Rottnest Island, Western Australia (1914–15 and 1940)

World War I

Rottnest Island is located off the coast of Western Australia near Fremantle. The island had been used as a prison and then a tourist destination before the Commonwealth Government took it over at the outbreak of World War I for use as an internment camp. A large number of those interned at Rottnest Island were Slavs. Since their lands were under the control of the Austro-Hungarian empire, they were technically citizens of the empire and therefore enemy aliens. Other internees and prisoners of war were German and Austrian. Many of the interned men had been miners at Kalgoorlie.

A group of musicians at Rottnest Island camp, c. 1915 (NAA: PP14/1, 5/15/3)

The first internee arrivals to Rottnest Island lived in stone houses. Later arrivals had to make do with the tents originally erected for short tourist stays. Sanitation in the camp was poor, food supplies could be insufficient and internees were required to do their own cooking at their tents as there was no camp kitchen. The records contain complaints about these conditions and also about mistreatment by guards. Despite this, the internees made efforts to make their time in the camp more enjoyable. They formed a band, held lectures, opened a café and enjoyed the beach and the sea.

The Rottnest Island camp held almost 1000 men prior to its closure in late 1915. The internees were transferred first to Garden Island camp in Western Australia and then to Holsworthy in New South Wales.

Rottnest Island Football Club, 1915 (NAA: PP14/1, 5/15/3)

World War II

Rottnest Island was used to house Italian internees between January and September 1940.

Collection references

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 'Aliens and others': World War ll internment project

The National Archives of Australia is a partner in an Australian Research Council project titled ‘Aliens and others: representing citizenship and internment in Australia during World War II', headed by Dr Ilma O'Brien of the Victoria University of Technology.

As part of the project, Dr O'Brien is interested in collecting personal memories of World War II internment in Australia. If you have personal or family memories, photographs or documents about internment you would like to share, further information about the project can be obtained from Dr O'Brien at ilma.obrien@latrobe.edu.au.

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