Established in 1941, Loveday grew to become the largest civilian internment camp in Australia, with well over 5000 internees and some 1500 AMF personnel at its maximum size. At times Loveday was also the home to prisoners of war. The story of Loveday is an important part of the history of the region in which it is located, but it also tells us much about the history of the Second World War and the multicultural foundations of post-war Australia.
Loveday was not one single internment camp but a group of camps. The main camps were Camps 9, 10 and 14. The last of those camps was the largest, divided into four separate compounds. There were also three separate wood-cutting camps in the region attached to Loveday, each with a history of its own. These were located at Katarapko, Moorook West and Woolenook.
The Loveday camps were part of a much larger complex of civilian internment camps created across Australia after the outbreak of World War II. As in World War I, the Australian government moved swiftly after the outbreak of war to intern people who were regarded as security threats. These were typically people who were categorised as ‘enemy aliens’ because they came from one of the countries with which Australia found itself at war. The largest such groups were Italians, Germans and Japanese. While initially the primary rationale of internment was to isolate people whom intelligence authorities assessed as a security risk, over time the net was cast more widely. Caught in it were people of many different nationalities, including so-called ‘natural born’ Australians, that is, people born and raised in Australia.
Of some 15000 civilian internees in total, about 7000 were in Australia at the outbreak of war. The remaining 8000 were brought to Australia by arrangement with the governments of the United Kingdom and the Dutch East Indies. Their demographic roughly replicated the multicultural makeup of the domestic internee population. Like those who were already in Australia, they were acutely aware of the inherent unfairness of being locked away for an indefinite period without even being charged with any crime, let alone convicted.
The internment camp system in Australia was run by military authorities, who also ran the POW camp system. Not only were the guards at Loveday and other civilian internment camps drawn from the Australian Military Forces, but the facilities were very similar to those of POW camps. The layout and construction of the camps were remarkably similar. Some camps, including Loveday, were used for civilian POWs and internees, but at different times.
A key difference between the detention of POWs and civilian internees was that in international law civilians could not be required to work. They could, however, choose to work if given the opportunity. At Loveday, many made this choice, which gave them in many cases the chance to work on sites outside and even at considerable distance away from the camp. This had the advantage of regular physical activity and contact with the world outside the barbed wire, including the communities in which they worked.
For most internees, life in internment was nonetheless marked by prolonged periods of boredom and frustration. After the Italian Armistice in September 1943, release from internment became more common, but for thousands internment was a long and painful experience. Among Japanese internees in particular, release was extremely aware, and repatriation could not finally be arranged until well after the war had ended. Bitter memories of internment lived on in most internees for decades. It lives on in their descendants to this day.
12 July 1940: Instructions are sent from Southern Command to the Headquarters of the 4th Military District in Adelaide to build two Internment Camps for completion by 20 August 1940.
17 July 1940: Sites are chosen for the two camps, No. 9 and No. 10, at Loveday near Barmera in South Australia’s Riverland.
12 August 1940: Lieutenant Colonel E. T. Dean is appointed Commandant of the Camps, arriving at No. 9 camp with an advance party. The 4th Garrison Battalion is to provide guards as required.
26 February 1941: Because neither internees nor Prisoners of War have arrived, the staff are reduced to the function of caretakers, and E. T. Dean is transferred to Terowie.
6 May 1941: Headquarters of the 4th Military District is informed that some 2000 Italian POWs will be sent to South Australia.
19 May 1941: A conference was held in Adelaide to discuss the establishment of a POW camp at Loveday.
1 June 1941: A number of officers, NCOs and men from the 4th Garrison Battalion arrive at Loveday for guard duty.
11 June 1941: The first internees, a group of 458 Italians, arrive at Loveday from Hay in New South Wales.
12 June 1941: A second group of 502 Italians arrived from Hay, including the captain and crew of the Italian motor vessel Romolo.
16 June 1941: The first employment of internee labour outside the camp commences, initially without payment.
21 July 1941: Payment of one shilling per day per internee who volunteers to work is introduced.
12 August 1941: The first internees for No. 10 camp arrive from Britain, sent to Australia after the fall of France.
7 December 1941: Japanese entry into the war and a perceived need to intern Japanese living in Australia prompts a decision to build a new, larger kind of camp. When completed, Camp 14 has four compounds, labelled A to D.
1 January 1942: An Italian internee becomes the first death at Loveday and is buried the next day at the Barmera Civilian Cemetery.
5 January 1942: The first Japanese internees from the Northern Territory arrive in 14B.
29 January 1942: 133 German and Italian internees arrive in 14D.
30 January 1942: 538 Japanese internees arrive in 14C from the Netherlands East Indies.
2 February 1942: The guard unit is re-designated as 25 Garrison Battalion.
28 February 1942: 115 Italians are first arrivals in 14A via Gaythorne Internment Camp in Brisbane so that for the first time all 6 compounds are occupied with a total population of 3951.
30 April 1942: An underground tunnel is discovered at No. 10 Camp.
3 May 1942: 108 Italian POWs, a detachment from the POWs Camp at Murchison in Victoria, arrive at the Katarapko Wood Camp.
7 May 1942: 30 Japanese internees are sent to the Woolenook Wood Camp.
7 June 1942: Group HQ Camp, located between Camps 9 and 10, is occupied for the first time, its personnel and equipment transferred from the original Group HQ inside Camp 9.
15 August 1942: 528 Japanese internees are sent by train for repatriation via Melbourne as part of a repatriation exchange agreement.
5 September 1942: Katarapko Wood Camp is closed and its by now 210 POWs are transferred by paddle steamer to Moorook for the opening of the Moorook West Wood Camp.
1 November 1942: The garrison unit is divided into two Battalions, namely 25 and 33 Garrison Battalion. 25 Garrison Battalion has responsibility for Camps 9, 10, Moorook West and Woolenook; 33 Garrison Battalion, located at the western end of Camp 14, looks after all four compounds in that camp.
3 November 1942: 312 Italian internees from Western Command (in Western Australia) are brought to 14D by special train.
6 January 1943: 33 Garrison Battalion ceases to function as a separate unit.
21 February 1943: The 201 Italian POWs at Moorook West are returned by train to their POW camp at Murchison in Victoria, leaving Moorook West empty for a short time.
1 March 1943: 138 Japanese internees from 14B are sent to Moorook West to continue wood-cutting there.
30 April 1943: The numbers of AMF personnel deployed to the Loveday Internment Group reaches 1374.
13 May 1943: Japanese internees previously held in the Hay internment camp in New South Wales arrive at Loveday.
15 May 1943: The number of internees at Loveday reaches its maximum recorded figure of 5382.
20 September 1943: A recreation hall is opened at Group HQ Camp.
31 December 1943: Camp 9 is closed with the transfer of its remaining internees to Camps 10 and 14.
12 January 1944: The German and Italian internees in Camp 10 are transferred to 14A; the Camp is placed in the hands of caretakers.
28 January 1944: Moorook West Camp is closed and most of the Japanese internees working there are transferred to Woolenook to continue wood-cutting.
11 November 1944: The group of camps is formally designated ‘Loveday Internment Group’.
17 January 1945: Instructions are issued for the transfer of the remaining German internees to the Tatura Internment Group in Victoria.
31 January 1945: The final transfer of Germans to Victoria means compounds 14A and 14D are empty. 1890 Japanese remain in the camp in compounds 14B, 14C and Woolenook.
6 May 1945: 243 Japanese internees are brought to 14A from Woolenook, which ceases to be part of the Loveday Internment Group and becomes a camp for POWs.
8 May 1945: VE-Day has little impact in Loveday, as there are no longer German and Italian internees there.
15 August 1945: On VP-Day Japanese Compound Leaders and their secretaries are escorted from Compounds 14B and 14C to Group HQ and informed of Japan’s surrender. A large proportion of the Japanese reportedly did not believe that Japan had been defeated.
26 September 1945: A demobilisation office is opened at Group HQ Loveday.
15 October 1945: After sale of Camps 9 and 10 to the SA Government, Japanese internees begin dismantling the facilities.
3 November 1945: For record purposes a cinematographer films the camps in colour, and an official war artist – Max Ragless – paints scenes of Loveday.
11 November 1945: A dedication ceremony is held at Barmera War Cemetery.
4 December 1945: The harvesting of Australia’s largest crop of pyrethrum, planted and tended by Loveday internees, is completed.
17 December 1945: The picking of 107 acres of opium poppy heads is completed.
20 February 1946: Three special trains leave Barmera for Port Melbourne carrying 1650 Japanese for repatriation.
23 February 1946: 100 Italian POWs arrive at Loveday from Sandy Creek POW Camp.
28 February 1946: The second and final phase of the repatriation of Japanese internees is completed. On the same day 401 Italian POWs arrives in 14C Compound after transfer from Sandy Creek POW Camp.