Internees were transported to Loveday Internment Camp by train. For those who lived far from South Australia, it was a long journey of discomfort and degradation. Sometimes the wagons were sealed and the windows barred. Sometimes people from the towns through which they passed gathered to pelt the train with rotten fruit and abuse.
Enemy aliens from far north Queensland were arrested and held in prison cells in Stuart Creek Gaol, Townsville for up to two weeks until there were sufficient to fill a special train to Brisbane. The numbers dispatched were staggering. On 11 June 1940 96 were sent away; on 21 June 1940, 147; on 15 December 1941, 144; on 6 March 1942, 310; on 14 March 1942, 317; on 2 April 1942, 345; on 14 April 1942, 308; and on 24 April 1942, 248. Up until June 1942, the total number of internees dispatched from Townsville was 1915.
At Stuart Creek Gaol they were treated worse than the convicted criminals.
For the following accounts, I am indebted to the National Archives of Australia and Peter Dalseno, who wrote about his own experiences of internment in his book Sugar, Tears and Eyeties (1994).
In a letter of complaint to the Swiss Consul in Brisbane dated 19th April 1942, signed by sixteen Italian women (accompanied by their children), conditions at the Stuart Creek Gaol were described in detail.
On our arrival at the place at about 8.30 p.m. without food from 2 p.m. we were led to two rooms into which 22 of us had to sleep on just mattresses laid out on cement floor. Alongside one of these rooms was a small place with a sink for washing, its drainages were blocked, allowing a constant flowing of water into the room and under mattresses. Complaints made but attention was not satisfactory.
Every evening at 4.30 we were locked in these rooms without fresh air from any direction and not unlocked till 6.30 next morning. Mosquitoes and flies were unbearable, rats gnawed at our clothes.
Several women and children became ill and nothing was done about it. The sanitation system was also very bad. The lids of the 2 boxes (earth closet toilets) which were only a few yards from the rooms in which we lived 14 hours out of the 24, for 7 long days, would not close thus developing foul air. Alongside these was 1 shower running with blocked drainages.
The food was most unpalatable, overcooked rice for breakfast, dinner and tea the first day, and followed the next until we refused to eat it.
An excerpt from another letter of complaint about Stuart Creek Gaol, dated 7th April 1942, signed by 174 Italian male internees raised similar issues.
The gaol is not a proper and fit place to house internees who are not criminals but only civilians detained for National Security purposes.
The food was detestable and consisted only of very little boiled rice mornings and afternoon and little gravy stew at midday.
We were there for eleven days, and they did not give us a bath, or sufficient drinking water.
An investigation by the Stipendiary Magistrate of Townsville found that the gaol was never intended to take such numbers, and was grossly undersupplied with the most basic of requirements. The male toilets consisted of ‘two pan cabinets in each yard, open to the view of the whole yard.’ The male internees ‘had to sleep in the open, on the ground, without any sheet or mattresses under them, and with no covering other than what they brought with them.’ Luckily there was little rain.
The police response to complaints lodged by two of the male internees argued they were never at Stuart Creek Gaol because they were arrested outside of Rockhampton (700 kilometres to the south of Townsville) and were held at the Rockhampton watch house instead. The police provided a menu to refute the men’s claims about poor food.
Breakfast – either fried steak, onions and gravy, or fried sausages and gravy or rissoles and gravy, together with four slices of bread and butter, and a pint of tea.
Midday meal – served hot: consisted of meat, such as corned round or roast meat, or steak and kidney pie, with at least two and sometimes three different kinds of vegetables, three slices of bread and butter, and one pint of tea
Evening meal – consists of cold meats, salad, three or four slices of bread and butter, and one pint of tea.
Peter Dalsino, who was also captured in far north Queensland, provided the following recollection of the interminable train journey to Loveday.
The train hurtled for mile upon mile, hour after hour. The day gave way to the night, and night retired only to usher in another day. Was there no end to the vastness of this continent? …
… Bodies resumed their usual nightly poses. Supine, prone, sitting up, or curled up wherever space permitted. The dread of the internment camp was in some way mitigated by an obsessive desire for a shower, an opportunity to clean one’s teeth, and the comfort of a toilet …
… The train rattled on. How many days? A journey involving four States.