The West

Wartime images of Rotto on show
Officers from the ships SS Greifswalk, Thuringen and Neumunster in the Boys Reformatory section of the Lodge. The photographer Karl Lehmann is standing on the left.

For 15 months at the start of World War I, Rottnest Island was used as an internment camp for about 1000 "enemy aliens", many of whom had lived in WA for much of their lives.

It is a little-known chapter in the island's extraordinary history that left many of the men - mostly former Croats and Germans - mentally scarred.

Now, their story has been brought to life in a photographic exhibition in the island's Salt Store.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is a collection of photographs taken by some of the detainees and recently discovered within the bowels of the National Library of Australia.

Rottnest Island heritage officer Patsy Vizents said the photographs showed many of the internees trying to make the most of the difficult conditions on the island.

"It was not an easy place to live," Ms Vizents said. "Most of them lived in tents, with poor sanitation and poor supplies of water and food.

"But the photographs show them trying to lead normal lives. They did things like forming bands and swimming.

"What is particularly interesting is that the internees took these photographs and, somehow, got them to the mainland to be developed."

Rottnest conservation officer Patsy Vizents is behind a new exhibition at the Salt Store which tells the story of the island's role as an internment camp during 1914 and 1915. Picture: Danella Bevis / The West Australian

Ms Vizents said many interns were Slavs - whose lands were under the control of the Austro-Hungarian empire and were, therefore, enemy aliens - and had lived in WA for many years and established families.

Many had also been miners in the Goldfields.

Others were considered prisoners of war after being taken off German merchant vessels working in WA when war was declared.

By September 1915, the authorities acknowledged that Rottnest was not suitable as an internment camp and the men were eventually transferred to a camp in Holsworthy in NSW.

The exhibition continues until August.

The West Australian

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