From the Archives, 1963: Moorabbin winning the battle against the fly

First published in The Age on February 22, 1963



CURIOUS about the progress of Victoria’s planned war against the household fly, I visited the city of Moorabbin, where an experimental campaign begun in 1961 is now in its second year.

There I spoke to Mr Norman Davies, the city’s dedicated Chief Health Inspector, and field commander of the campaign.

Moorabbin’s chief health inspector Norman Davies (left), inspects the high standard of hygiene at a piggery at the Melbourne Home for the Aged, Cheltenham. With him (centre) is the home’s administrator (Mr Obrien) and overseer (Mr Simpson).Credit:The Age Archives

It happened by chance that our meeting occurred on the 25th anniversary of his taking up his duties at Moorabbin.

In that time, the city of 20,000 had grown to over 100,000 people. Its civic pride had also burgeoned, expressing itself in fine streets, parks and gardens and now in the splendid new town hall.

But of nothing is Moorabbin, or Mr. Davies, prouder than their successful war against the common household fly.

Although it was hot during my visit, my first impression of the city was that there were no flies there at all. Nowhere in the shopping centre, even in the food stalls, were there people twitching their noses and flapping their hands against the common enemy.

I was to see a few during a tour that took me to a piggery, a stable, a nursery, a food shop and some private houses, but not as many, in all, as I have seen around the garbage cans of a single city restaurant.

And how has this come about?

It started in October, 1961, when the State Health department requested the co-operation of the Moorabbin city council in a campaign to investigate fly breeding and to give advice on control measures.

Help was asked from entomologists of the Department of Agriculture, and from experts of the Department of Health itself.

The request was acceded to, and work started at once.

FIRST problem was to pinpoint potential fly-breeding sources — food premises, market gardens, nurseries, stables, poultry farms, and offensive trades such as knackers’ yards, bone mills, garbage and nightsoil depots and piggeries.

A cross-section of backyards of domestic premises was also included in the inspection.

Certain expected conclusions were soon confirmed. Manure-littered stables, battery-type poultry farms, piggeries and a bone mill that spilt its “soup” on to a paddock, were soon found to be prime offenders.

Buyers of manure for garden purposes were also found to be offenders, though innocent of bad practice. One supplier was found to be delivering manure from an unprotected manure heap, teeming with fly larvae.

Wherever this product was delivered, it proved to be a source of fly infestation. The supplier was required to keep his manure protected from flies, and the nuisance ceased.

A dairyman offered to concrete his stable yard and provide fly-proof manure containers for a cost of £7000. I visited his restored premises, and, miraculously, there was not a fly to be seen in spite of the hot sun.

One piggery closed down, unable to face the cost of drainage and concrete work demanded by the council. The other, which I saw, had 80 pigs in enclosed pens under a hot roof.

There was almost no animal smell from the hosed concrete, and I counted no more than a dozen flies.

The pigs in their clean straw were grunting with what appeared to be quiet satisfaction.

THE council soon found that one source of infestation was the untidy back yards of food premises — shops or restaurants — in which decaying food had been stuffed into inadequately protected garbage bins.

Such people were advised and, if necessary, warned. No more than two failed to respond.

I was taken to a food shop, run by two elderly sisters, not physically robust, one might have thought. Their back yard was a spotlessly tidy garden of trim lawn and flower beds. Garbage was out of sight in fly-proof sheds.

They were among the many thousands who, under the council’s mass education scheme, have been caught up in the strong tide of community pride.

These were the obvious lines of attack in the battle against the fly. Tactics were much more difficult when Mr. Davies and his team were working to suppress fly breeding on domestic premises.

The problem was so huge in a city of 100,000 souls that education had to be the key to it. Inspection and warning could only be done over a small and random sample.

The boy scouts helped. They put a leaflet in every letterbox in the municipality, including the following advice:

“Always wrap garbage in newspaper before placing in garbage can.

“Be sure your garbage can is in sound condition and has a tight-fitting lid.

“Always wash your garbage can thoroughly each time it is emptied.

“Don’t let your incinerator become an open garbage can. Always burn each charge of waste completely.

“Store manure in a covered container. Do not pile it in heaps.

“Sprinkle manure lightly on your garden, so it will dry out quickly.

“Compost heaps should be constructed so as to promote rapid decomposition.

“Keep poultry pens clean, and allow fowls to run in an enclosed yard.

“Keep grease traps clean.”

There is good evidence that householders have responded well. In one house I visited, with a spotlessly clean back yard, there were no flies in sight, outside or in, and no fly-wires needed on the windows.

Mr Davies, Moorabbin’s health inspector, had every reason to look pleased with the results he had to show me, though he was, he admitted, somewhat baffled by the separate problem of the bush fly.

The bush fly is that very small, irritating creature that torments people on the foreshore, in bushlands and even in suburban gardens.

Mr H. Wilson, the entomologist who helped with the Moorabbin campaign, told me a little about him. He is hard to eradicate, it seems, because too little is known of his breeding habits.

Fortunately he is not, on the whole, a carrier of disease, nor does he often go indoors. He is not, in short, a menace — neither a symptom nor a carrier of dirt. He is merely an intolerable nuisance.

It is the house fly that menaces life and health. He is the bearer of hepatitis, diphtheria, polio and a whole range of gastric disorders. Indoors, he is often not taken seriously enough.

Housewives with their fly-killing pressure packs will chase the big blowfly because he makes a noise and is repulsive; but it is his cousin, the quiet little black house fly, whom they should fear.

He has been the main target of the Moorabbin campaign, and although it is too soon to assess the results in terms of improved community health, there are some significant figures.

One is a reduction by more than half, during the past year, of the number of cases of hepatitis reported within the municipality.

Moorabbin has been the spearhead. It is the hope of the Health department that the whole State will follow in its wake.

Dr. R. J. Farnbach, deputy chief officer of the department, told me that the lessons learned from Moorabbin have been circulated to all municipalities, with strong encouragement to put them into effect.

Perhaps it is not too much to hope that Victoria might, in time, rid itself of flies as have the people of the once fly-ridden city of Peking.

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