Inside the Collection

Fight the Fly: the only good fly is a dead fly

Photograph of tin fly killer 1888-1929
Tin, fly killer, rectangular tin with sloping edges, transfer print on upper side of white daisies with cork centres, marked “Daisy Fly Killer contents posionous”, with instructions for use, Harold Somers, New York, USA, c. 1888-1929. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

There are 30,00 types of flies, one of the most familiar and widely distributed is the house fly. Besides being annoying it can also carry typhus, dysentery, and tuberculosis,

The introduction of cattle to  Australia in 1788 gave the fly increased access to one of it’s food sources, animal dung. Australians have battled flies n the home and in the paddocks.and the Museum holds a wide variety of approaches to combat flies from poisons like the oddly named and decorated pictured above to fly swats, fly paper and glass flay traps.

The Daisy killer metal tin has five holes in it which have felt wicks and it contain arsenic. When the tin is filled with water and the corks replaced and thoroughly shaken (while kept level) the fly poison mixes with water and is absorbed through the wicks which become moist  and sweet . The flies are attracted by the moisture and sweetness. The tin is oddly pretty for a poison container which perhaps explains why a 1910 newspaper article describes a young child being attracted to the container and licking it, with fatal consequences.

There has been a great variety of poisons and pesticides used to combat the fly with products named ‘Must Die’ and ‘GOT- U ‘ and Anti buzz buzz’ and ‘Aussie catchy foot’ fly papers. The best known advertisement known to generations of Australians was the Louis the fly campaign which started in 1957, he now has his own Facebook page.

The ‘Flies have dirty feet’ poster is one of a collection of 17 Australian health and safety posters that have survived from the 1950s. In their range they cover many of the public health issues that concerned government authorities at that time. One of these issues was cleanliness. The mid-20th century was a time when personal and civic cleanliness was stressed as a means of combating disease, both because dirt itself harboured germs and because filth and litter attracted vermin – such as rats and flies – that were branded as disease-carriers.

Poster, 'Flies have dirty feet'
Poster, ‘Flies have dirty feet’, health, paper, [printed by V C N Blight, Government Printer, Sydney], produced by the New South Wales Department of Public Health, New South Wales, Australia, c. 1955. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Flies have entered into the iconography of Australia and were adapted by designers for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

Design model of blowfly
Design model, blowfly, wire/wood/painted polystyrene, Closing Ceremony, Olympic Games, Sydney, 2000, designed and made by Reg Mombassa (Chris O’Doherty), Sydney c.2000. Collection: Powerhouse Collection.

Written by Anni Turnbull  Curator

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