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Prisoner of War & Internment Camps: Tatura and Rushworth

During the First World War, the theatres of Europe felt worlds away for Australians on the home front. The Second World War’s Pacific stage brought war closer to home. For some Victorian country towns, the repercussions of war arrived right on their doorstep.

Australia, like many other countries involved in the war, ran internment camps in both New South Wales and Victoria. During the war years, there were two significant camps in country Victoria’s Goulburn Valley region, at Tatura and Rushworth. A total of seven camps were spread between the two regional communities, housing Prisoners of War, enemy alien migrants and civilians living in Australia or other Allied territories and countries.

Photograph, 1940s, Tatura, Tatura Irrigation and Wartime Camps Museum collection L0224.

Tatura Irrigation & Wartime Camps Museum

The three men in the front row of this image are Ernie Ranson, Maurie Hogan and Bert Dowell. These local men from north-western Victorian town, Tatura, were part of the wave of young Australians who joined the war effort in the 1940s. In addition to local volunteers, the camps also produced a number of recruits who served as part of the 8th Employment Company after their release from internment. It is unknown whether these three men survived the war as their deaths were not definite, being declared to be ‘lost in action.’ This image is a significant representation of the brave men of Tatura who fought for Australia.

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Painting, Leonhard Adam, 1942, Tatura, Tatura Irrigation and Wartime Camps collection C9058.

Tatura Irrigation & Wartime Camps Museum

This framed canvas depicts Camp 2 at Tatura, painted by artist Dr Leonhard Adam in 1942. Dr Leonhard Adam was an accomplished anthropologist and lawyer in Berlin and London before his status as an ‘enemy alien’ saw him dispatched to Australia on the HMT Dunera. Like Adam, many of the internees detained at Tatura were academics, artists and professionals who attempted to maintain these aspects of their pre-war lives through camp schools, clubs and artistic expressions. Despite these efforts at normality, the isolation of the rural Australian landscape and constant reminder of confinement, as pictured in Adam’s work, were omnipresent.

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Behind the Fence, 1941, Tatura, Tatura Irrigation and Wartime Camps Museum collection C7445.

Tatura Irrigation & Wartime Camps Museum

Behind the Fence, was produced by the ‘Singapore Group’ of prisoners of Tatura Camp 3. Contrary to their name, the ‘Singapore Group’ were actually Jewish men, women and children who had fled Nazi Europe to find only temporary safe harbour in Singapore before being sent to Australia in 1940 by the British. Written in English and in German, the native languages of the internees, the publication was entertainment for many during their internment. The Singapore Group, were based in Camp three near the town Rushworth which mostly consisted of German families, Palestinians and New Guinean Groups.

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Sketch, Dhurringile Mansion, 1939-1940, Tatura Irrigation and Wartime Camps Museum collection C0906.

Tatura Irrigation & Wartime Camps Museum

This sketch of the 19th century Dhurringile Mansion was drawn by an unknown internee in 1939. In the early years of operation, the mansion was rented from a local resident to house German and Italian alien civilians before being repurposed as a Prisoner of War lodging facility for German prisoners from August 1941 until July 1945. This sketch was bestowed to a Garrison member Arthur Severino, and was subsequently passed down to his son William and so on. In an example of historic recurrence, the property has been used by the Victorian Government as a minimum security prison from 1965 to the present day.

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Photograph, 1940, Tatura, Tatura Irrigation and Wartime Camps Museum collection C1055.

Tatura Irrigation & Wartime Camps Museum

This photograph was taken in the year 1940 at Camp 3, near Rushworth. Camp 3 housed family groups from Austria, Germany, New Guinea, Palestine as well as enemy Australian citizens. As in other camps, the domesticity of life continued behind wired fences. This photograph depicts Dr Sturzenhofecker, Dr Reitmeair, Dr Rubitschung and a dress maker Mrs Dehnel and many others, several of whom became teachers at the Camp 3 children’s school.

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