1900 Trial Bay The Gentle Art of Photography Book

Era: Cultural background: , Collection: Theme:Gaol German Internment Internment Photography Prisoners of War Trial Bay Gaol WW1

Gentle art of photography, circa 1900s
Gentle art of photography, c.1900s. Photograph Stephen Thompson

Trial Bay Gaol, South West Rocks, Australia

Object Name
Book ‘The gentle art of photography’.

Object/Collection Description
The book ‘Gentle art of photography’ is made of paper and card. The cover presents a typically early twentieth century illustration of photographer in an art deco style. The book is complete.

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 and notify the Government of their address. 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 4,000 and 5,000 men were detained. Women and children of German and Austrian descent detained by the British in Asia were interned at Bourke and later Molonglo near Canberra. Former gaols were also used. Men were interned at Berrima gaol (constructed 1840s) and Trial Bay gaol (constructed 1889). The internees at Trial Bay Gaol created their own management committees that organised entertainment, sport, culture and arts activities. The book ‘Gentle art of photography’ was used by the internees to take and develop photographs of the Trial Bay Camp.

The book ‘Gentle art of photography’ is a part of a collection of objects integral to the fabric of the Trial Bay Gaol heritage site and provides the distinctive character of the place. Its primary significance lies in its relationship to the themes of wartime internment experience and racial antagonism. The Collection interprets the story and provides evidence of the experience of the German internee’s life at Trial Bay.

The book ‘Gentle art of photography’ has aesthetic significance in the capturing and printing of photographs of the Trial Bay internment camp. The book has aesthetic significance in the design and Style of early twentieth design that influenced the internees, photography, art works and sense of style. The classic art- deco design is reflected in the German artistic tradition evidenced by the internees work at the Camp.

The book ‘Gentle art of photography’ provides a research tool for historians to explore the First World War chapter of Australian history and give the story a wider meaning in the context of the History of migration & settlement of Australia. The material culture of the Trial Bay Collection reveals of the diverse skills and backgrounds of the people interned there, including their educational and cultural background. Members of the Trial Bay internee community included wealthy industrialists, doctors, academics, publishers, professionals and entrepreneurs from Australia and South East Asia as well as Australian guards and Soldiers.

There is substantial social value in the object as material culture and fabric of a site associated with internment. Internees and guards families have a common link to the place and many local residents have developed a strong attachment to the place.

The book ‘Gentle art of photography’ is well provenanced to the site. The book ‘Gentle art of photography’ was used by the internees to take and develop photographs of the Trial Bay Camp. The book ‘Gentle art of photography’ is from the Collection of George Mertens a former internee. Other photographers associated with the Camp are Paul Dubotzki and E. Frolich. The book was donated in the early 1980′s.

The Trial Bay Collection is rare in that it relates specifically to the German internee occupation of the site and it is associated with those particular people who emerge as significant participants at Trial Bay and World War One New South Wales German internment camp history. These people include the camp artists Max Hertz, who was also an orthopaedic surgeon, Kurt Wiese, who went onto become head of Animation for Disney Animation and Camp photographer Dubotzki. George Mertens and E. Frolich were prominent collectors of the work of the Trial Bay internee photographers. Frolich donated a considerable collection of Trial Bay photographs to the Australian War Memorial.

The book represents the culture and traditions of the German internees. It bears similarities with the photography and craftwork of the internees of the Berrima internment camp. This object shows a strong German arts influence and the resulting photographs represent a symbol of German internee’s patriotism and defiance as prisoners. The book ‘Gentle art of photography’, as part of a larger collection represents Australia’s strong historic links to Britain and the adherence to British foreign policy after Federation. The Collection represents Australia’s fear of subversion during the war and racial antagonism to cultural minorities in war time. The Collection represents a time when Australia still looked to Britain for foreign policy and held deep suspicions of non British immigrants. This is evidenced in the concentration camp nature of the internment, the isolation of the place, the boredom that resulted in the Collection of detailed and precise photographs of everyday life at the Camp.

The condition of the book ‘Gentle art of photography’ is good. It is significant that such an object remains in good condition, intact and at the place it has an historical association with.

It is significant that such an object remains in good condition, intact and at the place it has an historical association with. The importance of the book ‘Gentle art of photography’ lies it’s potential to interpret the place a site associated to internment, the internment camp itself and the experience of German communities.


Coupe, S, & Andrews, M 1992, Was it only Yesterday? Australia in the Twentieth Century World, Longman Cheshire, Sydney.

Davies., P 2000, Trial Bay Gaol Conservation Management & Cultural Tourism Plan, Dept of Conservation & Environment.

Fischer, G W & Helmi, N 2004 Internment at Trial Bay during World War One, Migration Heritage Centre & Dept Conservation & Environment.

Fischer, G W 1989, Enemy Aliens, Queensland University Press.

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.

Written by Stephen Thompson
Migration Heritage Centre
2006 – updated 2011Crown copyright 2006 ©

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The Migration Heritage Centre at the Powerhouse Museum is a NSW Government initiative supported by the Community Relations Commission.

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