1940 Hay POW Camp Coins

Era: Cultural background: , , , , Collection: Theme:Archaeology Internment Prisoners of War Refugees Riots Settlement

Coins minted for the Hay POW camp, c.1940s.Courtesy Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp Interpretive Centre
Coins minted for the Hay POW camp, c.1940s. Courtesy Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp Interpretive Centre

Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp Interpretive Centre, Hay, Australia.

Object Name
POW Coins.

Object/Collection Description
Coins pressed on metal with holes in the centre. Dimensions: 20-30 mm diameter.

The Hay Prisoner of War (POW) camp was constructed in 1940. The first arrivals were 2036 Jewish internees from Nazi Germany and Austria – mostly professionals who had simply fled for their lives – along with 451 German and Italian POWs. They were transported from England on-board the Dunera, and they became known as ‘The Dunera Boys,’ which was applied, in particular to the Jewish refugees.

Conditions on the ship were appalling. The passengers were not allowed to leave the ship during stopovers and were rarely permitted on deck and, when they did, the British crew scattered bottles in their path to deter them. Conditions were also unsanitary.

The refugees and POWs were transported to Hay via train and then placed in the camps behind barbed wire. They remained active, holding physical education courses and concerts, teaching the children and printing their own money. All of these internees were moved to Hay in May 1941.

Italian POWs at Hay 1941. AWM
Italian POWs at Hay 1941. Courtesy Australian War Memorial

A few weeks later, about 2000 Italian POWs arrived from the battlefields of Egypt. They worked at farming practices, making the camps largely self-sufficient. Only one escaped and he spent six months in Melbourne before being recaptured.

In December of 1941 Japanese internees were conveyed to the camp from Cowra. Unfortunately, a number of them were merely Australians from Broome who were descended from Japanese pearlers; some of whom had never been to Japan.

The repatriation of the POWs was carried out in 1946 and the camp was dismantled and all building materials auctioned in 1947.

Dunera Boys Reunion 1990. NLA
Dunera Boys Reunion 1990. Courtesy National Library of Australia

There was a reunion of these internees in 1990 and a memorial has been placed on Showground Rd, opposite the Hay Town Bush Fire Headquarters (past the showground). More recently an interpretive centre on the subject has been set up at the old railway station.

Ironically, after the war, Italian migrants arrived in Hay and established market gardens.

The coins are historically significant as evidence of the events that surround the internment of POWs in Australia in World War II and the experience of the refugees and POWs life at the Hay camp, the attitudes of the POWS to the war and internment and their relationships to other POW communities in New South Wales.

The coins have intangible significance in providing a reminder of the fears felt by the Australian, German, Italian and Japanese communities of war, the loss of loved ones and the insecurity of war time. POWs and guards’ families have a common link to the place and many local residents have developed a strong attachment to it.

The coins’ importance lies in their potential to interpret the place as a site associated to POWs and internment, the internment camp itself, the refugee/ POW experience. The objects present the opportunity to interpret the stories of various individuals who were interned at Hay POW camp and those who were repatriated after the War only to return as migrants and become successful members of the Australian community despite their experiences.


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

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
2007 – updated 2011

Crown copyright 2007©

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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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Regional Services at the Powerhouse Museum is supported by Movable Heritage, NSW funding from the NSW Ministry for the Arts.