Dunera Lives – Profiles: Vol II of the Dunera Project


Dunera Lives


By Ken Inglis, Bill Gammage, Seumas Spark and Jay Winter
Published by Monash University Publishing
RRP $39.95 in paperback | ISBN 9781925835656

This is the companion volume to ‘Dunera Lives: A visual history’ which I reviewed back in October 2018. You can read that review at this link:

Firstly, who are the ‘Dunera’ boys?

They were the 2,546 men detained in Britain as enemy aliens herded aboard the HMT Dunera at Liverpool, England, on 10 July 1940. While they were mainly Germans, there were 200 Italians among them.

Later that same year, 266 men, women and children who had been detained as potential enemies of Britain boarded the Queen Mary in Singapore.

Telling the story of the Dunera was the final project for distinguished Australian historian Ken Inglis who passed away in December 2017. You can hear more about Ken Inglis’s legacy in this interview on ABC Radio with Bill Gammage, academic and former friend of Ken Inglis, and Frank Bongiorno, a former PhD student. LINK HERE

The first volume of Dunera Lives provided a series of snapshots of the fate of roughly 2,000 people who fled to Britain, only to be deemed enemy aliens during the war crisis of May-July 1940. This second volume covers the lives of twenty men, eighteen of whom were internees.

There was no single Dunera story.

Some were intellectuals such as Leonhard Adam for whom there was a groundswell of support for his release from detention. His life then revolved around his work at the University of Melbourne where he resumed his interest in the art of primitive peoples, welcoming the emergence of aboriginal art and discouraging those who wanted to follow in the footsteps of Arrernte artist Albert Namatjira with his success with European-style watercolours. He married a well-to-do Australian woman Mary Baillie, who had attended his classes, and became an Australian citizen in 1956, passing away after a distinguished academic career in 1960.

The story of Klaus Loewald is equally engaging, having left Australia on his release for a better life in the US, but ultimately finding his way back to Australia to the University of New England, but not before a stint with the US State Department and an appointment as a cultural attache at the US Embassy in Canberra, accompanied by his Vietnamese wife Uyen.

Each story of the Dunera men begins with the injustice of internment as an enemy alien on the slimmest of evidence, nationality being enough to condemn a man to arrest, despite them having been received in Britain as refugees.

This book, along with its companion text, makes an important contribution to the history of Australia from that period. In reading these stories of displacement, it’s impossible not to think of others in more recent times who have been forced to flee their homes in search of a safe haven.


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