Sunday, February 16, 2014

Australia's history of internment camps and detention centres.

Yesterday I posted photographs by Dorothy Lange and and poetry by Nellie Wong about the shameful episode of the US's internment of Japanese American citizens during WW2. 

Australia has a long institutional history of the use of internment camps and detention centres. And these systems of internment have always been arbitrary and subject to the vagaries of Governments and local authorities. The stigmatization and detainment of  people has always been a denial of their civil and legal rights.

From our origins as a convict nation to the reserves, institutions and camps which imprisoned Aboriginal people, to our contemporary privatized immigration detention detention gulags, Australia has a long love affair with internment camps and detention centres in remote locations. 

We have our own dark history of internment of citizens during WW1 and WW2, when Australian citizens from many nations were imprisoned in remote locations, regardless of age, health, political views and citizenship status, because they were nationals of countries at war and were considered 'enemy aliens' and a security threat.

And Australian Governments and Australian history have been silent on the history of the internment of its citizens.

Between 1939-1945, 15,000 residents were detained for part of or the full length of the war. They were mostly from countries of Germany, Italy and Japan and included recently arrived migrants, naturalized Australians born in an enemy country, second generation Australians of foreign descent, refugees from Europe (including Jewish refugees) and Australians who were considered a threat.

Japanese Australians were interned en masse.

The people interned were not soldiers, nor had they broken any law or fought for either side. They were Australian civilians with average occupations and families. They were considered to be prisoners of war.

Camps were scattered all over Australia, mainly in remote locations, including Harvey, Rottnest Island and Parkeston in Western Australia, Cowra, Hay, Holdsworthy, Bathurst, Long Bay and Orange (NSW),  Tatura and Dhurringile (Victoria), Loveday (South Australia), Enoggera (Queensland).

This site contains the stories of families interned in the camps.

Mia Spizzica who is the descendant of Italians interned in Australia during WW2 has published articles (here and here) about the internment of Italian Australians and the impact of being labeled as 'enemy aliens'. 

Spizzica has argued that wartime civilian internment was in fact intentionally planned as retribution against the enemy's weakest and most vulnerable link. 

Spizzica argues for a full and sincere apology and appropriate compensation for Italian families who lost so much during their internment.

During WW1, 7000 Australians were interned, including 84 women and 67 children. Of these about 4,500 had been Australian residents before the war. Some were naturalized Australians and others had been born in Australia.

In her new history of the Great War in Australia Broken Nation Joan Beaumont  writes  that people had no access to judicial appeal and no chance of gaining legal representation. The onus was on them to prove that they were not hostile enemy aliens, as the authorities claimed.

Australian Geographic has this story about Australian German and Australian Australians interned during WW1.

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