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Tatura Irrigation and Wartime Camps Museum

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Tatura Irrigation and Wartime Camps Museum

Tatura Irrigation and
Wartime Camps Museum

Brief History
The Tatura & District Historical Society was reformed in 1984, and identified World War II wartime camps as a major focus for collection of historical material. The Society began to research the camps extensively and develop a large collection of photographs, written material and memorabilia.

In 1991, the Bill Doller Room was opened to house the collection. It was named for one of the Society's members who played a major role in the construction of the room. The opening coincide with the 50th anniversary of the arrival and internment in Camp 3 of members of the Temple Society, who were German nationals from Palestine.

There is a large ongoing program of research and the collection is continually expanding.

Internees and POWS

Two distinct groups were detained in camps in this area during World War II
  • PRISONERS-OF-WAR (POWs) — were, as the name implies, enemy servicemen who had been captured in various theatres of war, and transported to Australia for the duration of the war.
  • INTERNEES — were civilians who were living in Australia, or other Allied territories, and were deemed to be a security risk because of their nationality. Their backgrounds were very diverse.

Camps in the Area
There were 7 camps in this area during World War 11. Three of these camps were for POWs:

  • DHURRINGILE — 50 German officers and their batmen.
  • CAMP 13 (MURCHISON) — 4,000 POWs, mainly Italian and German, but also some Japanese after the Cowra Breakout in 1944.
  • CAMP 6 (GRAYTOWN) — a bush wood cutting camp housing about 250 Italian, then German POWs, the latter being mainly crew members of the “Kormoran”. Finnish seamen were held there too.

The remaining camps were for internees, and included CAMPS 1 & 2 (TATURA) and CAMPS 3 & 4 (RUSHWORTH). Each of these camps housed around 1,000 internees. Camps 1 & 2 held single males, mainly Germans and Italians. Camps 3 & 4 held family groups: Camp 3 mainly German and Camp 4 Japanese families.

Physical Layout of the Camps
Initially, barbed wire compounds were established, and accommodation was provided in tents. In time, more permanent camps were established, with rows of army huts replacing the tents.

Sleeping huts were usually 5-6 m x 20 m (16-18’ x 60’), constructed of galvanised iron. In addition, large recreation h uts, kitchen and mess huts, and ablution blocks were provided.

Camp 1 also included a first class hospital, and was the only camp to be sewered throughout.

Internally, the sleeping huts varied in layout. For example, in the case of family camps, sleeping quarters were partitioned off with masonite to accommodate family groups.

POW camps, and internment camps for single males had barrack-style accommodation.

Guards and other support staff were garrisoned outside the compounds.

Life in the Camps
Life in the camps varied, depending on the nature of the particular camp. Family camps incorporated playing areas for children and the necessary school accommodation. Internees and POWs organised a wide range of activities to keep minds and bodies active, including craft work, education, gardening, theatre, music and sport. Some trusted prisoners worked on local farms.

The camps were very adequately supplied with food, and treatment by guards was generally deemed to be good.

Visiting the Camp Sites Today
After the war, camps were dismantled, so that little physical evidence remains today. However, it is still well worth visiting the sites to gain an appreciation of what they were like.

Most of the camp sites are now on private property and some cases owner or lessees need to be contacted before you enter. Tatura Historical Society can provide details of how to gain access.

War Cemeteries
After the war, two war cemeteries were established in the area. The German War Cemetery adjoins Tatura Cemetery, and the Italian Ossario and War Cemetery are at Murchison Cemetery.

German and Italian POWs and Internees who died in various parts of Australia, during both world wars, are buried at Tatura and Murchison respectively. A commemorative service is held at each cemetery every November.

Reference Material
A number of books have been written about life in the camps, and these are available for sale at Tatura Museum.

“Walls of Wire” by Joyce Hammond, provides a comprehensive study, particularly of internment camps in the Tatura area.

“Stalag Australia” by Barbara Winter, gives an overview of POW camps around Australia.

Tatura Historical Society has collected the stories of many former POWs, internees and garrison staff as part of its collection, and these are available for researchers to use.

Source: Tatura & District Historical Society

Information Centre

Tatura Irrigation and Wartime Camps Museum
49 Hogan St, TATURA VIC 3616
Ph: 03 5824 2111

Tatura & District Historical Society
Ph: 03 5824 1867 - out of hours number (Lynn Harrison)

Weekdays 1 pm - 3 pm
Weekends & Public Holidays 2 pm - 4 pm
Hours may vary, contact visitor centre or museum
Tatura Irrigation & Wartime Camps Museum is a voluntary organisation which is totally dependent on entry fees and sales for their upkeep. Donations of $2 or more are tax deductible.
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