the later part of the 19th century. Anyone receiving a diagnosis of tuberculosis at that time, was prone to believe they had been given a death sentence.
Tuberculosis was a very infectious disease, easily spread and often ended up striking entire families. The sufferers showed signs of fevers, loss of weight, difficulty with breathing, a persistent cough often resulting in producing blood in their sputum.
By 1901, the Queensland Government lead the way in researching the most suitable treatment for people suffering from the disease. The recommendation was for sanatoriums to be established in locations with clean dry air, access to fresh food, open living areas and provisions for exercise.
Sanatoria had been set up in the Stanthorpe area as health resorts prior to the First World War. In 1916, Mrs Margaret Allison contacted the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) to offer her sanatorium at Kyoomba, for the treatment of returned soldiers suffering from tuberculosis. She stipulated that the facility would be available to the AIF free of charge for the duration of the war and for two years after. Upon inspection of the buildings and the site, her offer was accepted.
In 1917 the AIF purchased the Kyoomba Sanatorium and initiated major building works. The increase in accommodation, allowed them to accept soldiers from all over Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
The medical treatment, dedicated nursing, cool crisp air, rest, volumes of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk and meat, combined with good hygienic practices implemented by the medical staff, with regular exercise soon started to work in favour of the patients.
Predominately there are two stages of tuberculosis, active and non active. Those soldiers with active tuberculosis at the sanatorium were segregated from the general population, had the freedom to walk or cycle around the area but were forbidden from entering the town area.
Inmates at the sanatorium participated in tennis, cricket, swimming, lawn bowls, horse riding, gardening and light farming activities. Plays and concerts were often produced by the inmates for their entertainment.
Unfortunately in the early stages a significant number of the men at the Kyoomba Sanatorium died from this disease and are buried at the Stanthorpe Cemetery. Those who were given a diagnosis of inactive tuberculosis after completing their treatment, and deemed at no risk to the general public, were able to go home to their families.