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Internment during World War II

During the Second World War ‘enemy aliens’ were interned by the Australian government. South Australia’s main internment camp was at Loveday, near Barmera on the River Murray. The Loveday camp comprised of three compounds and three wood camps. The camps housed German, Italian and Japanese internees from around Australia, prisoners of war from the Middle East, Pacific Islands and Netherlands East Indies and internees from the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Pacific Islands. The first internees arrived at Loveday on 11 June 1941. In May 1943 the complex held its largest number of internees and prisoners of war, 5382. The last internees were released from Loveday in late February 1946.

Ten escaped from the camps. Only one of these was from inside a compound and the others were from work gangs outside the camps. None of the escapees were at large for longer than three days. In April 1942 a tunnel was dug out of one of the camps, but was discovered before it could be used for an escape.

Work undertaken by the internees and prisoners of war included growing of guayule shrubs for the production of rubber, pyrethrum for making insecticide and opium poppies for morphine production, all of which were vital during wartime. The internees and prisoners also grew vegetables and many varieties of seed for both Army and civilian use. The wood chopped at the three wood camps went to fire the steam pumps used on the Riverland irrigation settlements. Pigs and poultry were also raised for meat and eggs.

Concerns were raised about the fact that in Australian internment camps internees were grouped together by nationality with no regard for their political or religious beliefs, leading to Nazis and fascists and anti-Nazis and anti-fascists being imprisoned together. Friction between those with opposing political views was often evident and some suggested that their incarceration together contravened the Geneva Convention. At Loveday an Italian anarchist and anti-fascist, Francesco Fantin, was killed by Bruno Casotti, a fascist, on 16 November 1942. The fascists, however, claimed that Fantin and Casotti had argued, Casotti had pushed Fantin and he had fallen and hit his head on a tap. It is well documented that the anti-fascists were in a minority in the camps and were abused and threatened by the fascists for being traitors to Italy. Fantin was one of the leaders of the anti-fascists and thus was particularly singled out for abuse. Fantin had complained several times to the camp authorities and asked to be moved, but his concerns were generally ignored. Casotti was tried for manslaughter. Evidence later came to light that meant he could have been charged with murder, but the Australian authorities wanted the affair dealt with quickly lest it attract public attention to the tensions within the internment camps resulting from the policy of incarcerating fascists and anti-fascists together. Casotti was found guilty and sentenced to two years hard labour at Yatala Labour Prison. Despite the attempts made to stop Fantin’s death becoming a scandal, or perhaps because of them, the incident did come to the attention of the public and there was a general outcry about the leniency of the sentence handed to Casotti and the government’s internment policies. Eventually this led to the release of anti-fascists from the Australian internment camps.

Further reading

Internment in South Australia: history of Loveday, Loveday internment group, Barmera, 1940-1946, prepared by a committee of officers and OR’s appointed with the approval of Brig. HC Bundock, the then Commander 4th MD, Adelaide: Advertiser Printing Office, 1946.

Loveday Internment Group archaeological survey: a report, Adelaide: State Heritage Branch, 1992.

Nursey-Bray, Paul.‘Anti-fascism and internment: The case of Francesco Fantin’, Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, no. 17, pp. 88–111.


National Archives of Australia: Uncommon lives  See: Wolf Klaphake -what was internment during World War II?

South Australians at War: Prisoners of War

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