Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Strangers in a strange land - Lee Franklin

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about war.
Perhaps because Anzac day is almost here, or maybe because of Avatar’s success, who knows?
A short bike-ride away from my house, down an old gravel road, is a prisoner-of-war camp. Here, hundreds of Italians and German men spent part of the WWII as unwilling guests of the government. The Italians worked on farms in the surrounding towns while Germans were taken bush, to cut firewood supplies for people living in Perth. 

Eerie is a word which sums it up.

There wasn’t much left of the camp, only the gardens and building foundations.  Time has eroded most of the details. It’s also now closed to the public. A major fire three years ago caused damage not only to the crumbling remains but also to signage. 

I was blessed to have friends take us through there a few weeks before the fire.
It was an experience I’ll never forget.
Hundreds of prisoners had passed through these gates at Marrinup. The forest had encroached over time but the garden beds built in the shape of playing card suits were still visible, as was the fishpond. Tall forests of Jarrah surrounded them for miles, a haven for the multitude of kangaroos and rabbits, which farmers loathe

Wildflowers grew in patches among the scrub, their colourful heads nodding in the soft breeze while the gentle rustling of leaves added to the sensation of isolation.
An eerie feeling surrounded the remains of the camp, as if any minute trucks filled to overflowing with thin, bedraggled men would drive up, the lumbering motors echoing in the forest.
Traipsing through the undergrowth we found a small concrete slab, no more than six feet long and six feet wide. It had once been a detention cell.  Divided into two, one side was for sleeping and the other for toilet facilities.
It was easy to imagine men playing tennis on the homemade gravel court, or working in the vegetable gardens, growing food to supplement their diet.
The camp was open for three years. When it closed the prisoners were sent back to their respective countries.
A couple years later many returned to Australia. Some had fallen in love with local women; others bought families back with them. The majority took up the government’s offer of land. Many of these men, mostly Italians, settled in the area. Those who were once prisoners-of-war were now Australia’s sons.
No longer strangers in a strange land, they had come home.


  1. Canada had such camps for the Japanese.

  2. That was beautiful Lee. I hope there will be more to read about this sometime! In particular the romances between prisoners and locals:)
    Dotti :)

  3. Thanks for dropping by ladies. Most countries had camps to inter prisoners. I find the stories fascinating. ;)

  4. Maybe it might be pure imagination, but an atmosphere often lingers in sad areas like these. But isn't it wonderful to see God's handiwork breaking through?

  5. Thanks for sharing a piece of the world and history I would have never been exposed to otherwise.

  6. This is a bit late, but I've been on a course for just over a month. Just to say thanks for this. It's not a piece of history one would come across in the normal way. I might just blog about my great-uncle's memorial here in France when my turn comes round again.