Woolenook Internment Camp Anniversary

Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (15:14): I would like to speak about a local event that I attended over the weekend, the Woolenook internment camp's 75th anniversary. It was a unique event on the great River Murray, north of Renmark. We all had to hop onto the PS Industry, one of the most famous paddle steamers on the River Murray in South Australia. It has always been regarded as the fastest paddle steamer in South Australia on the River Murray. In fact, most of the people who attended the anniversary of the internment camp travelled up on the PS Industry. It was an opportunity for me to unveil a plaque commemorating the 75th anniversary of a historic site in the Riverland. It is a piece of Riverland history with a unique story that has not received as much attention as it deserves.

At the unveiling, it was great to see one of South Australia's great young regional ambassadors, Jackson Wickham, address those in attendance. Jackson has a particular interest and passion in our river history, particularly as a young fellow who now captains a riverboat. It was a pleasure to unveil the plaque commemorating the 75th anniversary of this historic site. As I said, it is a piece of Riverland history with a unique story that has not received the attention it deserves.

To provide the house with some background on the Woolenook internment camp, when World War II broke out Japanese people living in Australia were sent to internment camps, many of which were in the Riverland at Loveday (I am sure the member for Light would know about that), Katarapko and Woolenook Bend. Initially, there were 30 internees at the Woolenook Bend camp when it was established on 7 May 1942, many of whom were previously pearl divers in Broome in Western Australia.

By the time the camp was closed in 1945, there were 264 internees, most living in Nissen huts. Their task was to cut firewood for the Renmark Irrigation Trust and later for the Berri Irrigation Trust, with some sawn wood sent to Adelaide. The internees were paid six shillings a tonne. The wood was taken from the Murtho Forest Reserve and the timber was used for fences, buildings and vineyard trellises and to supply fuel for the Renmark irrigation pumps, electricity generators, domestic needs and passing steamboats. The invisible fact of delivering this wood to the riverbank and then loading it onto the paddle steamers is that it was all done by hand. It was all done by the internment camp internees. It was incredibly difficult work back in those days.

I walked around the remains of the internment camp. It was amazing to see that there is still a cricket pitch, a tennis court and some remnants of a road that was underpinned by rock. The camp essentially consisted of a tented compound surrounded by barbed wire. The camp was officially closed on 6 May 1945, and within a year all salvageable buildings were sold at auction.

At the plaque unveiling, it was fantastic to have Trevor Reed in attendance. His father, Robert Baden Powell 'Bob' Reed, was the owner and captain of the paddle steamer Kelvin. Captain Reed had the contract to supply all the wood to the Renmark Irrigation Trust's number one pump from 1932 until 1945. Trevor said that his father was always very kind to the internees and, as a result, the internees presented him with the gift of a model boat, carved from the boom of the PS Kelvin.

This boat carving has been presented to the Renmark Irrigation Trust. It is truly a credit to those internees that they carved and turned a piece of broken mast into what is now an absolute piece of artwork named The Blue Moon. Captain Bob was a great humanitarian. He was very kind to the internees. He allowed them to cook and heat food, their rice, which was fittingly rewarded by the presentation of The Blue Moon.

I would like to thank the people who attended the Woolenook internment camp's 75-year celebrations. It was great to see history being passed down by the older generations. One of my constituents, Ted Townsend, was there in 1943. He told stories that were then passed down to the next generation, and they are now being passed down to another generation. It truly is a great piece of Riverland history. I think it is great that we have recognised 75 years. I look forward to being around to celebrate 100 years of the Woolenook internment camp.

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