Professor Mutsumi Tsuda from Kwansei Gakuin University’s School of Policy Studies Section in Japan visiting the Loveday Internment Camp General Headquarters site in November 2023.
PHOTO: Berri Barmera Library

By Mutsumi Tsuda
Professor of Kwansei Gakuin University

During November 2023, I travelled from Adelaide to Barmera in a rented car for the first time in 14 years.

My first objective was to see the new exhibition about the Loveday Internment Camp (LIC) at the Barmera Visitor Centre, curated by my friend Rosemary Gower who has been promoting the historic site for many years.

A website on the LIC was officially launched on 3 November, 2023 and I was invited to this ceremony.

After the ceremony, we enjoyed a bus tour of the camp site, organised by Berri Barmera Council.

It was deeply moving to be joined by descendants of German and Italian internees, as well as Liz Wingard who grew up beside the camp and was the daughter of a former LIC tour guide Max Scholz who wrote a book about the camp.

Through conversations with them, I felt that while the memory of the German-Italian people has been passed down to the present, the presence of Japanese people in this area seems a long time ago.

In 2002, Dr Yuriko Nagata’s book ‘Unwaited Alien’ was published, which shocked the second-generation Nikkei in New Caledonia.

It was the first concrete account of what happened to their fathers and grandfathers when they were transported from New Caledonia to Australia and incarcerated there.

Amicale Japonais en Nouvelle-Calédonie (Amicale Japonaise Association of New Caledonia Association) immediately contacted the then mayor of Barmera, Brian Caddy, and visited the Loveday and Woolenook camp sites.

With Brian’s attentive support, they followed in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers who had been separated from them during the war.

Influenced by this trip, I myself visited Barmera in 2005 and made a similar tour of the camp site, and I exhibited the photographs I took there and the documents I collected and borrowed in exhibitions held in New Caledonia and Japan in 2006-2007.

One of the most impressive items was a photo album that Brian had collected from his friend’s daugther, called Pamela.

It was taken by her father, Cyril “Mick” Pike, a WW1 veteran, a lieutenant of guards at the Woolenook camp.

I borrowed it, took it to Noumea to present it in my exhibition in Tjibaou Cultural Centre in 2006 and showed it to my friend Marijo. She stared at it for a while, but said nothing. I dared not ask her anything, but a few days later she told me that it was her two grandfathers who were in the picture. She had shown the photograph ‘Nippons. Having Lunch’ to her own parents, who had confirmed that he was indeed their respective fathers.

When I told this to Pamela, the owner of the photograph, she said she would love to give the photograph to Marijo.

Marijo’s maternal father wrote to his daughter 1960, that the wounds he had sustained while working at the Woolenook camp still hurt. Despite the happy lunchtime photos, it can be seen that it was also hard work.

Compared to Loveday camp, Woolenook must have been much more comfortable, sometimes they enjoyed fishing in the Murray River, watching kangaroos, emus, and opossums.

With the war over, the day approached when they would be released from the camps. Those who had been waiting and believing that they would be able to return to New Caledonia, where their families were waiting for them, rejected the decision when they were informed that they would be returned to Japan and protested that they wanted to return to New Caledonia. However, Authority of New Caledonia refused and in 1946 they were deported back to Japan. Many were then left to live with their families in New Caledonia.

During my visit on 5 November 2023, I saw the stumps at Woolenook for the first time in 14 years and was amazed at how weathered they were after last year’s floods.

The stumps in a row looked like grave markers.

Thank you to Brian Caddy, Rosemary Gower, Tony Sharley, Christine Webster, Barmera Visitor Centre and the Berri Barmera Council for their generous support.

A collection of photos of the Woolenook Camp by Marie-José Michel from Pam’s Album with captions written by Cyril “Mick” Pike.