Loveday Internment Camps - Riverland South Australia

Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020 at 11:08

Stephen L (Clare) SA

Today, the Riverland area in South Australia is world famous for its premium fruit and citrus orchards, but in the height of WW11, one of Australia’s largest internment and prisoner of war camps was to be established in the area.

Located off of the main Sturt Highway, the small settlement of Loveday was proclaimed in 1940 for the sole purpose to house German, Italian and Japanese internees and prisoners of war. The main site covered an area of over 180 hectares and included 4 seperate camps and the site was chosen as it had piped water for irrigation, power and telephone communications were available, a train service from Adelaide was close by, it was near a main highway for road transport, and was far enough inland away from sea ports and in 1941 the camp was setup and ready to house its new internees.

In its prime, there were over 5300 people in the camp, and on top of that, there were over 1500 Australian Military Personnel guarding and managing the camps with Lieutenant Colonel Dean the group commander of all the camps, and each of the other 3 camps administrated by a Camp Commandment. One important crop that was grown and harvested was opium poppies, that made morphine and was distributed to Australian Imperial Forces that were fighting in the war conflict areas. Other important crops that were grown in the camps included tomatoes, beans, beetroot, lettuce and cabbages. Another crop that was also grown, but not used in the camps was Pyrethrum flower heads, that were harvested and sold to insecticide companies. One byproduct of the camp was surplus fat, that was made into soap and this was also distributed to Australian Armed Forces.

Like in any internment and POW Camp, prisoners did try to escape, with one reported escape through the main perimeter fence, and nine escaped from outside working parties that were working outside the compound. Their freedom was short lived, as the famous Aboriginal black tracker, Jimmy James was brought in and in no time, soon tracked down the escapees. There was also an attempt by Germans to dig a tunnel in an attempt for freedom, but it was discovered before it was completed and their escape for freedom foiled.

All internees could work if they wanted to and were paid a shilling a day in money tokens or in todays terms, ten cents per day. Paid work in the camps included working in either of the piggery or poultry farm, working in the water filtration plant, collecting garbage, emptying toilet pans, or working away from the camps in wood cutter gangs. The gangs that went out timber cuttings cut down over 85,000 tons of wood that was used in the local pumping stations in the Riverland and timber for sale to the domestic market in Adelaide. These timber cutters were paid six shillings a tonne. A major timber cutting camp was located, north of Renmark at Woolenook Internment Camp was housed both Japanese internees and POW’s.

When Woolenook Internment Camp was established in 1942, it was for Japanese only, and of the 30 initial internees, most were previously pearl divers from Broome. As the war dragged on, more Japanese were sent to the camp, including many Japanese POW’s. The other main wood camps in the Riverland were Moorook West and Katarapko, which were all part of the Loveday Internment Camp complex. The initial compound at Woolenook consisted of tents, surrounded with a barb wire perimeter fence, but with the increased number of Japanese men arriving at the camp, there were over 260 internees living there, mostly in Nissen huts when the camped closed in 1945, with security provided by members of the 25/33 Garrison Battalion. There were tensions between civilian internees and Japanese POW’s, with a reported murder of a civilian by POW’s, who thought that their fellow countrymen was a spy for the Australian Government, and then for the safety of all the civilian Japanese internees, they were removed for their own safety and relocated to other camps in the Riverland.

So if you are ever in the Riverland and would like to visit some of the former sites, you can drop into the Barmera Visitor Information Centre where you can get information on the sites and other history of the area.

Stephen Langman

January 2020
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