January

Unknown artist, Happy New Year 1941

Artist: Unknown

Title: Happy New Year 1941

Date: 1941

Medium: watercolour

Jewish Museum of Australia, Melbourne, Australia

EMu user since 2002

Unknown artist, Happy New Year 1941

A satirical illustration about the irregularity of mail deliveries to the internment camp in Hay, New South Wales.

Refugee migration to Australia all but ceased with the outbreak of World War II. Exit from Europe was almost impossible, the one exception being a boatload of over 2,000 male internees who arrived in September 1940 on the infamous HMT Dunera. Most were Jewish, of German and Austrian nationality and had taken refuge in Britain to escape Nazi persecution or were stranded there by the outbreak of World War II while awaiting permits for other destinations.

In the panic following Dunkirk and fears for security, all males of German, Austrian and Italian nationality aged between 16 and 60 were interned as ‘enemy aliens’ shipped to Canada and Australia. The journey to Australia was appalling: crowded, unsanitary and with brutal treatment at the hands of the British guards. It was a journey to an unknown destination for a ‘cargo of talent’ which included eminent scientists, academics, journalists, writers, rabbis, artists and chefs.

On arrival, the men were interned in Hay and later in Orange and Tatura where they established a rich social, cultural and academic life for themselves. After their gradual release, some returned to England, some migrated to Palestine. The majority stayed to serve the Allied cause in the 8th Employment Company of the Australian Military Forces.

The Hay-Tatura Association, set up by some of the men, has since 1984 published Dunera News, enabling the men’s recollections to be recorded and shared. The Association holds regular get-togethers and reunions and has widely promoted the contribution of the ‘Dunera Boys’, as they have come to be known, to Australian society. The Jewish Museum of Australia is an important national repository for the stories of the ‘Dunera Boys’. The Collection includes original documents and statements, artworks, illustrated diaries, scrapbooks, photographs, correspondence and oral histories. An active collecting area, the Dunera and Internment Collection is regularly called upon by historians and researchers, and continues to be a source of new information about this episode in Australian migration and settlement history.