The Dunera Boys

The Passing Out Parade was supported by the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund and was coordinated by South West Arts in partnership with South West Music Regional Conservatorium and Outback Theatre for Young People.

By Margaret Simpson

I, the spirit of the Hay Internment and POW Camp, was born of the relationship between my first and subsequent inmates, their guards, and the inhabitants of Hay.

The first internees, the Dunera boys, arrived pale, half-starved men on 4th September 1940. They left for the Tatura Camp on 22nd May, 1941 strong, tanned, well fed and clothed. The transformation was due to the nature of these refugees who brought to Hay a little of the rich, cultured life of pre-Nazi Europe.

They were unwilling travellers to Australia, but these “mistakes” (as Winston Churchill later admitted) made an important contribution to Australia. Within a few days of arrival, the Dunera Boys began a Camp Newspaper and set up education classes to share skills and talents.

The newspaper was handwritten on loo paper and had cartoons, drawings and text. Soon it was followed by a weekly renewed news sheet titled ‘The Boomerang’, with camp activities and events, poems in German and English. The last issue was on 16th May 1941.

The people of Hay were wary but tolerant of the Camp on requisitioned land at the racecourse but all gained from the interactions which necessarily occurred.

The guards of the 16th Australian Garrison Battalion were fine men with officers holding World War 1 service, and they encouraged “the mistakes” to organise their own internal affairs on democratic principles to improve the Camp experience. These guards were humane and just.

Work consumed daylight hours. The Dunera Boys began digging irrigation channels to the west of the Camp and they developed productive farms along the river which supplied the camp with vegetables and food. The completion of the irrigation system, farms and piggeries was achieved by Italian internees.

The guards treated internees fairly. Reinhold Eckfeld recalled one very hot day, over 110º F that guards, sympathetic to the fortitude shown by working in heat, took them to the Murrumbidgee River for a swim. This typified the cordial relations between guards and inmates.

One guard, John Simpson, was given a miniature pair of hand-carved boots by an internee. Kurt Lewinski was a gifted woodcarver and taught this craft to his fellows.

At Christmas 1940 gifts of wooden toys were made for the children of Hay. Henry Lippman made a suitcase from corrugated iron cast-offs. He later became a fashion designer of fame in Sydney.

Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack produced woodcuts. One, the symbolic “Desolation’” showed a forlorn figure gazing at the southern night sky. He became associated with the Boyd family of artists after release.

George A Teltsche designed banknotes for a Camp currency. The ‘Riverine Grazier’ did a single print run until a Commonwealth Government prohibition. Surviving notes fetch high prices at auction. The notes had a border of coiled barbed wire which hologram-like contained a very existentialist message: “We are here because we are here because we are here…“