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  • Writer's pictureAlistair Nicholas

History repeats itself in motorcycle volunteerism during pandemic

During the 1919 "Spanish Flu" pandemic, motorcyclists were at the forefront of volunteering in Australia to assist community efforts. In a sign that history repeats itself, BloodBikes Australia riders have been volunteering to courier covid tests from collection centres to laboratories in the current pandemic.

For a change, here is something of a personal blog post rather than a commentary on politics, policy, or current affairs. It’s just a quick note to say I am very proud to be part of a great tradition of volunteering by motorcyclists that stretches back to the beginnings of motorcycling in Australia. (Yes, believe it or not, I’m a rev head.)

I was pleasantly surprised recently to discover that during the 1919 “Spanish Flu” pandemic, motorcyclists across Australia volunteered their time (and their motorbikes) to assist with emergency efforts. In the photo above you can see Sydney’s “SOS Motorcyclists” lined up outside the (old) Department of Education Building on Bridge Street between Loftus and Young Streets.

Sydney’s SOS Motorcyclists were involved in delivering clothing, food and other necessities, including, on occasion, money, to people in need in the poorer parts of the city. They also ferried doctors and nurses to visit the ill who were isolating at home. Their activities were coordinated by the Metropolitan Citizen’s Influenza Administrative Committee (which also coordinated SOS Cars and drivers involved in similar activities). The Metropolitican Citizen's Influenza Administrative Committee's headquarters was in the building across the road from the Education Building in the above photo.

Can you imagine the sight of those SOS bikes coming down the road carrying medicos in those “Caspar the friendly ghost” hazmat suits, as in the pic below? Would such a sight have elicited joy or terror, I wonder.

In a sign that history repeats itself, much of the public health measures (and political debate) of the 1919 pandemic centred around issues about quarantine, lockdowns, border closures, masks, and vaccines (see, for example, When masks were compulsory). But I won’t say any more on those issues; as I said this post is not about politics, policy or current affairs.

A further sign that history does indeed repeat itself is the current volunteerism of BloodBikes Australia. The group was started by Queenslander Peter Davis in September 2019, who was inspired by the BloodBikes movement in the UK and Ireland. (NB: the BloodBikes movement is also strong in Hungary.)

Just as BloodBikes Australia was picking up steam in early 2020, Covid-19 hit Down Under. The group very quickly became involved in transporting Covid tests from collection sites to laboratories across the country. Today the group boasts more than 350 volunteers across all states and territories. Riders volunteer our time, motorcycles, fuel, and road toll costs to do some good while out riding our motorbikes. I am very proud to be one of them.

For me it has been particularly satisfying to get out for a ride every week during lockdown. Have bike, will travel … and do good.


Sep 16, 2021

Very interesting ... just a reminder that history can repeat itself. Also a pointer to the big differences that in those days, we didn't have air travel, or the 24-hour public media news cycle -- or the beastly "social media" that we have today.

Sep 16, 2021
Replying to

and not only well done, Alistair, for your timely history lesson, but also for what you do on your motor bike !!

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