NEW BOOKS AND PUBLICATIONS
Christine M. Turner, 2022. The Western Creek Internment Camps of World War II. A4 card covers, 132pp
plus map, illustrated. Published by Millmerran & District Historical Society Inc. ISBN 9780646856834.
Available from the Millmerran Museum at www.millmerranmuseum.com.au. Price $20 plus postage $14.
Review by Ian Bevege.
The internment of so-called resident aliens and non-British subjects by the Australian authorities during
World War II is a little-known aspect of official and community endeavour to maintain internal security
during those fraught years. Over 8000 such people, including over 7000 local residents, were interned
between 1942 and 1946 (Margaret Bevege 1993) including the 240 Italian men, mainly from farms from
the Granite Belt of Stanthorpe and elsewhere in south-east Queensland, whose story is one focus in
Christine Turner's book. These civilian internees are not to be confused with Prisoners of War who were
shipped to Australia from overseas war theatres and included many nationalities including Italians.
Internees and POW camps operated under quite different conditions; internees were managed by the
Allied Works Council and the POWs under restraint by the Department of Defence. That so many were
interned was a consequence of government policies and social attitudes of pre-war decades whereby
Australians were British citizens (we did not become Australian citizens until Australia Day, 26 January
1949, following the coming into operation of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 which had been
passed by the Commonwealth Parliament in late 1948) and non-British migrants, despite in many cases
being second and third generation residents, were not perceived as being "true Australians". The title of
the book is something of a misnomer but the potential reader should not be put off by this as the book is
a gem of regional history including forestry history.
The author devotes Part One of her book to Internment at Western Creek (some 25 pages) while Part Two (about 100 pages) is more of a conventional social history of the Millmerran district including its forestry history. This forestry history is the link between the two parts because the Italian internees were camped on Western Creek state forest and an adjacent private station holding and carried out forestry work during 1942 on the State Forest under the supervision of Forestry Department staff. Christine has drawn heavily on material from Zoe Boccabella (2015) whose grandfather Annibale (Joe) was one of the internees plucked off a farm at Stanthorpe in March 1942 where, aged 18, he was picking beans and trucked to Millmerran where he became a forestry worker. Zoe has written the Foreword to the book.
The internees were held in two camps for 254 days; these camps were not on the record and were kept "secret" until of course the word got out as it was wont to do in a rural community, after a bushfire broke out on the forest. One of the many jobs they did while working for the Forestry Department was the gathering of timber and its burning to make charcoal. They were well treated by staff. The internees were then moved to an official roadworks camp at Pikedale near Stanthorpe. As Pikedale was also the centre of a Forestry Department pine plantation (Passchendaele State Forest) one might speculate as to any connection between these two operations. What emerges from this account is the strong esprit de corps of the internees despite the primitive conditions under which they were living and working. Tracing and reconstructing their story and that of the physical camps has been akin to an archaeological dig with many remnants and artefacts of these "non-existent" camps now on the public record, including an extensive brochure published in 2004 jointly by the Queensland Environment Protection Agency and Parks and Wildlife Service. The author has reproduced this brochure in full together with many photographs of what remains of the camps.
Most readers of this AFHS newsletter probably have never heard of Millmerran, even less of Western Creek, so a bit of background. Millmerran is a small town servicing farming and grazing (and once forestry) communities on the southern fringes of the Darling Downs some 80 kilometres south-west of Toowoomba. Western Creek drains the upper catchment of the Weir River that ultimately joins the Macintyre River near Mungindi on the Queensland/New South Wales border. Western Creek State Forest lies to the west of the town and is on the eastern fringe of that very extensive belt of cypress pine/eucalypt hardwood forest that extends from the south and west of the Darling Downs up to the Great Dividing Range north of Chinchilla into the iconic Barakula State Forest and west to Inglewood and Roma
Part Two of the book is appropriately titled Historical Tour Millmerran to Western Creek State Forest and is accompanied by a good mud map. This part covers a wide range of material starting appropriately with the history of the Bigambul people, the traditional owners of the Western Creek country who gained native title over Western Creek State Forest and adjacent areas in 2016. It moves to the history of the big holdings of Turallin, Glenferrie and Western Creek, and of the rabbit proof fence; I remember the latter well from an incident in January 1958; when driving along the fence on Western Creek a big buck kangaroo pacing us on the other side jumped the fence and landed in the back of our Land Rover amongst sundry bodies and bush tools, brightening up the day no end. This part also includes the chapter on the history of sawmilling and Western Creek State Forest as a source of cypress and hardwood log timber. Milling of cypress pine in the Millmerran district was well established by the 1880s with numerous mills providing timber for house construction on the Darling Downs. As early as 1919 it was mooted that areas on the vast Western Creek grazing lease (infested with prickly pear at the time with the lease due for expiry in 1927) had potential for cypress pine forestry. Western Creek State Forest of over 99,000 acres (41,000 hectares) was established in 1934 following a favourable report by Arthur Owens, then Forest Assistant at Dalby, who surveyed the area in 1931; Arthur was a graduate of the first class of 1926 of the Australian Forestry School Canberra and went on to
become a senior officer of the Department of Forestry.
The chapter on Western Creek State Forest covers the history of reservation, early establishment of the forest station and some aspects of fire control. The contribution is acknowledged of Jim Hagan, the first forest ranger in charge of the State Forest from 1935 to his death in 1961; Jim was still the ranger during my sojourn there as a forestry cadet in 1958. Christine includes an entertaining account by Mark Cant of his early activities as a forest trainee in the summer of 1980-81, so typical of the experience of many cadets and trainees over the decades when Western Creek was a working forest. I think a notable omission from this chapter was an account of the bee-keeping activities on the forest as this industry was integral to the management of all the western hardwood reserves including Western Creek; on some reserves the annual fees from bee permits was greater than the royalties from log sales, and timber stand improvement operations involving ringbarking and felling took into account the importance of certain eucalypt species to the honey flow.
The book does not go into the nitty gritty of forest operations or cypress pine silvics; readers seeking that level of information are referred the excellent paper written by Terry Johnston and Keith Jennings (1991).
Part Two concludes with an extensive list of fauna and flora of the area resulting from an extensive survey in 2011 of the upper Weir River catchment for the Queensland Murray-Darling Committee.
The book is well produced on high-quality coated paper that allows optimum reproduction of the many excellent coloured and historical photographs that illustrate the text. There are extensive footnotes that take the place of a bibliography. Much of the text is written around people, with extensive quotations; this makes for a much more "lived experience" for the reader and holds one's interest throughout.
I highly recommend this regional history of a little-known area of south-east Queensland and its cypress forests and importantly as a record of the experiences of those "non-existent" internees who, despite their seemingly harsh treatment, returned eventually to their communities to contribute to Australia's development. I must declare my interest. I worked sporadically on Western Creek State Forest first as a cadet and then as a research forester between 1958 and 1976 and retain a soft spot for Queensland's extensive cypress pine forests and the forestry that was once so integral to the region. The history of these forests and the forestry practised therein from the first reservation as Barakula State Forest in 1907 has yet to written.