Era: 1914 - 1918 Cultural background: English, German Collection: Berrima Theme:Berrima Gaol Folk Art German Internment Government Settlement
Carved Wooden Shield, 1916. Photograph Stephen Thompson
Berrima District Museum, Berrima, Australia.
Framed memento of 20th Berrima Guard.
Framed memento of the 20th Berrima Guard dated April 1916. The centerpiece is a shield comprising hand-drawn colour artwork. The artwork lists the members of the 20th Berrima Guard. This is surrounded by eight black and white photographs taken in Berrima around 1916.
Names listed are Captain R Stoddart O.C., Sergeant McAlpine Q.M, Corporals, McAllery, Denning and Waltho, Driver Casey, Privates Deery, Packer, Wood (AMC), Standevan, Keevers, Booth, Nielly, Cross, Noakes, Edwards, Sullivan, Southwood, Cannon, Gilmore, Ewing, Morrison, Thurling, Thomas, Brown, Bragg, Sayer and Bugler Stick.
The photographs depict (clockwise) Front entrance to Berrima Gaol, Berrima Court House viewed from the Gaol Wall, Wingecarribee River scene featuring internees’ huts and landings, internees swimming and a canoe on the river, Wingecarribee River downstream from and looking towards Berrima Gaol, 20th Berrima Guard photographed outside the guard house, Wingecarribee River scene showing gondola and canoe Störtebeker, Wingecarribee River scene showing Wilhelm Villa and canoe Hannover and an unidentified canoe with sails on the Wingecarribee River.
Conservation treatments were undertaken in May 2000. Dimensions: 720 mm wide x 850 mm high x 20 mm deep.
Walter Bergien and Otto Mönkedieck (right) in their cell. Mönkedieck is working on his playbill for the internee’s play Im Bunten Rock, c.1917. Courtesy Berrima District Museum
The outbreak of fighting in Europe in August 1914 immediately brought Australia into the Great War. Within one week of the declaration of war, all German subjects in Australia were declared ‘enemy aliens’ and were required to report to the government. In February 1915 enemy aliens were interned either voluntarily or on an enforced basis. In New South Wales the principal place of internment was the Holsworthy Military Camp where between 4000 and 5000 men were detained. Women and children of German and Austrian descent, detained by the British in Asia, were interned first at Bourke and later at Molonglo, near Canberra. Former jails were also used. Men were interned at Berrima Gaol (constructed 1840s) and Trial Bay Gaol (constructed 1889). At these camps the internees organised themselves into arts and craft societies and organised large German events and festivals to pass their time and to retain a sense of identity.
Camp authorities allowed the internees a large degree of freedom and self-organisation. The majority were German Merchant Seamen, mainly engineers, officers and NCOs from the German warship SMS Emden, sunk off the West Australian coast by the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney in 1914. The regimented and structured nature of Navy culture resulted in the Berrima internees being largely self-regulating and self-managing.
The internees also found a welcoming community because some of the families in the area were descended from German settlers who came to the district in the 1840s. Despite the anti-German diatribes from mainstream media, the Berrima residents warmed to the internees who purchased bread and meat from local shops (Australian newspapers were banned, and internees preferred to get their newspapers from neutral countries) and rented houses for their private use, thus bolstering the local economy. In turn the internees helped local residents to rescue animals, fight bushfires and deal with unwanted snakes in the house.
Simmons notes that ‘there were certainly guardsmen who … came to respect the industry and abilities of their charges and to be friendly towards them’. The daughter of Sergeant Bennetts, a private in the Berrima Guard, tells that a ‘Sincere respect existed’ between guard and internee and when he had to escort an internee home for a serious crisis, without exception the guard was made welcome in the internee’s family home. 1
Like those at Trial Bay Gaol and Holsworthy, the internees formed art and craft groups to make toys for children at other internment camps such as Molonglo and to do artwork or photography. Like the internees of Trial Bay this activity provided a distraction to camp life and reinforced a sense of their own cultural identity. But, unlike the internees at Trial Bay – who considered themselves among the top 500 of the German elite in New South Wales – the Berrima internees were seamen, some of whom had served time on windjammer clippers. They were used to long periods away from home and music was very much a group activity they appreciated.
Playbill for Im Bunten Rock, c.1917. Courtesy Berrima Museum
This artwork was most probably the work of Otto Mönkedieck, navigator on the Emden and a talented lithographer. Mönkedieck was born in Linden, Prussia, in 1878. At the age of 13 he started as an apprentice at a lithographic company in Hannover. Fully trained by 17, he worked as a lithographer until 1898, when, at 21, he had to do compulsory National Service and joined the Navy. After basic training in Wilhelmshaven he was posted to the Signals Division and after passing examinations was sent to the East Asia Cruiser Command. By 1907 he had risen to the rank of divisional sergeant, and a year later returned to the Wilhelmshaven School for warrant officers. He graduated as a senior navigator and after serving on a number of ships, joined the Emden in April 1913. Wounded in the battle with the Sydney, he was eventually brought to Berrima in 1914.
Mönkedieck was involved in boat building, music and theatre at the Berrima camp. Mönkedieck and friends built a large hut on the Berrima River named the Emden Hut. He was responsible for most of the artworks at Berrima and examples can be found throughout the Berrima Collection.
After his repatriation in 1919 he found, as was common among many of the Berrima internees, little prospects of an immediate return to a maritime career because of Germany’s decimated Navy, mercantile fleet and takeover of German markets by allied companies. After Mönkedieck returned to Berlin he sought an honourable discharge and gained work as a security officer with Siemens. After retiring in 1943, he continued to live in Berlin until his death in 1959. He never married but had a nephew to whom he left the artworks of his Berrima Days.
The Framed Memento is historically significant as evidence of a cultural tradition that migrated with the German communities to Australia in the 1840s. The serviette rings is evidence of the strong artistic and intellectual traditions of the German internees at Berrima, Trial Bay and Holsworthy. The Framed Memento, while bearing the names of the Berrima guards and the Australian Coat of Arms, is evidence of the amity between the internees and the guards. This was despite the two countries being at war and alludes to the complex contradictions between nationalism, racism and its associated propaganda, and the actual amicable relationships that form between two communities when they actually meet.
The Framed Memento provides a research tool for historians to explore the First World War chapter of Australian history and to give the story a wider meaning in the context of the history of Australian migration and settlement. The material culture of the Berrima Internee Collection reveals the diverse skills as well as the educational and cultural backgrounds of the internees. Members of the Berrima internee community included ships officers, engineers, navigators and seamen. The objects they produced and used that remain in the collection reflect this diversity. An object such as the framed memento also displays the level of expertise of the internees and the amount of time they invested into cultural and artistic activities to keep themselves occupied and in good spirits. It appears that unlike Trial Bay and Holsworthy, the internees at Berrima were generally cheerful and optimistic. This could be explained by their mercantile background and the traditionally long periods spent away from home.
The Framed Memento has intangible significance to the German Australian Community as internees and guards families have a common link to the place and many people of German heritage have developed a strong attachment to the place. Many local residents are collectors and amateur historians carrying out many years of research and documenting the history of the site and the Collection. A lot of information still resides in the memories of the Berrima community. The place is a focal point for both Australians of German descent and visiting German nationals.
The Framed Memento’s provenance is strong. Now on display in the Berrima Museum, it was made and presented to Captain Stoddart by the internees in 1916. It was donated by Captain Stoddart’s son, Mr C Stoddart, to Berrima District Historical & Family Historical Society in May 1968.
The Framed Momento is rare in that it relates specifically to the German internee occupation of the site and is associated with those particular people who emerge as significant participants at the Berrima Internee Camp and World War I Australian internment camp history.
The Framed Memento represents the culture and traditions of the German internees. It bears similarities with the woodworking craft of the internees of the Trial Bay camp and Holsworthy Camp. This object shows a strong eye for accuracy and detail, symbolises the German internees’ patriotism and also the friendship forged with the Australian guards. The framed memento, as part of a larger collection, represents the German experience in Australia during World War I and Australia’s strong historic links to Britain and the adherence to British foreign policy after Federation. The collection represents Australia’s fear of subversion and racial antagonism to cultural minorities in wartime. The collection represents a time when Australia still looked to Britain for foreign policy and held deep suspicions of non-British immigrants.
The Framed Memento’s importance lies in its potential to interpret the place as a site associated with internment, the internment camp itself and the experience of German mariners. The memento presents the opportunity to interpret the stories of various individuals who were interned and were guards at Berrima Internment Camp.
Davies, P 2000, Trial Bay Gaol Conservation Management & Cultural Tourism Plan, Dept Environment & Conservation.
Fischer, G W & Helmi, N 2004, Internment at Trial Bay during World War I, unpublished thematic history, Migration Heritage Centre & Dept Environment & Conservation.
Fischer, G W 1989, Enemy Aliens, Queensland University Press.
Simons, J 1999, Prisoners in Arcady, Bowral.
Heritage Office & Dept of Urban Affairs & Planning 1996, Regional Histories of NSW, Sydney.
Heritage Collections Council 2001, Significance: A guide to assessing the significance of cultural heritage objects and collections, Canberra.
Migration Heritage Centre
June 2006 – updated 2011
Edited by B Williams- Hon Curator
Berrima District Museum
Crown copyright 2006©
The Migration Heritage Centre at the Powerhouse Museum is a NSW Government initiative supported by the Community Relations Commission.
Berrima Disctrict Historical and Family History Society