Camp 9, the first of the Loveday camps to be built, was constructed nearly a year before the first prisoners arrived. When Mussolini made an alliance with Hitler which sent Italy to war, the Army was instructed to build secure accommodation in preparation for an influx of Italian internees and prisoners of war.
The site at Loveday was compulsorily acquired through a five-year lease arrangement, with options to extend. It was chosen because of its location far away from the major cities, yet close to a railway line and the River Murray. Moreover the land had already been cleared and irrigation pipes had been laid.
Originally Loveday was to house 6000 internees from British Palestine and 400 so-called dangerous German-Aliens deported from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). But this never eventuated. Instead, those prisoners were taken to other internment facilities such as Hay in New South Wales.
Camp 9 was a diamond-shaped space, 12 chains (240 metres) in diameter from north to south, with a double row of six-foot high (1.8 metre) barbed-wire fences around the perimeter. Four twenty-foot (6 metre) guard towers were strategically placed at each corner of the diamond. At night the perimeter wire was illuminated by floodlights, the sentry boxes were kept in darkness. The total area of the compound was around 10.5 acres (42,000 sq m), the size of six rugby fields.
The buildings were set out symmetrically. There were 32 sleeping huts (each for 30 men), four mess halls, two kitchens, a canteen, a hospital, an office for the camp leader (an inmate to represent the internees), a hobbies workshop, ablutions and laundry block, and latrines. In 1940 the camp was finished and ready for 1000 prisoners, but it lay empty until that first trainload of Italians from Far North Queensland arrived in June 1941.
Imagine how they must have felt as they marched in from that lonely siding near Barmera. The day they arrived, at the start of winter 1941, it was cold and wet. They’d travelled for days, cooped up in train carriages. The motley mob of around 500 – of all ages and all levels of fitness and health – had yet to walk four miles (6.5 km) through flat scrublands before they reached warmth and shelter.
Then, rising like pillars from the plain, were the guard towers. Armed army personnel would have opened the gate, allowing them into the no-man’s land between rows of barbed wire fencing. Then a second gate would have opened into the compound itself. In one of the mess halls they would have assembled. Rolls would have been called, paperwork completed, sleeping huts allocated.
How long would they be held there? No-one knew. Their fate would be determined by what happened half-way across the world. Until then, they had a roof over their heads and food on their plates. They could choose to rebel or make the best of it.
I wish to acknowledge the following source: Loveday Internment Camp Archaeological Report (1992), by Austral Archaeology Adelaide for the State Heritage Branch, Department of Environment and Planning, S.A.