Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Social and Cultural Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Supervisor

Geoffrey Bolton

Second Supervisor

Alan Bittles


This thesis investigates community responses to Poliomyelitis, and the Impact of the disease on those who experienced It, particularly during the epidemics that occurred In Western Australia between 1938 and 1956. The research sources an.: W.A. Health Department records, held mostly at the Battye Library, records held by Australian Archives and Royal Perth Hospital, newspaper reports, comparative studies from several states in Australia and overseas, oral history interviews, biographies and personal records. The history of polio has several layers and the presence or the disease In the community evoked varied and ambiguous reactions, summarised here as fear, frustration and the will to overcome. I have examined the discussion the virus generated amongst members of the public. researchers, health professionals and polio survivors, In order to draw conclusions about the relationship between disease and western society. Polio evoked greater level of fear amongst all members of the community, compared with other Infectious diseases which had a far higher mortality rate. The behaviour of the polio virus challenged theories of Infection current during the first half of the twentieth century. Health and scientific professionals, and the general public, were frustrated by a lack of accurate knowledge concerning the disease. Uncertainty led to the Implementation of a variety of preventative measures, some of which, such as quarantine, were unpopular while others, such as nasal clips, were ineffective. Research aimed at developing a vaccine to conquer the Virus was maintained but scientific and medical professionals disagreed amongst themselves, while members of the general public questioned their capabilities and offered their own homespun solutions. At the same time polio survivors were often noted for their determined efforts to recover from the effects of paralysis.