Michael Wohltmann was a senior secondary teacher spanning 31 years.
During this time he taught year 12 Modern European History, Australian History and International Politics in country and metropolitan high schools throughout South Australia. In the last eight years he taught these subjects at Marden Senior College, which was an adult re-entry college catering for students aged 18-80 year olds.

When the Great War broke out, over 400 “enemy aliens”- were interned on Torrens Island. However, the interesting story behind the events of internment of German-Australians is why this event was forgotten in our States history. Furthermore, how could a group of citizens who arrived in the colony in 1838 and were seen as “model loyal citizens”, become outcasts ,once war had taken effect?

Torrens Island was by far the worst of all internment camps.

I have been interested in Torrens Island Concentration Camp since the eighties. What interested me most is why some historical events in our past are not recognised, remembered, conveniently forgotten or even erased from our collective memory. Torrens Island is a case in point. There are several ways in dealing with the past, all of which involve interests, power and exclusion .One way in which some societies deal with the past is to impose forgetting. Historical past is constructed with the aim of overcoming the distance between the past and the present and establish an agenda in which remembering is linked to forgetting
I have always been interested in the power of myths in our society. Myths are used and designed to mask war and to legitimize the war experience; to displace the reality of war. Myths and myth-making enable the memory of war to be refashioned.

The websitehttp:// torrensislandinternmentcamp aims to provide a useful, convenient and reliable link to access information about the story of internment in South Australia, Australia and in the future examine the global nature of internment.

The online resources are designed to benefit history teachers, students, academics and members of the community.

I welcome any member of the community who wishes to place primary documents related to the topic to donate and contact me.

The website will be updated regularly.

In the future, there will be research work done on the topic of Vergangenheitsbewaltigung-How nations come to terms with their historical past.

As Maurice Halbwachs reminds us:
   “Collective Memory is essentially a reconstruction of the past in the light of the present”.

In the new millennium, there will be many nations, who will be facing up to their past, including Australia.

 I hope you enjoy our site and thank you for taking your time to read this.

Truth or Fiction?
In the future I would like to get to the bottom of a historical event, namely a church bell given to a local church here in Adelaide, South Australia by Adolf Hitler in the thirties.

If you have any questions or just wish to say hi, feel free to contact me!

The Great War and the treatment of German-Australians in South Australia between 1914-1919

The treatment, imprisonment and deportation of enemy aliens and German-Australians by the Australian government during the Great War is not well known by the Australia public, or rarely mentioned in our history books or any discussion about the Great War. The Great War had a deep impact on the German-Australian community throughout Australia and especially in Queensland and South Australia which had the nation’s largest German populations.

During the Great War some 6890 persons of German or Austro-Hungarian origin were interned, of whom 4500 were Australian residents. The Government also interned those naval and merchant sailors who were in Australia when war was declared. There were also German citizens who were transported to Australia from South-East Asia at the request of the British authorities.
History books about the Great War frequently talk about total war. This generally refers to war in the air, on the land and sea, supplemented by new forms of technology, which delivered enormous destruction. In fact, internment was a global feature of the Great War. All nations and Empires interned enemy aliens during wartime. In our region of the Asia Pacific there were over 50 camps. This process was not illegal, but what was illegal was that many civilians who were caught up in these events were never charged with any offence during their internment.

The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 saw twenty-four nations ratify the codification of the laws of War on Land. This was a watershed moment in history, and was the first time there were rules governing the laws of warfare.
The process of internment had its origin in the Boer War in South Africa, where both civilian as well as military prisoners were placed in concentration camps. Australia modelled their camps on these concentration camps found in South Africa.
The Germans who came out after 1840, were found in the Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley, mid –north, the Riverland and could be found in most farming communities throughout the State. Like many other cultural groups, the Germans formed their own cultural enclaves and did not always integrate with settlers of British origin. However, they were perceived as model and zealous citizens, who were law-abiding, mostly conservative and proud of their Lutheran religion and culture. These Germans followed the teachings of Luther’s Bible and the advice of their pastors.

In Adelaide there was also prominent urban elite of educated professionals and businessman who punched way above their numbers. In fact, from 1890 until 1914, the South Australian Parliament was represented with 10 influential politicians of German background.
Throughout the urban regions of South Australia, there were ordinary working-class and semi skilled German-Australians.
When the Great War broke out, the German-Australian community faced the issue of dual loyalty: Loyalty to the King and Empire and loyalty to their German heritage. An example of this can be found in the life of Hugo Muecke, who figured prominently in the commercial and public life of South Australia. In 1877, he was appointed Vice-Consul of Germany and in 1883 Imperial German Consul, a post which he held for the following 32 years until the commencement of World War I when he renounced his appointment. He was involved in the Chamber of Commerce for many years, serving as President from 1885-1886. Muecke also served as a Director of many companies, including: BHP, board member in 1892 and chairman 1914; Bank of Adelaide; Adelaide Steamship company; and, National Life Assurance Company.

In public life, Muecke served as a Justice of the Peace and was involved in local government affairs, at various times being involved with the municipalities of Port Adelaide, Rosewater (Chairman) and Walkerville (Chairman). In 1903 he was elected to the South Australian Parliament, serving as a member of the Legislative Council for 7 years.
At the outbreak of the war, Muecke advised the German-Australian community “to remain strong genuine Germans means to treasure the richness of the German language, the language of poets and thinkers, as well as German customs and good habits, but at the same time to remain faithful to the English King.”

Very early into the war, the historical evidence clearly shows that German-Australians had no loyalty to Germany, rather seeing themselves as loyal and proud South Australians. The South Australian German newspaper Australische Zeitung, December 1914, reminded German settlers of their oath to King George and urged them to stand by their new home ‘to which they owed so much.’ Throughout the Great War, the German-Australian community supported and contributed to the Wounded Soldiers’ and other patriotic fund raising.

However, by March 1915, the German-Australia community faced enormous hostilities within. The Commonwealth mounted an internal fear campaign, “Enemy within the Gates,” which resulted in all Germans and persons of German origin being looked upon with deep suspicion. No German, irrespective of their loyalty could be trusted. The combined use of the War Precautions Act, combined with the use of official wartime propaganda, both demonized and marginalized the German –Australian community. All of this ushered in a climate of fear.
For some in the community they saw this as an opportunity to settle old scores. For others they drew a line in the sand between being a loyal Australian and a good Britisher or a “Hun” sympathiser.
The internment of naturalised British subjects in Australia was achieved under the War Precautions Act 1914–1915, which enabled the making of regulations by the Governor-General in Council for securing the public safety and defence of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Bill for the War Precautions Act was passed through the House of Representatives and the Senate and given Royal Assent on 28 October 1914.

The Manual of War Precautions listed no less than 81 separate offences. It contained a bewildering collection of rules, orders and prohibitions measures that forbade enemy aliens the possession of motor cars, telephones, cameras or homing pigeons. The Commonwealth Defence Department set up six military districts in each of the states to house the crews arrested from German commercial ships confiscated in Australian ports at the outbreak of the war. In South Australia, the German ship, SS Scharzfels and its crew were among the first to be interned on Torrens Island.

The process of internment involves the detention of a person into custody who is not formally charged with an offence. An interned person will generally not be entitled to a hearing in the ordinary courts of the land on the merits of the detention. Internment was also an arbitrary process, as different officials may take different views upon whether or not the internment of a person was justified.
The internment of naturalised persons was achieved under regulation 55 which was contained in an Order in Council made under the War Precautions Act. Regulation 55 provided: Where the Minister has reason to believe that any naturalized person is disaffected or disloyal he may by warrant under his hand order him to be detained in military custody in such places as he thinks fit for the duration of the present state of war.

This aspect led to prominent members of the German business, community and Lutheran pastors being interned. . Hugo Muecke was interned in Fort Largs, in April 1916. Despite living in South Australia since the age of 7 when his parents migrated here, Hugo Muecke was briefly interned at Fort Largs, before being confined under house arrest.
Every State in Australia had internment camps, with Torrens Island being the camp in South Australia.  In Australia, during the Great War, some 6890 persons of German or Austro-Hungarian origin were interned, of whom 4500 were Australian residents. Torrens Island was home to over 400 internees between October 1914 to September 1915. When the camp closed most of the internees were transferred to Holsworthy internment camp near Liverpool, in Sydney. One of the last internees to return to South Australia was Hermann Goers, who did not return back to Adelaide until June 1919.

In South Australia, there were numerous attacks on the German-Australian community. Many unskilled German-Australians workers lost their jobs and surrendered themselves for internment, in order for their families to receive an allowance paid by the Commonwealth of ten shillings to a wife and 2/6d for each child under 14. By April 1915, all Germans and German South Australians had to register and report weekly to their local police station. Naturalized subjects and native-born German-Australians were being caught up in events where any trivial sign of disloyalty could see you searched, placed under arrest and interned. Military authorities did not require proof, evidence, or specify reasons with regard to alleged disloyalty. Suspicion was enough to incriminate, with no requirement on military authorities to bring a person to trial.

By early 1916, there was a concerted effort by the South Australian State government to erase the natural rights of the German community across political, economic and cultural and religious domains via the introduction of discriminatory legislation. The South Australian government restricted any German from working in the public service. In August 1916, the State government moved ‘that in the opinion of this House the time has now arrived when the names of all towns and districts in South Australia, which indicate a foreign enemy origin, should be designated by names either of British origin or South Australian native origin. As a result, the Nomenclature Act was passed in late 1917 and the final lists of 69 South Australian place names were changed.

The closing of Lutheran primary schools began as early as 1912. However, the Great War allowed the State government to move beyond the ability to restrict “Germanism” in Lutheran schools, but to close them. Former Premier John Verran led the charge of anti-German feeling that led to the closure of Lutheran schools. He was supported by various loyalist groups like the All British League, who gathered over 49,000 signatures in their petition, for the closure of “German” schools.

South Australian government via amendments to the Education Act 1915, introduced in the House of Assembly, by the Crawford Vaughan on 8 September, was a consolidating and amending bill. It dealt with all aspects of education, including private schools. These amendments resulted in the closures of all 49 Lutheran primary schools in South Australia. This was a terrible blow to the German-Australia community as their culture was undermined by the loss of German language teaching and Lutheran instruction and it served to destroy their strong cultural ties with their German heritage.

This forced many German-Australian families maintaining their ‘Germanness’ behind closed doors.
Both the Commonwealth and State government introduced disfranchisement bills to deny people of German origin to vote. German newspapers were also banned, as were their clubs. The War Precaution Act, made sure that on the economic front German businesses and businessman were weakened. This was achieved through the Trading with the Enemy Acts and the Enemy Contracts Annulment Act. Besides controlling German interests in wartime, the real intent was to permanently destroy German economic interests in Australia. Throughout the war, as a way of displaying their loyalty, Australian and South Australian companies would openly advertise the fact that they employed no German whatsoever.

On 11 November 1918, when the Great War came to an end, it did not bring closure for the German-Australian community living in South Australia. In fact, things only became worse for them in the post –war period. The War Precautions Act was extended for another three months after the Armistice, its motivation being that there was a fear that disloyal Germans might pose a threat to soldiers returning home from the war.

For some, they had their naturalization certificates revoked. During the course of May 1919 to June 1920, the Commonwealth deported and repatriated 6,150 persons from Australia. In South Australia 423 Germans were deported. This included German enemy aliens, German-Australians as well as naturalised Australians.

The issue of loyalty and disloyalty only hardened in the post-war period. Loyalist groups like the All British League, League of Empire and the RSL, campaigned zealously for the German-Australian community to display their patriotic duty. In the first instance this meant buying peace bonds.
These groups also demanded:

1. The ‘ousting of the Hun’s influence in all States.
2 That the Commonwealth should remove every German from every community who cannot show that he took some part in winning the war for the Allies, either by personal sacrifice, investment in War loans or in various other ways that might furnish sufficient evidence to enable him to retain his land.
3 That for their patriotic duty, the loyal digger should be given land taken from the Huns. The soldiers must demand the setting up of a Court of Appeal, presided over by the best judicial minds of the country, to order the sequestration of all lands, farms and property of Germans deemed undesirable citizens of the Commonwealth, for the settlement of returned men. Property so surrendered could be bought at its owner’s valuation, based on his income tax returns. There would be no injustice in this.
4 The immediate closure of all Lutheran schools and churches where the German language is taught.
5 The prohibition of the German tongue and literature throughout the Commonwealth.
6 The disfranchisement of all Germans in Australia.
7 The deportation of all Germans hostile to the British Empire.
8 With respect of married Huns and the problem of the Hun who has married an Australian girl, it was argued that as a German was no good to Australia, then his wife must accompany him back to the Fatherland or have the marriage annulled if she desires to remain here’
Rural communities used “German baiting”, whereby individuals or groups acted provocatively towards Germans, trying to stir up some kind of disloyal, intemperate response in order to flush out disloyalty.

From 1919 onwards the Commonwealth government’s policy of Assimilation emerged as the dominant route for attaining full membership of the Australian community. This meant that the German-Australian community would have to display a willingness to forgo their former culture and acquire the characteristics and traits which allowed them to be incorporated into the general community. Assimilation was designed to keep Australia British and White.

Between 1919 and 1921 there were two Royal Commissions set up which dealt with issues of loyalty and disloyalty. In 1919, the Loxton Royal Commission was set up by the South Australian government. It was commissioned to enquire into allegations of disloyalty in the district of Loxton, which occurred on the 10 October 1914! Yes, a Royal Commission after the conclusion of the war. The context of this is that German-Australians could not be trusted in the post war period and that the State was keeping a watchful eye on all Germans.
The Commonwealth appointed Commissioner Macfarlane in July 1921, to enquire into the issue of loyalty of German nationals in Australia. He investigates 106 cases in Australia, with 17 German nationals in South Australia who were investigated for acting disloyally.
In conclusion, what transpired throughout the Great War went beyond the notions of how we deal with ‘enemy aliens’ in wartime. I have no doubt that during the Great War we saw the beginnings of the progressive erosion of the rights and influence of the German-Australian community. Through the actions of many loyalist groups and most importantly the State and Commonwealth governments, the political, social, cultural, and religious spheres of life were severely impacted on. The intent was to destroy the German community as an distinct entity within South Australia and Australian society generally.

This is a forgotten chapter in our State and National history, and another aspect of the Great War.
Michael Wohltmann, author of A Future Unlived. A forgotten chapter in South Australia’s history. A history of the internment of German Enemy Aliens on Torrens Island and the marginalization of Germans in South Australia during 1914-1924.
Please visit my website at: www. torrensislandinternmentcamp.com.au