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Memento : Issue 31
Lessons from the past on Vrroom One of the biggest challenges history teachers face is making history relevant and interesting to students. Vrroom, our new virtual reading room, makes Commonwealth records accessible to students and encourages them to see connections between past and current events in Australian society. Avian influenza (bird flu) is one example. Almost daily, we hear reports of sporadic outbreaks throughout Europe and Asia. Public health officials tracking the spread of the disease warn of a pandemic if the virus were to mutate to enable human-to-human infection. The devastating Spanish flu pandemic of 1918–19 was also the subject of much public discussion. Even May Gibbs’ gumnut babies could not avoid the subject! With no precedent to guide the government response, the Quarantine Service took charge. Quarantine staff recorded the panic and confusion of the time, and, as our files show, they lamented the ‘education of the public in wrong direction[s] by newspapers, and disconnected methods of control in various States, based on inaccurate conceptions of the facts’. The panic was not confined to the public arena. A conference of state premiers ended abruptly when news broke of the flu’s arrival, with the leaders hastily returning to their home states. The Commonwealth Health Department was born out of the shortcomings identified in Australia’s response to the Spanish flu outbreak. The National Archives preserves records like these, and since the launch of Vrroom we have a vehicle for making them easily accessible as discrete records (rather than whole files) to teachers, students or anyone else who cares to use them. We put records into Vrroom to meet curriculum demands, but we also consider what is topical – from influenza to displaced persons and environmental degradation. We also take into account the personal interests of Vrroom users. We identify what people want through feedback from the site, but also by anonymously tracking the search terms that people use. Vrroom is developing as an innovative tool for learning from the past. Whether you are a student of school or life, visit vrroom.naa.gov.au . Beatrice Barnett NAA:CP567,Box4©TheSpasticCentreofNewSouthWalesandTheNorthcottSociety2006 MEMENTO WINTER 06 21