German experience in Australia during WW1 damaged road to multiculturalism

Australia’s wartime internment and related measures in relation to the German Australian community.

In comparison, Canada had just over 8,500 internees, 5,000 of which were Ukrainian origin, 2,000 German origin. But Canada did not expel them after the war unlike Australia (or unlike many Japanese Canadians ‘encouraged’ to return to Japan following their internment during WW II):

In total, 6890 persons were interned in Australia during the war, including 67 women and 84 children. Despite the official designation “prisoners of war” given to them by the Commonwealth authorities, the internees were mostly civilian Australian residents. They included approximately 700 “naturalised British subjects” and some 70 “native-born British subjects” who were Australian by birth, sometimes second- or even third-generation Australians of German ancestry.

At the end of the war, a total of 6150 persons were “repatriated” – that is, summarily shipped to Germany: a mass deportation unparalleled in Australian history. Of these, 5414 had been interned, the others were family members or non-interned “ex-enemy aliens” who either accepted the government’s offer to be repatriated or were ordered to leave the country.

Six hundred and ninety-nine people were compulsorily deported. The internees who had been brought to Australia from British dominions overseas were not allowed to return to their previous places of residence. They were all summarily deported.

Most of the internees consented to leave Australia voluntarily. They were convinced that there was no future for them in a country that had robbed them of their rights and freedom. A few protested and appealed to stay, only to be rejected by the Aliens Tribunal that had been set up by the Department of Defence.

The tribunal, consisting of a single magistrate, rubber-stamped the applications according to the guidelines issued by the government. As a rule, businessmen and importers were to be deported, while farmers – who were said to “have shown themselves of less potential danger than the German businessman” – were allowed to stay, unless there were unspecified “special reasons”.

Workingmen were to be deported “if there seems to be any doubt of their obtaining regular employment” after the war. Here, as elsewhere, the official language with its curious linguistic construction – that is, some individuals had shown themselves to be less potentially dangerous – reveals the real political motivation hiding behind the bureaucratic rhetoric.

German experience in Australia during WW1 damaged road to multiculturalism.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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