In Victoria, as around the world, COVID-19—the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 —has caused the most remarkable interruption to daily life in living memory, if not modern history. The impulse in such circumstances is to search for historical analogies to help comprehend the scale, costs and challenges of the present crisis: the Spanish flu, the Great Depression or the Second World War. As was remarked more than once during the Victorian Parliament's emergency sitting on 23 April 2020, 'right now, we are living through history'.
This paper examines the history of epidemics and pandemics in Victoria over the past 200 years. It seeks to draw out the parallels between these events, discussing what lessons may be drawn from the past in making sense of the current crisis. At the same time, it emphasises the limits of drawing lessons from the past and the importance of appreciating the novel circumstances and problems of each crisis.