Enemy aliens in WWI: pictures at the Museum of Sydney

I went to Harkaway State School in the foothills of the Dandenongs in Victoria.  It was settled by Germans and apparently in WWI they rang the bell of the local church when they heard of a German victory in WWI.  Probably not a good way to stay under the radar – though that was easy enough because it hadn’t been invented.

In any event, when I’m next in Sydney, I’ll be intrigued to go to “The Enemy at Home – The story of German internees in World War 1 Australia” which is on from 7 May – 11 Sep 2011 at the Museum of Sydney, Sydney. From the official blurb:

An exhibition at the Museum of Sydney reveals the lost world of German internees in Australia through the recently discovered photography of internee Paul Dubotzki.

During World War I (1914–18) nearly 7000 people of German and Austrian descent were interned as “enemy aliens” in isolated camps in New South Wales. Most of them were previously well-respected citizens or residents of Australia who were imprisoned alongside the crews taken off German ships detained in Australian ports and German expats captured by the Allies in South East Asia. Holsworthy in Sydney’s south-west held up to 6000 internees, while two smaller camps for privileged prisoners were established in the disused gaols of Trial Bay near Kempsey, and of Berrima in the Southern Highlands. One of the men interned was Paul Dubotzki, who ended up in Australia after accompanying an expedition to China as a photographer.

Interned first at Torrens Island in 1915, then at Trial Bay and Holsworthy the young Bavarian took hundreds of photographs, which capture, often in meticulous detail, the multifaceted society that evolved behind the barbed wire. The internees, who came from all walks of life, transformed their situation in detention through ingenuity and determination, creating intricate societies with cafes, clubs, newspapers, theatres, schools and an array of small businesses.

This long lost collection is now the centrepiece of “The enemy at home” exhibition and tells a fascinating story of artistry, ingenuity and resilience while revealing a little-known part of Australia’s wartime history.

The accompanying book, a co-publication with UNSW Press, will be available from HHT shops, including the online shop.

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