They marched into Loveday

MRB_1977 ARHS to Renmark @ Barmera_RX224_017

Railway siding near Barmera, similar to where the internees would have disembarked.

When war came to Australia.

From Brisbane it took three days by train for the internees to reach the Riverland District of South Australia.

The exact route from Queensland is not clear. According to Max Scholz, long-time resident of Barmera and eyewitness to the establishment and operation of the Loveday camps, the final leg brought them from Adelaide to a siding close to the town of Barmera, known to the locals as ‘Ebb Farmers’. From there, the men marched the remaining four miles to Camp 9. They wore the distinctive burgundy-coloured uniforms that branded them prisoners.

The first trainload of 458 Italian internees arrived on 11 June 1941, after having been transferred from the camp at Hay in western NSW. The following day a further 502 Italians arrived from Hay, including the captain and crew of the Italian ship, Romolo.

The Melbourne newspaper, The Argus, reported that the Romolo was the last Italian liner to sail from Brisbane before the war began. She had 116 crew, 21 passengers, and a valuable cargo of wool. RAAF aircraft and Australian navy ships shadowed her after she deviated from her planned course to Thursday Island. Instead she navigated a gap in the Great Barrier Reef and sailed off into the Pacific. To prevent her from being captured by the Australians and used as a warship against Italy, the crew set her alight in the middle of the ocean. She burnt and sank. The crew and passengers were picked up from lifeboats and sent to Hay Internment Camp.

The Brisbane contingent of internees arrived several days later, on 20 June 1941. Overnight the site was transformed from a ghost camp into a bustling barbed-wire town of more than one thousand men. It marked the start of an operation that by January 1943 would house 5,000 internees.

You can only wonder at the logistics of constructing accommodation and facilities for a vast number of men within a short period of time. Luckily some of the internees were experienced builders while others volunteered to work as construction labourers. So the subsequent camps (Camp 10 and the four compounds of Camp 14) were built for internees by internees, using materials supplied by the military and whatever was on hand.

The land at Loveday was stony and dry. Walls and gardens were edged with stone-pitching and irrigation pipes were run from the nearby River Murray. As with many arid areas of Australia, the soil was so rich that artificial fertiliser had little effect. Add a little water and anything would grow.

Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Thayer Dean, a South Australian grazier, was appointed as Loveday Group Commandant. He had been awarded a D.S.O. (Distinguished Service Order) for his service in the Great War with the Field Artillery Brigade. The combination of farming know-how, vision, and respect for the men under his command made Loveday not only tolerable for the inmates, but also financially viable. But more of that later.

Sources I wish to acknowledge are: As I Remember by Max Scholz; Internment in South Australia by the Committee appointed to record the history of internment in South Australia (foreword by E.T. Dean), Trove, and the Australian War Memorial.

 

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About Debbie Terranova

Debbie Terranova is an Australian author of contemporary and historical fiction. 'The Scarlet Key' published in 2016 is the second Seth VerBeek mystery. The crime-busting reporter is back with a new cast of unforgettable characters and a new puzzle to solve. It's about live, love, death, and tattoos, with a touch of the mystical. 'Baby Farm', her debut novel, is a cozy crime mystery about forced adoptions of the 1970s, and a surrogacy and baby trafficking racket. It is the first of the Seth VerBeek series. Debbie Terranova is a prizewinning author of short stories: 'Mowbray Brothers' about growing up in East Brisbane in the 1920s; and 'Mischief' about reinventing yourself and in the process falling in love ... with an adorable but mischievous cat.
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