Internment Camps in Australia
Cover of An Illustrated Diary of Australian Internment by Edmond Samuels (NAA: A1336, 7597)
In the interests of national security the Australian Government interned thousands of men, women and children during World War I and World War II. Most of those interned were classed as 'enemy aliens', that is, nationals of countries at war with Australia. Internees were accommodated in camps around Australia, often in remote locations.
The National Archives holds records about these camps, their development and administration, as well as about the government policy that established them. Our collection also includes records about the people who spent the war years in internment.
World War I
During World War I, for security reasons the Australian Government pursued a comprehensive internment policy against enemy aliens living in Australia.
Initially only those born in countries at war with Australia were classed as enemy aliens, but later this was expanded to include people of enemy nations who were naturalised British subjects, Australian-born descendants of migrants born in enemy nations and others who were thought to pose a threat to Australia's security.
Australia interned almost 7000 people during World War I, of whom about 4500 were enemy aliens and British nationals of German ancestry already resident in Australia.
World War II
During World War II, Australian authorities established internment camps for three reasons – to prevent residents from assisting Australia's enemies, to appease public opinion and to house overseas internees sent to Australia for the duration of the war.
Unlike World War I, the initial aim of internment during the later conflict was to identify and intern those who posed a particular threat to the safety or defence of the country. As the war progressed, however, this policy changed and Japanese residents were interned en masse. In the later years of the war, Germans and Italians were also interned on the basis of nationality, particularly those living in the north of Australia. In all, just over 20 per cent of all Italians resident in Australia were interned.
Australia interned about 7000 residents, including more than 1500 British nationals, during World War II. A further 8000 people were sent to Australia to be interned after being detained overseas by Australia's allies. At its peak in 1942, more than 12, 000 people were interned in Australia.
Residents of Australia
Most internees during both wars were nationals of Australia's main enemy nations already living in Australia. During World War I Germans made up the majority of internees. During World War II, as well as Germans there were also large numbers of Italian and Japanese internees. Internees also included nationals of over 30 other countries, including Finland, Hungary, Portugal and Russia.
Not all internees were foreign nationals. Naturalised British subjects and those born in Australia were among those of German, Italian and Japanese origin who were interned. British-born subjects who were members of the radical nationalist organisation, the Australia First Movement, were also interned.
Men made up the majority of those interned, but some women and children also spent time in the camps.
Included in the numbers of internees accommodated in Australia were enemy aliens, mostly Germans and Japanese, from Britain, Palestine, Iran, the Straits Settlements (now Singapore and Malaysia), the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia), New Zealand and New Caledonia. Most famous among these groups were the Germans and Italians who arrived on the Dunera from England in 1940. The overseas internees included many women and children.