One of the major influences in my life for which I’m very grateful has been the presence of many acquaintances and friends who’ve immigrated to Australia. As a child, my Catholic primary school saw an influx of Europeans in the years after World War II. This mix of Czechs, Yugoslavs, Poles, Maltese and others became part of my daily school life. After school I would visit some of my friends at home and stand by while they communicated in their original language with whichever parent or grandparent was at home. These young kids had to bridge the linguistic and cultural differences between their old lives and their new – not an easy task for youngsters. At one point we had so many Dutch immigrants in our parish that we had two or three Dutch priests. At high school one of my best friends was of Italian origin and again I was exposed to a different culture. So you can see why migration, its causes and effects have been important to me over the decades. And all this long before I had a real appreciation of my own immigrant families.
We are focusing too much on the problems and forgetting about the opportunities of immigration. Let us learn from our history. Immigration has been great for Australia in the past. Frank Lowy, Australian businessman.
Xenophobia and Ancestors
Xenophobia seems built into the Australian character. In the early days it was the Irish who were demonised and often alienated, treated as second class people. However, it was during the years of World War I that xenophobia reached new depths.
Let me share the story of my 2xgreat grandfather, George Mathias Kunkel.
If the family story is true that he left Bavaria to escape the wars of Europe it is ironic that he found himself on the “wrong” side in Australia in 1914 when war broke out between Germany and the British Empire. Patriotic Australians, irrespective of name, rushed to defend the “Mother Country”, Britain – or just to have a bit of an adventure, as so many of them have told us. Those with German names were not exempt from this military fever and at least six of George and Mary’s grandchildren enlisted to fight against the Germans. One, James Paterson, paid the supreme sacrifice in the fierce fighting in northern France in April 1917. On some attestation papers, comments can be seen about ancestry of those with German surnames.
New measures were introduced to cope with the “menace” within Australia from its foreign-born residents, especially German-born people. George became subject to the new legislation, despite the fact that he was now, fortunately, a naturalised British citizen.
All persons who are subjects of the German Empire resident in the Commonwealth are to forthwith report themselves to police nearest to place at which resident and supply certain particulars to police, also before changing place of residence to notify nearest police officer of such intention and on arrival at fresh place of residence to notify their arrival to police nearest same.
Germans who are naturalised need not be called upon by police to report once a week but only when changing addresses. Applies only to Germans exempt from military service.
It should not be taken for granted that because a German/Australian has become naturalised, he is therefore a loyal subject of the British Empire, on the contrary cases which have come under notice, indicate that the known sentiments of not a few are distinctly pro-German.
Proclaimed 10 Aug 1914. Commonwealth Gazette 6 Aug 1914.
Under this legislation, Australians of German birth were required to supply their place of residence and occupation or business and such other matters as police officers saw fit. Although naturalised Germans were initially required to report to police weekly this was later changed, however the requirement to notify change of address remained. Police had the right to place people under surveillance or arrest them if they acted suspiciously.
It seems bizarre that an eighty year old man who’d been resident in Queensland for sixty years might truly be regarded as a security risk.
Reported “evidence” of disloyalty could result in incarceration in detention camps. Fischer believes that farmers “who were self-employed and who enjoyed a comparatively greater degree of autonomy, had a better chance to survive the war without being challenged or bothered by the authorities, provided they kept a low profile” and didn’t become the “subject of denunciations by jealous neighbours or business rivals.”
Another factor contributing to the safety of the Catholic German-born residents in the Toowoomba and Murphy’s Creek areas may have been that they were not part of a tight-knit German community keeping exclusively to themselves, speaking German, and within their own Lutheran religion. Being Catholic, speaking English, and so being more assimilated into the Irish-born community may have meant that they were at less risk of suspicion. Anne Kunkel told me that there was little discrimination against them at the time in Murphy’s Creek. Perhaps the fact that they had lived in the area for many decades, and were well known, may have also given them some protection from the hysteria of the time.
Decades ago I searched the Commonwealth Archives Enemy Aliens (ie foreign nationals) files for any reference to the Kunkel name, but I could find no indication that George was listed. However, other Germans were not so fortunate, and it seemed the climate was ripe for misdirected envy of a neighbour’s good fortune. In one document a German resident was reported for having bought a new piano because there was no evidence that he should have had the money. The conclusion this citizen reached was that the German-named neighbour must have been supplying weapons! Letters to the editor both defended loyal sons of German born residents and exhorted them to do their duty to the land they had chosen to call home.
In a letter to the newspaper of the day, an unknown author “CS”, writing on 18 September, suggested that “the Germans have the best of it in the colonies”. He called on them to be brought before their particular police court and asked “all present naturalised and holding landed property whatsoever in the colonies to come to the front,” then “all who are willing to go to the front (if required) and fight on the side of the British to stand to the right; and all those who do not, stand to the left. Those not willing to go to the front should give a definite reason or should be interned and any of their property should be confiscated by the Crown”. Similarly the chair of a Dalby Patriotic Meeting in September 1915 expressed the view that Germans living in Australia should have their names removed from the electoral rolls, presumably with the loss of associated rights as citizens.
Newspaper articles were similarly hysterical as is so often the case in wartime. Germans were portrayed in a wide array of diabolical representations.
How painful it must have been for George and for his fellow New Australians to have their original homeland and families pilloried as vicious and violent savages. It is sad to think, after all the hardship George had experienced in carving a new home for himself and his family, so far away from the place of his birth, that his last years were tainted by this terrible angst over loyalties. Anne Kunkel remembers her grandfather being a cranky old man by this time, which is hardly surprising.
When I think of what George Kunkel went through during the last years of his life, I feel quite sad. It would have been quite impossible for him to imagine today’s Australia where foreign-born residents and their families continue to play such a huge part in the life and development of the country. Perhaps he would feel proud of his early contribution to the emergence of a unique nation whose people have come here from so many countries. Sadly, it may be because he died during war time that we have no obituary for him.
George and his wife Mary have given Australia many descendants to contribute to the country’s well-being. I am certainly very grateful to them.
If you would like to read a little about the Anzac enlistments among the descendants of the immigrants from Dorfprozelten, Bavaria to Australia you can read it here.
 Queensland State Archives: PRV8687- 1- 1. COL/155: 28/10/1914
 WR Johnston, The Long Blue Line, Boolarong Publications Brisbane 1992, pp. 193-194
 G Fischer, The Darkest Chapter: Internment and Deportation of Enemy Aliens in Queensland, 1914-1920 in The German Presence in Queensland,. M Jurgensen & A Corkhill (eds). The University of Queensland, Department of German, 1988, p. 24.
 The Toowoomba Chronicle, 23 September 1915, p. 2 c. 4.
 The Brisbane Courier, 10 September 1915, p. 9.