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It was a sad time for South Australia
Interned: Torrens Island 1914-1915 Is a Free Exhibition
Australia's European population originally came predominantly from the United Kingdom, although in the nineteenth century South Australia had a large influx of German migrants too. Many worked industriously as farmers in diverse areas from Hahndorf and Birdwood to the Barossa.
As with other migrant groups, the Germans tended to form cultural enclaves and didn't always fully integrate with settlers of British origin. When the United Kingdom declared war on Germany on August 4 1914, Australia immediately pledged a force of 20,000 men to placed at their disposal.
Most Australians had long considered the country to be an outpost of the British Empire, and feelings in South Australia ran strong in support of England and against Germany. Many locations around South Australia had their names changed from German names - Blumberg became Birdwood, Petersburg became Peterborough, and Rhine Villa became Cambrai.
Tent City at the Torrens Island Internment Camp (State Library of SA: B46793)
Anti German sentiment quickly became focussed on local people who had emigrated from Germany, and the War Precautions Act was used to round up some 300 men of German origin, even though some had been born in Australia.
Even the chairman of BHP (and German Consul) Hugo Muecke was not safe. Despite living in South Australia since age 7 when his parents migrated here, Muecke was briefly interned at Fort Largs before being confined under house arrest.
Camp Cooks at the Internment Camp (State Library of SA: B46794)
The 300 men were first interned in a barbed wire compound at Keswick Barracks, then in October 1914 taken to the Torrens Island internment camp in the Port River.
The Torrens Island Quarantine Station had been established in 1879, but there was still plenty of room on the island for an internment camp. It was also known at the time as a concentration camp. A tent city was established about 500 metres south of the quarantine station, and the prisoners were issued with daily rations which they cooked for themselves on camp fires.
While life in the internment camp was not easy, the prisoners tried to keep morale up with a camp newsletter, gymnastic training, and theatre. Internee Paul Dubotzky was a photographer and was permitted to have his camera in the camp: today his photos are one of the few ways left to learn about conditions in the Torrens Island internment camp. There was practically no coverage in newspapers of the day about the internees although when an entire Bavarian Band was imprisoned it did rate a mention.
In early 1915 life at the Torrens Island internment camp suddenly became much worse. After Captain G.E. Hawkes became commanding officer of the camp, severe corporal punishment and harsh use of bayonets by soldiers on the prisoners became the norm. The camp was moved to the southern end of Torrens Island, but there is little evidence of either location today.
Following a complaint by an internee to the US Consul an enquiry was held and the Torrens Island internment camp was closed and Captain Hawkes was dismissed from the service. Many of prisoners were released, and the remainder sent to a camp at Holsworthy in NSW. All camp records were destroyed, except those relating to the enquiry.
It wasn't until 1919 that newspapers reported on the outrages that Captain Hawkes had perpetrated at the Torrens Island internment camp.
Interned Germans Play Chess at Torrens Island (State Library of SA: B8999)
Interned: Torrens Island 1914-1915 at the Migration Museum in Adelaide tells the moving story of life at the internment camp. It includes original photographs by Paul Dubotzky which document the hard life of prisoners, and how they managed to keep their spirits up. The free exhibition draws upon the personal diary of internee Frank Bungardy to paint a realistic picture of life for the internees in this isolated camp.
Interned is the result of a research partnership with Flinders University and a book by Associate Professor Peter Monteath, Mandy Paul and Rebecca Martin to accompany the exhibition has been published by Wakefield Press. The exhibition and the book offer a perspective on a South Australian experience of the First World War that few living people would be aware of.
Interned: Torrens Island 1914-1915 is a free exhibition at the Migration Museum in Adelaide, and will be showing until August next year. If you visit the Migration Museum on a Sunday, take advantage of the free 45 minute guided tour of their collection at 3pm (no booking necessary).
If you contact the Maritime Museum in Pt.Adelaide,you can arrange a tour of Torrens Is.,which still has a few buildings and streets which may be of interest to history buffs.The grounds are in poor condition,but funds have been made available to spruce up the area,thank God.Eventually a boat will deliver tourists up the Port River to the jetty,rather than go by bus.If they clean the place up and patch up and paint the decaying buildings,it could become a popular place to visit.It certainly merits a bit of love and care,bearing in mind it's past history.Guides provide a run down on the history as you walk around and free water in bottles are provided.Toilet facilities are available.