During World War One nearly 7000 so-called ‘enemy aliens’ were interned in camps in New South Wales. One was young Bavarian photographer Paul Dubotzki whose remarkable photographs record the experience of internment from 1915 to 1919. In 2007 his entire archive was discovered in the small German town of Dorfen and it has been brought to Australia for the first time.
Dubotzki’s photographs tell an extraordinary story. Australians of German and Austrian descent, and Germans captured by the Allies in Asia, were imprisoned in isolated camps. These internees from all walks of life transformed their situation in detention with ingenuity, industry and determination. They created intricate societies with cafes, clubs, newspapers, an array of small businesses, theatres, tennis courts, kitchen gardens, laundries, boat-building and regattas, beach activities and athletic demonstrations.
War soured relations between Australia and Germany, halted immigration, and overshadowed the lives of many German-Australians. But the wounds healed and the post-war migrant ships brought another wave of German speakers. These ‘invisible’ migrants proved to be popular new Australians.
Today, the baggage of war has dissipated with a new generation growing up without the prejudice of grandparents or the myth of media. There are now some 700,000 Australians of German background. The history of German-Australians is being written at a time when Australia finds itself responding to new challenges brought about by immigration and the nation’s changing reactions to individual ethnic communities.
The Enemy at Home online exhibition is a partnership between the NSW Migration Heritage Centre and the Historic Houses Trust of NSW that tells a story of artistry, ingenuity and resilience that reveals a little-known part of Australia’s wartime history.