The other side of the story

People from all corners of the earth came to the rich Bendigo goldfield in the nineteenth century. From 1851, Bendigo saw instant settlements grow along creeks and gullies, as people came to search for gold. Such was the influx of immigrants that the population of Victoria dramatically increased from 77,000 people in 1851 to 411,000 in 1857.

Graytown camp 1943

'Graytown, Vic. 1943-12-01. Portion of the boundary fence
and one of the guard towers at the camp of the 13th
Australian Prisoners of War group’

Photo taken by Geoffrey McInnes, 1 December 1943
Courtesy of the
Australian War Memorial

Many people came from Britain but a large number of Bendigo’s gold seekers migrated from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, North America and Canada, Croatia, New Zealand and other South Pacific nations, with tens of thousands coming from China.

During wartime, many of these ethnic groups became the focus of suspicion. When countries fought on opposite sides, a past or current tie to the 'enemy' nation was considered a potential security risk. Surveillance was carried out on these once migrant communities that called Bendigo home, some of whom had been settled in the area for many decades.

These 'aliens' could be people who were born in countries that were at war with Australia, but the category also came to include people who were naturalised British subjects but from enemy nations, as well as Australian-born descendants of migrants from these countries.

Nearly 7000 enemy aliens were interned in camps in WWI in Australia, and over half of these were people who were already resident in Australia. It was not until WWII that an internment camp was established in this area at Graytown, now located in the Heathcote-Graytown National Park.

Enemy aliens were regulated in Australia by the War Precautions Act 1914, declared on 10 August 1914. Although internment was one method of controlling enemy aliens, many people were allowed to be on 'parole' which required regularly reporting to the police. Initially it was Germans and Austrians who were the focus of the regulations but by 1916 the restriction of aliens was applied to all non-British subjects over the age of 15.

The files maintained by different Commonwealth government units during wartime, now held in the National Archives of Australia, may contain some family history of these Bendigonians. Case files were kept by the Intelligence section of the 3 Military Section of the Commonwealth (Australian) Military Forces from 1914 (Series MP16/1). Forms for registration of aliens under the 1916 regulations were collected by the Special Intelligence Bureau at their Central Office in Melbourne until 1922 (Series MT269/1).

The despair and mental torture enemy aliens experienced is clearly seen in the Commonwealth records of the WWII case of Wolf Klaphake, German scientist, inventor, and internee.