Introduction: Aliens among us
In World War II, the divisions between cultures became very clear. As the Germans and Italians united in Europe to fight against the Allies, suspicions of Germans and Italians living in Australia were raised.
'Enemy Alien' was the term applied to any immigrant who had moved to Australia from a country that was an enemy in World War II - Germany, Italy and later Japan.
As the government established a war economy, it began to take steps to neutralise the potential threat posed by these resident aliens. The decision was made to introduce severe restrictions on the aliens and, in some cases, imprison them in internment camps.
Internment camps in Australia did not reach the extent of American internment camps. Australians labelled 'aliens', however, were subjected to discrimination during the War.
The various aliens in Australia
Hitler invaded Poland on 2 September 1939. Australia entered the War, alongside Britain, on 3 September 1939. Immediately, suspicions were raised about Germans living in Australia.
In the years preceding the war, over 9000 Germans, 10 000 Italians, and 20 000 Europeans had migrated to Australia for various reasons - some disagreed with Hitler and Mussolini's policies, some wished to escape the economic restrictions of the Depression. While some assimilated into the Australian culture, few were actually citizens.
In addition to the migrants, there were thousands of Germans, Italians, and other Europeans who had lived in Australia for several generations and were, for all intents and purposes, Australians and citizens.
In World War I, Germans and Italians had suffered the brunt of Australian racism. Some had been interned, others discriminated against.
Early discrimination against the aliens
There was great concern over the position of aliens from enemy states. When war was announced and the government spun into action, Australians decided to take the matters of the aliens into their own hands.
There was manifest revulsion and discrimination against many Germans. They were all stereotyped as Nazis, regardless of the amount of time they had spent in Australia and Germany.For example, Collingwood Council in Victoria discussed changing the name of 'Heidelberg Road' to 'Churchill Parade'. Prominent businessmen with foreign names had to advertise their patriotism.
Fred Hesse, the owner of a Melbourne menswear store, offered a large reward for people to find him 'unpatriotic'. He also made public that he was born in England.
People targeted Germans with violence and damaged their property. The courts did nothing to stop the violence. When an Australian, Stanley Phillips, smashed a shop window with a crowbar because he was told the shop belonged to a German, the jury found him not guilty.
An Italian-Australian mechanic, Amada Capadona, charged Australian James Gilligan with assault. While Capadona was working on his car, Gilligan said 'Why don't you get Mussolini to help you', then punched Capadona in the face. Gilligan was found a man of good character and was fined a small amount.
Italian immigrants were also discriminated against when Italy entered the War in June 1940. Italians were the largest group of immigrants in Australia and owned many shops. 400 Sydney University students marched to Broadway and sang patriotic songs. They shouted slogans against Mussolini and the Italians. See image 1
That night, windows of Italian shops were smashed. Like the Germans, there was no distinction drawn between Italian refugees, migrants, and Australian-Italians. They were all enemies.
Limitations on the aliens
The government did little to stop the discrimination and violence. Instead, it sought to solve the alien problem with the National Security (Alien Control) Regulations.
This government legislation proposed the internment of all enemy aliens, their registration, restrictions on their travel and movement around the city. All enemy aliens were required to report to authorities regularly. Restrictions on the aliens were increased as the war continued.
Aliens had to obtain special licenses to be employed on ships, wharves, packing, and conveying goods for export. They were also not allowed to use or own any kind of firearm, weapon, ammunition, explosive, petrol, signalling device (including carrier pigeons, telephones and radios), motor vehicle or boat, aircraft, even cameras and maps.
For the majority of 'aliens' the restrictions and surveillance was enough. Of the various strategies proposed to regulate the enemy aliens, internment was the most severe.
Terms of internment
The internment of enemy aliens was a last resort. Women and children were not allowed to be interned, only kept in custody.
An enemy alien could only be interned if there was a reasonable case and evidence against an individual enemy alien. For example, if it could be proven that the enemy alien was a member of the Nazi of Fascist movement, he or she could be interned. See image 2
If the enemy alien was a refugee, he had the opportunity to prove his case and explain how he had helped the Australian cause more than the enemy cause.
At first, powers of internment were exercised moderately. As the war progressed, however, and the situation in Europe became more dire, restrictions became more severe.
Enemy aliens were interned because of the potential threat that they posed to the protection of Australia. Most were considered spies and regarded with suspicion. Often, the process of arrest and internment was peaceful. The entire process, however, was a humiliating and isolating experience for Australianised aliens.
There was the immediate concern that some aliens may be unjustly interned. There were several public protests and appeals against the indiscriminate internment of aliens.
By November 1940, many of the enemy aliens who were in internment camps were able to submit objections of their internment to the Aliens Tribunal. Some secured their release.
Universal internment with no opportunity for release and surveillance was only applied to the Japanese in Australia. This amount totalled only 1043. See animation