Britain was under a great deal of strain in the opening stages of World War II - not only was success against Germany on the battlefields of Europe not guaranteed, but there was genuine concern that Hitler’s forces may one day arrive on British shores.
The Home Secretary took steps to ensure that a “fifth column” of German spies was not able to spring into action should Germany succeed in invading Britain, prime among them was the deportation of many thousands of refugees and “aliens” from Germany, Austria and elsewhere.
One load of deportees was sent via the “Dunera” to be interned at “Camp Seven”, near the Southern NSW town of Hay. Although early Australian newspaper reports portrayed the internees as being “dangerous”, historical records show that far from being cold blooded spies, many of the men interned at Hay were highly trained in a truly wide variety of professions; crafts and trades.
Also among the internees were businessmen, students, teachers and artists. Once settled in camp, this fairly civilized group of men set about making the best of the spartan conditions imposed upon them. They established an internal administration, organized sporting and religious activities as well as artistic distractions such as a theatre & orchestra.
The Internment Currency of Camp Seven
As a precaution against bribery of the guards, internees were prohibited from having access to money of any kind.
To facilitate life within the camp however, camp leaders produced a series of three “banknotes”, presumably intended for use at the canteen, theatre and elsewhere within the camp.
The editors of “The Dunera Affair” (one of the most comprehensive historical resource books on the Hay internees), state:
“One thing which cannot be overlooked is the remarkable ingenuity of the internees in devising a viable camp currency which was so successful that it brought down the wrath of the Australian Treasury.
Although nearly all (Australian) internment and prisoner of war camps conducted their affairs using some kind of improvised scrip, that used at Hay was apparently so authentic and well designed that the Treasury was concerned this currency (could) be used outside the camp in the local community.
The (printing) plates were confiscated by detectives from Sydney, and a new currency was soon introduced.”
Despite the relatively modest intent behind the Hay Internment notes, they circulated for only around three months during the early days of 1941.
That modest numbers of these intriguing notes remain available to collectors today indicates that many of Camp Seven’s internees and guards kept them as souvenirs.
Just how rare are these notes?
Records indicate that just 2,000 two shilling notes were printed (effectively being one for each internee), while three thousand shilling and sixpence notes were printed.
A survey by Max Bulluss in 1994 indicated that just 174 individual notes (of each different denomination and in varying grades) had been sighted by that time, there is of course no doubt that a modest number of additional notes have appeared on the market since then.
They remain a tangible link to a truly human aspect of Australia's involvement in World War II, and to the ingenuity of the internees of Camp Seven.