Captured Lives: Australia’s Wartime Internment Camps

Reviewed By  Janet Mawdesley       September 13, 2018


Author  Peter Monteath

Distributor:      National Library of Australia
ISBN:                 9780642279248
Publisher:         National Library of Australia
Release Date:   August 2018  


Looking backwards into history can be an enlightening experience, but it also is stark reminder that little changes in life, sometimes only the packaging of how anything that may seem like a threat to a way of life is presented.

In Captured Lives, Peter Monteath looks at the lives and families of so many who were interned during World War I and World War II in the name of national security; many who had made Australia their homes for many, many years, contributing to the development and economy of a growing nation.

The bewilderment of these people going about their daily lives, only to discover that they were being interned by the Australian Government, in the belief that they may in some way be able to influence the War raging across Europe, must have been immense.  Many were only guilty of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or simply a victim of circumstance, or even in some instances, a victim of racial or neighbourhood dislike.

For those who supported the belief of Internship they considered their logic was impeccable and of course ‘foreigners’ would be supportive of their former countries political standpoint, those Countries considered enemies of the members of the Commonwealth!

Over the War years more than 30 internment camps, many located in South Australia were established, some more lenient that others, some State Governments of the day considering it was pointless to lock up able bodied men at a time when the Country was seriously short of man-power in agriculture and other industries.

Many other hapless internees where not so fortunate, being made to spend the war years in absolute boredom and misery, some were able to hone their skills as writers and artist, others to carry out their professions as Doctors and Dentists with limited or no resources.  Spare a thought for the German and other international sailors who, going about their normal trading business, called into Ports such as Fremantle, unaware of the War commencing, only to be arrested and interned!

Reading the history of a time in Australia when in many ways as a Nation, Australia was not at its finest, as the far from rational in approach to people and their ethnic backgrounds was bewildering. Many of the personal stories detail incredible ironies, only one of them being, that many who did support the German or Nazi cause in Australia, were men and women considered as civilians, people born of British parents!

The compilation of this knowledgeable, well researched work is long overdue and provides an in-depth look at what life was like for people who had done nothing wrong, discovering themselves caught up in a situation not of their making, one that caused great hardship, not just to the men interned but to their families trying to cope in a society gone mad!

Stories from each of the men documented are personal, painting a stark portrait based in reality, portraying some of the many ironies that laced the rules and regulations of the times and the Camps, as well as the creativeness that many developed to try and make their lives more tolerable as they waited out the dictates of the Government and the War.

The excellent selection of people, their backgrounds and what happened to them after their release from Internment, along with a comprehensive collection of photographs, reflects back on a political ‘absurdity’ which sadly is still reflected in today’s world of refugees seeking a new life, with lessons learned from history still to be accepted.

Captured Lives has created a respectful and well-presented section of what is a social history of a young country pulled in so very many political directions.  History buffs, students and anyone interested in the history of Australia would do well to read this book, as well as following up on the recommended reading, to gain a fuller and richer understanding of how life for many was lived in Australia during the War years.