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Behind the Gate Exhibition

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Published April 3rd 2015
ANZAC Centenary Commemoration Program
When we think about World War I our first thoughts are usually about Gallipoli and our diggers fighting on the battlefields of France and in Europe. We don't tend to think about what was happening back in Australia and about the effects of the war on the home front. This exhibition looks at how the German community in Australia was treated during World War I and illustrates a very different side of the ANZAC story.

Behind the Gate is an exhibition about the Holsworthy Internment Camp during World War I. It will give you a glimpse into the lives of the men kept prisoner here and the hardships they faced.

Behind the Gate Exhibition Holsworthy Internment Camp
Get a glimpse Behind the Gate of the Holsworthy Internment Camp

The exhibition details life behind the barbed wire and locked gates of the Holsworthy Internment Camp, located in Sydney. After the outbreak of war in 1914 all Germans and Austrians living in Australia were declared "enemy aliens" and by February 1915 were being interned, either voluntarily or by force and without trial, in a number of camps in Australia.

The internees came from all walks of life and it is surprising to discover that many were naturalised British subjects or had even been born in Australia. Most of the internees were ordinary men with wives and children who considered Australia as their home. They included educated men, doctors, journalists and businessmen, whose only crime was to be of German or Austrian descent. Once behind the gate their lives changed forever. They lost their jobs, some lost their families and friends and they all lost their freedom.

Behind the Gate Exhibition Holsworthy Internment Camp
Entry to the exhibition

If you do an internet search you will find the names of many prominent men who were interned at Holsworthy during World War I. Edmund Resch, founder of Reschs Brewery and Kurt Wiese, later known for his illustrations of Bambi and The Story about Ping, were both Holsworthy Camp internees.

The story of another internee, Johann Kuhlmann, reads like a movie script. He was interned at Holsworthy Camp from August 1916 until he escaped in October 1917. With the help of friends in the camp, Kuhlmann and two other internees were buried in the recreation area with a piece of water pipe allowing them to breathe. At midnight they managed to dig themselves out of their dirt "graves" , evaded the searchlights and climbed over the barbed wire fences to escape. They then had to walk 4 miles through the bush from the camp to Liverpool and find a raft to cross the Georges River. Kuhlmann's companions changed in to some women's clothes they had brought with them in order to buy tickets and catch a train to Sydney. Kuhlmann decided this was too dangerous and instead decided to walk to Sydney. The companions dressed as women, apparently did not fool anyone and were caught by police and sent back to the internment camp. Kuhlmann however made it to Sydney, then went on to Coonabarabran where he made a living trapping rabbits and selling their pelts and carcasses. Kuhlmann remained a free man until the end of the war.

Eugen Hirschfeld was a distinguished doctor and academic and he was a naturalised Australian. He was appointed Imperial German Consul in Brisbane in 1906 and a founding senator of the University of QLD in 1911. He was also a member of the Queensland Medical Board and Legislative Council. However none of these qualifications or achievements mattered with the outbreak of war and Hirschfeld was interned for a total of three years and nine months, at the Enogera Camp in Brisbane as well as at Trial Bay Gaol and at Holsworthy.

Behind the Gate Exhibition Holsworthy Internment Camp
Huts built by the internees

Holsworthy Internment Camp was run like a prison. Unlike other internment camps, such as Berrima or Trial Bay, inmates were not allowed out of the camp confines. There were strict daily schedules for internees and hard physical labour. At Holsworthy the inmates built their own barracks and worked on the roads and railway line. In fact Holsworthy was considered the harshest internment camp of that time.

Despite this inmates found ways to make the best of their situation. To pass the time and for mental stimulation inmates performed plays, musical events, held sporting contests and even published a newspaper. By the end of the war the camp had grown, from the initial 50 tents to a small town of around 6000 men, and included a barber, bakery, tailor, watchmakers, cobblers, blacksmiths and woodworkers. There were an incredible 19 restaurants throughout the camp at one point.

Behind the Gate Exhibition Holsworthy Internment Camp
Items on display include photos, clothing, letters and theatre programs

This exhibition includes many photos of camp life including the prisoner huts, basic structures consisting of one back wall with a canvas flap at the front, which was no protection from the mozzies in summer or the freezing temperatures in winter. Other items on display include many photographs, some clothing, a Prisoner of War letter, timber items made by the prisoners and theatre programs.

Holsworthy Camp remained open until the last internees were deported to Germany in 1920.

Behind the Gate is a reminder of the harsh realities of war on the home front but also of the human spirit and incredible will of those interned to make a life for themselves despite their misfortune.

You can see the exhibition at Liverpool Regional Museum until 6th June 2015. Entry is free.

Liverpool City Council will present a range of events as part of an ANZAC Centenary Commemoration Program. Various exhibitions, theatre performances, talks and public programs will be held at Liverpool Regional Museum, Liverpool City Library and Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. For the full program click here. The program also includes the ANZAC Day event in Bigge Park on 25th April.

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Why? Learn about the Holsworthy Internment Camp in World War I
When: Until 6th June 2015
Phone: 02 9602 0315
Where: Liverpool Regional Musuem
Cost: Free entry
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