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There has been a range of lengthy examinations of the history of the discovery of the cause of beriberi and particularly its relationship with western or ‘scientific medicine’ in Japan, and the failure of that country’s medical elite to adopt clearly prophylactic measures. However, there has been negligible consideration of the history of beri-beri in Australia, despite it having been a regulated ‘contagious disease’ over many decades. There has also been very little consideration given to the work of the small number of Japanese doctors who came to Australia more than a century ago when beri-beri was a major affliction in Asia and the Indian sub-continent. The basic contention of this paper is that, even though, or perhaps because, it was largely confined to persons of Asian background, beri-beri was, and remained for a long period, a far more significant affliction in Australia than is generally acknowledged. Moreover, its local history is inevitably interwoven with what occurred in Japan, and the way it was dealt with in Australia reflects a similar intransigence among those who had or perceived a vested interest, or who simply could not escape the attitudes of their own upbringing and education.