Tag Archives: Internment camp Millmerran

Western Creek Internment Camps

The Millmerran Historical Society have published a book, The Western Creek Internment Camps of World War II by Christine M. Turner. You may recognise Nonno Anni’s photographs that appear on the front cover! (And I’ve also written the Foreward in it.)

It seems so much has happened since I first went to Millmerran all those years ago seeking to find the internment camp Nonno Anni was taken to. Back then, only a handful of people knew about this hidden history. This new book even features a mud map to the hidden camp and I’m looking forward to going to see the memorial marker now in place there.

When I wrote about the secret camp in, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar, I wasn’t sure what reaction to expect but all the people of Millmerran I’ve spoken to have been so wonderful in recognising and honouring this history, as well as finding out more, and for that I’ll always be grateful. Special mention to Cec Gibson who was the first to contact me out of the blue regarding it. So lovely that this long-hidden history is now being honoured further.

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Rare internment camp currency… and an 80th anniversary

Something special to share with you on the 80th anniversary of the Western Creek internment camp – a penny Nonno Anni kept from his time there. Internees were barred from having Australian currency in the camp so it couldn’t be used to escape, remain at large, bribe guards or others, or for subversive activities. Instead, any money they carried was swapped to internment camp currency.

Minted in Australia during WW2 and officially referred to as tokens, the coins were struck in five denominations – penny, threepence, one, two and five shillings, which couldn’t be used or redeemed outside a camp. Some internees in various camps created their own currency including paper money but the Australian Department of Army distributed tokens such as this one for official camp use. (This penny was struck by R. Arendeen & Sons Pty Ltd in Malvern, Victoria. The coin dies now owned by the Royal Australian Mint.)

At the end of the war, internees could exchange their tokens at the Commonwealth Bank for their equivalent in Australian currency. The tokens were then withdrawn by the government and the majority melted down in 1945, although it’s said, “some were souvenired by officials, army personnel and even prisoners and today they are eagerly sought by collectors of Australiana”.

The Internment Camps five shillings pieces are now considered so rare that many more extremely rare and valuable 1930 pennies appear at auction than these. (If only Nonno Anni had kept one of those rather than a penny! Just joking, of course, a museum or the Australian War Memorial likely its best option.) Both governments and historians consider such coins historically significant as evidence surrounding the internment of those deemed ‘enemy aliens’ in Australia during WW2.

It seems incredible it’s eighty years since March, 1942 when Annibale (Joe), aged only eighteen, saw dozens of Italian men picked up by police while working on farms around the Stanthorpe area. The only reason he wasn’t arrested on the spot too that day being his cheekily having fled from Ingham to avoid internment without notifying authorities of his change of address as required, but once they saw him among the others the game was up and he had to go in. How it must have felt to be taken away in the ‘internee special’ train not knowing where to, then driven around in army trucks for hours in the dead of night to confuse their whereabouts to end up in a camp seemingly in the middle of nowhere surrounded by bushland.

Annibale was always a hard worker so the initial time in the internment camp while in his prime with nothing to do but be detained must have felt like such a waste, even if he accepted it as a consequence of war. And much later, down the track, once given the option to join a Civil Alien Corps forestry work gang, he was happy for something to do during the long, empty days, but it certainly wasn’t for the six shilling a day payment considering he’d earnt 30 shillings a day cutting cane.

One penny – the smallest amount – but to me this eighty-year-old coin is beyond precious, knowing it comes at the cost of him being interned and knowing he once held it in his hand.

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Darwin bombings… 80th anniversary

Remembering all those who lost their lives or were traumatised by the heavy bombings that occurred in Darwin on this day 80-years-ago. I wish I’d been taught more about this event at school in the mid-1980s, however back then, more emphasis was on the Pearl Harbour bombings. Many years later, I’d come to learn just how much the bombing of Darwin directly affected Australia and indeed my own family.

My grandpa, Bob and my grandma, Lorna met there in the 1940s when each of them were stationed in Darwin, he in the air force, she in the WNELs (Women’s National Emergency Legion), being among those involved in its clean-up and recovery. These bombings also meant the ramping up of interning Italian ‘aliens’, Nonno Anni being one of those rounded up soon after as a result of what happened in Darwin.

Incredibly, at one point in 1942, my two grandfathers would be just 40kms from each other, Nonno Anni in an internment camp at Western Creek, Grandpa Bob at Cecil Plains where he’d been posted to a new Liberator Squadron assembling to head north. Decades later, they would not only know each other but be related.

Considering what happened to them during WW2, as I wrote in ‘Joe’s’, they each could so easily have chosen to shun each other, cite their differences rather than their similarities. My Australian and Italian grandmothers too. But they didn’t, for the sake of two little girls, their shared granddaughters and I will forever be grateful to them for this because it was so wonderful to have their influence, their stories and their unconditional love in my life.

Perhaps, current generations acknowledging what happened in the past, in some way, might give back a little. And considering that much of the history surrounding Darwin’s bombing remained unspoken for decades, it is with much respect that I remember and acknowledge what happened there eighty years ago today.

Related post… Lorna – WNELs

Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar

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Hidden history honoured…

For those following news about the secret internment camp site at Western Creek, I’m pleased to share that a memorial stone and plaque are now in place. It’s been quite a twisting trail to get to this point – from writing about my grandfather being an internee there in Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar, after almost a detective hunt in putting together the information and many brick walls from authorities, some refusing to believe the camp that detained hundreds of innocent men during WW2 even existed (despite photographs and other clues).

Then there was the unexpected letter I received from Cec Gibson, a Millmerran local who’d read my book, and so followed the wonderful news that he, together with other members of the Millmerran Museum and Historical Society, sought to honour this, until then, mostly unknown local history (for which I’ll always be grateful). As I said, it’s been a twisting trail and continued to be from what I’ve been told, especially in pinpointing the exact site (not easy to find even now apparently!), uncovering remnants of decades old testimony and even discovering the odd, old WW2 land mine left behind in the area (since cleared)! (Glad Roger and I didn’t happen across one of those when searching for the site all those years ago!)

The Millmerran Historical Society is continuing work in putting together a museum display about the internment camp, a mud map with directions to the site and a book on Western Creek’s history including the station, forestry and the camp (Society President, Christine Coles deserves special mention for her research and ongoing work in writing this). I look forward to returning to Millmerran next year to see it all once completed and of course to Western Creek to visit the memorial stone and plaque. (The stone is from a nearby sandstone quarry and local stone.)

Again, I’m so thrilled and touched this has all come about, for the young men interned, the army guards who treated them with respect and the women and children left to fend for themselves, many on farms, who did it tough in the absence of their men and workers, yet by banding together kept their farms going (some of these women I’ve written about in my next book.) Warmest thanks to Cec, Christine, the Millmerran Historical Society, Lions Club and all those, especially Millmerran locals, who’ve given time, information and support to bring about this honouring of the internment camp. Marking the site is fantastic and I look forward to sharing further developments about the museum display. Zoe x

Original post… Hidden history at Western Creek

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Secret internment camp near Millmerran…

When I wrote about the secret internment camp at Western Creek in Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar, I thought that was the end of it. It took several years and almost a detective hunt to put together the information and I met many brick walls from authorities. Some refused to believe the camp that detained hundreds of innocent men during WW2 even existed, others conceded that records for such camps were often scant and, in the years afterward, destroyed. Or not kept at all. (These camps being relatively secret and hidden out in Queensland’s west in forest or bushland when official internment camps at places like Enoggera were full.)

However, I had photographs that were taken inside the camp of internees, like the one pictured here from 1942 with my grandfather, Joe, Nonno Anni (back right) as well as when he returned to the site in 1964 (photo below). Along with his stories, I spoke to others such as a ninety-year-old Millmerran local who clearly remembered the Western Creek internment camp and the internees. Yet, at the time, I went out searching for the site there was little to guide me, no mention of this part of local history in the museum and most didn’t know about it.

So, years afterward, it is quite unexpected to have been contacted by the Millmerran Museum and Historical Society, who, after learning about the camp through my book and their own subsequent searches, are planning to put together a display in the museum and a marker to memorialise the site of the Western Creek internment camp. I’m so thrilled and touched by this, both for the sake of the young men interned, the army guards who treated them with respect and the women and children left to fend for themselves, many of them on farms, who did it tough in the absence of their men and their workers.

In the coming months, while the display and site for the marker is organised, if anyone has any other information about the internment camp at Western Creek near Millmerran, I would love to hear from you. You are welcome to leave a message or email address via my contact page or private message me via Facebook or Instagram and I will get back to you.

To me, it’s both remiss and insensitive that internees in Australia weren’t given some type of official apology like those in other countries were and, of course, for most it is too late now to hear one. Nonno Anni never bore any bitterness or ill will for his internment, he accepted it with grace as a factor of wartime, but I hope remembering what happened in this way gives back a little of what was lost.

When I look at the faces of these young men in the Western Creek camp in 1942 and think of all those thousands of others who went through similar experiences, it makes the efforts to preserve this small part of history worth it and I’m very grateful to those in the Millmerran Museum and Historical Society who are working hard to do so. Hopefully, in some way, Nonno Anni and the other internees would have been pleased!! Zoe xx

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