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Recently Discovered Photographs Throw New Light on Australia's World War I History
Young internees are transformed into female characters for a theatrical production in the Holsworthy internment camp, c1915-19. Photo: Dubotzki Collection, Germany.

SYDNEY.- Recently discovered photographs of Australia’s little known internment camps operating during WWI, reveal how the internees created an extraordinary life behind the barbed wire.

The photographs, of remarkable artistic quality, show groups of civilian detainees whose only crime was to be of German or Austrian descent.

Taken by interned photographer Paul Dubotzki between 1915 and 1919, the photographs reveal how the 7,000 internees built for themselves a thriving working economy and cultural life that included all sorts of businesses and trades including newspapers, cafes, clubs, sporting events and elaborate theatre productions.

Dubotzki’s stunning photographs feature in a new book and an exhibition opened 7 May at the Museum of Sydney, shedding new light on this fascinating era in Australia’s war time history.

The Enemy at Home explores life inside the three internment camps at Holsworthy in Sydney’s south west, Berrima in the Southern Highlands and Trial Bay on the NSW mid-north coast.

These so-called “German concentration camps” led to the destruction of the German Australian community, the largest non-British ethnic community in Australia before the war.

The unlikely prisoners of war came from all walks of life and many had lived in Australia for decades, including beer baron Edmund Resch and acclaimed orthopaedic surgeon Dr Max Herz.

Many were transformed by internment, such as businessman Kurt Wiese who developed his passion for drawing and later became famous in the USA as book illustrator including the original Bambi book and the children’s classic The Story About Ping.

Nadine Helmi has pieced together Dubotzki’s story after a chance discovery led her to Germany and the discovery of his entire photography collection. Helmi has collaborated with the Migration Heritage Centre and Gerhard Fischer, UNSW Associate Professor of German Studies who has published widely on Australian migration history.

The Enemy at Home is a timely reminder of an almost forgotten chapter in Australia’s history, raising questions about the past and about how we view and portray multicultural Australia today.

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