Internment camps

During World War I (1914-18) and World War II (1939-1945), the Liverpool Training Field was the site of internment camps, where ‘aliens’ from Australia’s wartime enemy nations were imprisoned.

Holsworthy Internment Camp – WWI

During WWI internment camps were set up all over Australia. The three main centres in New South Wales were Berrima in the Southern Highlands, Trial Bay on the North Coast, and Holsworthy, near Liverpool.

The Holsworthy Internment Camp was the largest and longest-running camp in Australia, housing 6,890 internees. The ‘enemy aliens’ interned without a trial included German, Austrian, Hungarian, Croatian, Czech, Bulgarian and Turkish men. Some were naturalised British citizens, native-born second or third generation Australians, and a few even had siblings serving in Australian military forces. Internees included crews of ships caught in Australian ports, government officials, Lutheran missionaries, prisoners of war and businessmen. Of all the camps, Holsworthy was the harshest. It was physically crowded, roughly built and contained only rudimentary sanitary facilities. Internees were employed as labour on local road works, the Liverpool to Holsworthy military railway, the Anzac Rifle Range, quarrying, charcoal burning and timber milling activities. They were very resourceful, building their own barracks and furniture, a bakery, sausage factory, cafés, theatres, gymnasium, and an extensive vegetable garden. The Camp Committee, comprised entirely of internees, governed internal matters such as policing, education, and social and recreational activities. The camp closed in mid 1919 with the last man leaving on 5 May 1920, and most of the buildings were demolished.

Inmates of the German Internment Camp at pick and shovel work. c1916, World War I (Australian War Memorial)

Inmates of the German Internment Camp at pick and shovel work. c1916, World War I (Australian War Memorial)

The school of painting and clay modelling at the German Internment Camp. The instructor was an internee and clay was procured from within the compound.c1916, World War I (Australian War Memorial)

The school of painting and clay modelling at the German Internment Camp. The instructor was an internee and clay was procured from within the compound.c1916, World War I (Australian War Memorial)

An Italian Prisoner of War guides a draught horse between rows of tomatoes in the camp vegetable gardens as what appears to be an Australian soldier guides the plough. Prisoners sleeping quarters are in the background. Liverpool Internment Camp, 1945, World War II (Australian War Memorial)

An Italian Prisoner of War guides a draught horse between rows of tomatoes in the camp vegetable gardens as what appears to be an Australian soldier guides the plough. Prisoners sleeping quarters are in the background. Liverpool Internment Camp, 1945, World War II (Australian War Memorial)

The Internment Camp, Liverpool – WWII

When Australia joined WWII in September 1939, an internment camp needed to be set up in a hurry. The former Anzac Rifle Range was swiftly populated with commandeered cottages and huts, and a barbed wire fence put up around the establishment. The camp opened on 15 October 1939. It housed thousands of people with German, Austrian, Italian, Finnish, Portuguese, Spanish, Norwegian, Vichy French, Greek, Danish, Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, Romanian, Russian, Japanese, Thai, Javanese, Chinese, Solomon Islander and Indonesian backgrounds. The conditions in the WWII camp were better compared to the WWI camp. Under international law, prisoners of war had to undertake work within the camp but this was not compulsory for civilian internees. Internees were involved with carpentry, cooking, gardening and sport, and were allowed weekly visits from friends and relatives. The Liverpool Internment Camp closed in November 1946, with many internees deported after leaving the camp.

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