As a boy interned at Tatura in Victoria, part-Japanese, part-Aboriginal Maurice and his older brothers made kites to pass the time. Standing in the barbed-wire enclosure of the family camp, they released their kites and watched them soar high above them. “We used to make our own kites out of bamboo and the paper that apples used to be wrapped in. We made glue out of flour and water. We used sewing cotton for the string. The older boys used to crush light globes into a powder and mix flour and water in, run the mixture along the string and then dry it out. Then we’d fly our kite, and the boys from the other compounds used to fly theirs—so we’d be standing in different compounds—and we’d go voom! To try to cut their string. That was kite fighting—it was all friendly, though.”
Kite fighting was one of many activities Maurice did during the five years he was interned, from the age of two to seven. He also recalls taking part in sumo matches against other kids and occasionally being treated to picnics outside camp grounds. “I remember eating hot dogs. We used to go in army trucks out to this lake. It was a nice area—a lot of wildlife. They had big containers to boil hot dogs in.”
“They said, ‘Pack your things up, you’re going.’ That was it…
[My father] lost everything.”
The Shiosakis were a family of 10 (mum, dad and eight kids), so there was never a shortage of playmates for Maurice, who remembers his time at camp fondly. “We were treated very well, as far as I can remember… All the time we were there, we were very happy.” Maurice spent so much time socialising with the other Japanese kids at camp that his Japanese became better than his English. “I could talk Japanese A-1 until I left the camp… [But] I’ve forgotten it all now.”
But the family experienced hardship in other ways. Maurice’s father, Shizuo, owned a laundry business in Broome, but when war broke out with Japan he was forced to abandon it. “They said, ‘Pack your things up, you’re going.’ That was it… [My father] lost everything.” When the family was finally released from internment in 1946, they had to start afresh. Maurice’s father found work in Perth doing the laundry at Clontarf Boys Town, then later in Mullewa (WA) working on the railway.
“The saddest part was when it was time to leave…
Everyone was crying. Everyone was clinging to the fence.”
On the day of their release from internment, the Shiosakis farewelled the life they’d known for five years and the people they’d shared it with. Many of their friends were being sent to Japan against their wishes as government policy dictated that Japanese who weren’t married to British subjects or who didn’t have Australian-born children couldn’t stay in Australia. “The saddest part of all our time at camp was when it was time to leave,” Maurice says. “There were rows and rows of army trucks the day we started to move out. Everyone was crying. Everyone was clinging to the fence.”
Read about more internee memories here.