This

Life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Eva de Jong-Duldig

THE sharp grass seeds be­came em­bed­ded in my socks and oc­ca­sion­ally punc­tured my skin. Rough stones lay over the ground and a group of Friesians looked at us cu­ri­ously. Over­head, green rosel­las chat­tered as they took flight from the near­est grey box eu­ca­lypt. A pre­vail­ing wind blew across the fields and seemed to chase white clouds across the oth­er­wise bright blue sky. We were a few kilo­me­tres from Tatura, a small town­ship in the heart of NSW’s Goul­burn Val­ley, on the site of what was once In­tern­ment Camp 3.

On Septem­ber 28, 1940, with my par­ents and about 270 other Aus­trian and Ger­man refugees, I had been brought here as an enemy alien. Only two days ear­lier, we had set eyes on beau­ti­ful Syd­ney Har­bour for the first time, from the deck of the great Queen Mary, then the largest ship afloat. It had taken seven days to sail from Sin­ga­pore, our is­land refuge fol­low­ing the rise of Nazism.

Re­cently, as I walked among the cat­tle, I vi­su­alised the spar­tan cor­ru­gated huts ar­ranged in neat rows that had once cov­ered this farmer’s field. I found my­self look­ing around for the barbed wire fences that fig­ured in most of my fa­ther’s draw­ings. It was hard to imag­ine that we lived here for nearly two years. Yet this was the cra­dle of my mem­o­ries, where my tod­dler mates and I had sung rhymes, played games and squab­bled over a few mea­gre toys. This was where I had helped my fa­ther tend the flower beds.

Th­ese and other mem­o­ries flooded back as I sat on stone re­mains, watch­ing horses graz­ing in yel­low­ing fields that seemed to stretch end­lessly to the hori­zon. I picked up the jagged frag­ment of a chunky beer glass, prob­a­bly once used by our guards. There was one guard for ev­ery five in­mates. Some­what in­tim­i­dated by the ri­fles slung over their shoul­ders, I nev­er­the­less pre­sented them with camp-grown flow­ers, but when they came to in­spect the hut for clan­des­tine ra­dios or cam­eras I hud­dled in bed closer to my mother.

That night there was no moon, but the stars lit up the night sky. I saw again the flood­lit in­tern­ment camps over the rise — the seven camps round Tatura, Rush­worth and Murchi­son were the only pin­points of light in a val­ley blacked out for the war. But enemy bombers would not at­tack this tar­get and we were safe in what would be­come our new home­land. No won­der my fa­ther wrote in 1941, Tatura ist ein paradies (Tatura is a par­adise).

Back home in Mel­bourne, I picked the last grass seeds out of my socks and placed the beer glass frag­ment on the front porch and pon­dered how In­tern­ment Camp 3 near Tatura had as­sumed a new re­al­ity in my mind.

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