Located just 19 kilometres off the coast of Perth is Western Australia's island getaway of Rottnest Island. The picturesque vistas, pristine beaches and bays, and azure waters teeming with marine life makes "Rotto" a family holiday attraction for locals and a popular destination for visitors to Australia. Few would have guessed that Perth's island paradise holds a significant past dating back to the days of World War I (WWI).
28 June of 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI which changed the lives of 16 million people including those in Australia. All over the country, museums and galleries pay tribute to the men and women affected by the Great War.
The State Library of Victoria in Melbourne conducted a talk on Anzacs and Legacy of WWI; Navy in WWI Exhibition The Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney is holding an exhibition about the role of the Navy in WWI; and the contributions of the women of Red Cross is exhibited at the State Library of South Australia. The Australian and New Zealand governments are also working to capture information from repatriation records of men and women who returned from WWI.
Rottnest Island was used as an internment camp by the Commonwealth Government at the outbreak of WWI in 1914 and held over 1,000 men prior to its closure in late 1915. The majority of the enemy aliens detained as prisoners of war were miners at Kalgoorlie of Austrian Slav, German and Italian origin. They lived in poor conditions and were mistreated by the military guards. Despite the hardships, the interns formed a band, opened a café and organised activities by the beach.
Lest we forget in Western Australia
A group of musicians at Rottnest Island camp, c. 1915 (NAA: PP14/1, 5/15/3) / Photo courtesy of National Archives of Australia
To remember and pay tribute to the men who are etched into the history of Rottnest, the Rottnest Island Authority has organised a theatre performance and exhibition. These were innocent men. They were migrants who found new lives in Australia - sons of Australian mothers and second generation Australians - who were all peremptorily rounded up and shipped off as enemy aliens to Rottnest Island due to an unrelated incident in Austria on 28 June 1914.
A theatrical experience of Rottnest Island during WWI
Instead of just exhibiting old photographs, letters from home and other records from 1914-1915, the Rottnest Island Authority has cleverly scripted a performance under the expert guidance of Professor Alexandra Ludewig, Head of German Studies at UWA.
With the help of Scooplight Theatre, the little known story of internees on Rottnest Island in WWI will be brought to life before your very eyes. Through photographic film and theatre, the poignant stories of these interned prisoners of war and their military guards are "captured" and shared. All the more poignant as the performance takes place in the very same surroundings which once contained the interns. Entitled "Capturing the Enemy", this is one theatre production that the audience will never forget.
The theatrical presentation will run on 27 and 28 June, 25 and 26 July and 1 and 2 August 2014. Tickets are $50 for adults and $25 for children under 16 years. If you're thinking of a weekend escape on Rotto, there are also weekend packages from $345 for 3 nights including tickets for the promotional price of $40 per adult. You will meet at the Salt Store at 7.15pm and the show starts at 7:30pm. To purchase your tickets, call 08 9432 9111 or visit the website.
Capture the Enemy exhibition
Rottnest Island Football Club, 1915 (NAA: PP14/1, 5/15/3) / Photo courtesy of National Archives of Australia
In addition to the theatre performance, this episode in Western Australia's history will be brought to life through a FREE exhibition at the Rottnest Island Salt Store from Anzac Day to mid-August.
You can view photographs taken on Rottnest Island in 1914 and 1915 when it was an internment camp for enemy aliens. They provide a looking glass into the lives of the German and Austrian Slav (mainly Croatian) men and boys, held in the internment camp between August 1914 and November 1915, the Australian soldier guards and Aboriginal men brought to the island as extra labour, and familiar landscapes of the Island.