At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the Australian government began the registration of all people classified as Enemy Aliens. As the conflict progressed, internment camps were set up to place not only Prisoners of War (POWs) behind barbed wire but also civilians considered to be a threat on the homefront.
One of the best-known episodes of wartime internment is the story of the Dunera. In July 1940, the Commonwealth government agreed to accept 6,000 internees from the United Kingdom. However, only one shipment was dispatched to Australia. On board this ship – the HMT Dunera (Hired Military Transport) – were about 2,000 male German Jewish refugees aged between 16 and 45, who had escaped from Nazi Germany. Also on board were 200 Italian POWs and 250 German Nazis.
As the internees were not allowed to possess money, they resorted to bartering for commodities. Eventually, the artist and engraver Georg A. Teltscher designed camp money that was used by the internees at Camp number seven. The serial numbers of the notes corresponded to the registration numbers of the internees. The notes contain some hidden messages, such as the text written in the barbed wire at the border of the notes: “We are here because we are here because we are here…” The wording hidden in the barbed wire entanglement at the foot of the fencing in the centre of the front contains “HMT Dunera Liverpool to Hay.”
The camp notes were recognised as official money by the Commonwealth Bank. The short-lived circulation began in March 1941. Today, there are only few notes left. They were withdrawn from circulation by the Department of the Treasury in May 1941.
Donated by Jeremy Glick
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