Update: Vale James Sullivan
I was saddened to hear of the recent passing of James Sullivan, a former officer at Tatura internment camp, on March 22, 2012. Jim was 91 years old.
I was glad to have had the opportunity to get to know him. He was an entertaining raconteur, keen to share his knowledge, and author of Beyond All Hate: a wartime story of a Japanese internment camp 1941-1946, his self-published account of his time overseeing Japanese internees in Victoria.
Below is a photo I took of him just a month before his death (read below for an account of the trip he took me on to visit the site of Tatura internment camp in July 2011):
In July last year, retired army major James Sullivan was kind enough to give me a tour of the site of the Tatura family internment camp near Shepparton in northern Victoria. At 91 years old, Jim still has the ability to tell a good tale and draw upon his memories of 70 years ago. Jim was one of the officers employed to supervise the camp, which held many Japanese families. At age 22, he was one of the youngest officers assigned to the camp (after being injured while serving in New Guinea he was posted to supervise the camp), and as a result he became friendly with many of the Japanese families interned, and in 2007 he self-published a book about his experiences, Beyond All Hate: The story of a wartime internment camp for Japanese in Australia, 1941-1946 (available from Tatura Museum: www.taturamuseum.org.au/museum_shop.html).
A quick history: the Tatura internment camps comprised seven separate camps in total. Three of the camps were for POWs, while the remaining four were for internees. Of the internee camps, two were for single males (mostly German and Italian), one was for German families, and another, Camp 4 near Rushworth, was for Japanese families. Each of the camps housed about 1000 internees (http://www.taturamuseum.org.au/prisoner_of_war__internment_camps.html).
The family camps were established to house women, children and family groups of “enemy aliens”. In some cases, the Australian wives and children of internees chose to live with their husband/father in the family internment camp rather than be separated from him. Teenage boys under the age of 16 lived at the family camps, but after 16 they were transferred to the camps for single adult men.
After a quick stop at Tatura Museum (a very good regional museum, with informative displays about the internment camps, irrigation projects and other aspects of local history, see: www.taturamuseum.org.au), we made our way to the site of the camp. Like most of the other sites of internment camps around Australia, it now sits on private land. Luckily for me, the person who rents the land, a dairy farmer, was also keen to hear more of the history of the camp, and as such was happy to meet us.
Like the other internment camp sites I have visited around Australia, there is little that remains of Tatura: the concrete foundations of the lavatories and the shower blocks, and coils of discarded barbed wire that were left in the field to rust after the camps were dismantled in 1946.
In 1993, James Sullivan organised a reunion of former Japanese internees at Tatura internment camp in Victoria. Forty-six people came from Australia, Japan, Taiwan and other countries to attend the reunion, and were greeted with hugs and tears from their former fellow internees. Having spent up to six years in internment in Australia during the formative childhood and teenage years, the camp irrevocably shaped their lives. Seeing their old friends and acquaintances brought back memories both happy and sad.
They erected a plaque to honour the reunion and the memory of their time in internment—it is possibly one of the only plaques dedicated to the experience of civilian internees in Australia today.