Molonglo Internment Camp

Molonglo Internment Camp

Canberra’s industrial suburb, Fyshwick, was once a vast area of unused land, making it a good site for a new internment camp, completed in April 1918. The British government had requested Australia to house 3,500 German and Austrian nationals who were being expelled from China.

The camp was a new township close to the Molonglo River, capable of housing 560 families plus military personnel. But after diplomatic interventions, the prospective internees did not arrive. Instead, 150 families from the recently closed internment camp at Bourke arrived at the end of May, soon joined by families from the Berrima internment camp. They included missionaries, merchants and mariners who had been detained in British colonies such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and New Guinea.

The Molonglo camp became an accepted part of the Canberra community. Locals played tennis on the camp courts, while internees were allowed to shop in Queanbeyan and walk through the bush.

In 1919, the internees were deported to Europe and the camp was closed.

Panoramic view of the Molonglo Internment Camp seen from a guard tower.

The camp was spread over a 250-acre site, from today’s Newcastle Street, Fyshwick, to the Molonglo River. It comprised 40 residential blocks, each block holding 14 family units. A butcher shop, bakery, post office, and hospital were also part of the camp. Willow trees trace the course of the river in the middle distance, and the buildings of Duntroon can be seen in the background.

Children at the school at the Molonglo Internment Camp.

Seventy-seven children were interned with their parents at the Molonglo Internment Camp. They attended a six-room school, and were allowed out of the camp grounds when accompanied by teachers for picnics on the banks of the Molonglo River.