Aliens

In November 1941, just weeks before Japan entered World War II, Japanese nationals were among the 'Aliens' travelling around Australia with Wirth's Circus. In a letter to the Commissioner of Police in Sydney, Captain George Newman, Intelligence Section, Australian Military Forces – Eastern Command, requested that the registration files of all alien members of Wirth's circus be forwarded 'through the usual channels' in order to 'investigate the history, sympathies, etc of all Alien employees of Wirth's Circus.'

The fate of Wirth's 'enemy alien' employees is unknown but between 1940 and 1945, several thousand supposed enemy aliens were interned all around Australia. Japanese pearl fisherman from Broome together with Australians of Italian and German origin, many of whom had been born in Australia or had lived in Australia for years, were forced to leave their homes and their livelihoods.

Entire families were moved into internment camps around the country: Yanco, Hay and Cowra in New South Wales; Loveday and Nangwarry in South Australia; Gaythorne in Queensland; Dhurringile, Murchison and Tatura in Victoria; and Harvey and Northam in Western Australia. In many of the camps they were joined by prisoners of war captured in the Middle East or closer to home in the Pacific. Many Japanese civilians from the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia) were also interned in Australia.

In November 1941, the German crew members from the Kormoran who survived the action with HMAS Sydney were interned first in a section of Harvey Internment Camp in Western Australia before being transferred to Victoria some weeks later. The officers and their servants went to Durringhile camp and the non-commissioned officers to Murchison Camp in Victoria where they spent the remainder of the war.

Many of the POWs and enemy alien internees were employed by local farmers and industries who came to depend on their labour. Their assistance was sorely missed at the end of hostilities when internees and POWs were either repatriated to their countries of origin or permitted to return to their Australian homes. Accounts of their experiences differ and a number of former 'enemy aliens' who were repatriated at the end of the war, later returned to live in Australia.


Last updated: 8 February 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Aliens, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 12 August 2022, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/world-war-ii-1939-1945/resources/all-australian-homefront-1939-1945/aliens
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