Tag Archives: Italian internees Australia

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 The tokens were then withdrawn by the government and the majority melted down in 1945, although it’s said, “some were souvenired by officials, army personnel and even prisoners and today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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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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Seeking to identify more Western Creek internees…

I wanted to again share these two photographs taken inside the internment camp in 1942. I’m hoping to identify any of the other men who are pictured in the photographs, so if you do recognise them or know someone who might, I’d very much like to hear from you for them to be included in the museum display and booklet by the Millmerran Historical Society.

The first photograph is from when the internees undertook forestry work in the state forest and Annibale (Joe) is standing to the far right.

The second is of some down time in the internment camp (Joe sitting front centre). Considering many men came to the camp with one suitcase of all they owned, it was fortunate a few happened to have musical instruments as the occasional singalong or playing cards was all they had. If anyone recognises any of the other men in these photographs or if you have information or other photographs regarding the internment camp at Western Creek, I would very much like to hear from you. Much appreciated! Zoe x

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Hidden history at Western Creek…

Work is progressing by the Millmerran Historical Society to put together a booklet, museum display and a stone plaque to memorialise the site of the Western Creek internment camp. As it comes together, I wanted to share with you two other photographs I have that were taken inside the internment camp in 1942.

The first is the Western Creek Internees undertaking forestry work in the state forest and Annibale (Joe) is standing to the far right. (This appeared in Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar.)

The second is a never before seen photograph of some down time within the internment camp, which was usually spent playing cards or the occasional singalong (Annibale (Joe) is sitting front centre). Considering many men came to the camp with one suitcase that carried all they owned, it was fortunate a few also happened to have musical instruments with them that allowed the internees to have some music, especially considering they didn’t have the facilities of other ‘official’ internment camps.

Seeing these photographs, you may understand my frustration when time and again, I was told by various authorities that the internment camp at Western Creek never existed.

I’m very grateful to so many Millmerran locals for their support, kind messages and offers of help since my earlier post about this. And again, very heartfelt thanks to the Millmerran Historical Society and Lion’s Club for their time and efforts, in particular, time spent physically going out to the internment camp site for accuracy.

If anyone happens to have any information or other photographs regarding the internment camp at Western Creek, I would very much like to hear from you so it may be included in what is being put together. Very much appreciated! Zoe x

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