ALWAYS AFTERNOON: Trial Bay, German Internment and the German-Australian Community – A Question of Belonging, Loyalty and Country

by Mark Schuster (Brisbane, QLD)




‘Day in day out, nothing but this terrible ancestral castle, the sea and nothing but the sea, and the overwhelming unfulfilled yearning for freedom and our home country.’  (Martin Trojan, 1922)

How did a large number of German internees and a small local German-Australian group of families fare in a basically Anglo-centric rural coastal community during the years of the Great War (1914-1918)? This was an issue that has often crossed my mind during the last few decades. In this short personal essay I hope to provide some leads that may assist in ‘sorting out’ this complex question.

My own family circumstances and a well-researched historical novel are the basis of this work and on a recent visit to Arakoon, near the historic Trial Bay Gaol, I was able to start to put the jigsaw pieces into this elusive puzzle.

Back in the days when I was married, many pleasant beach-side holidays were spent at South West Rocks, the small seaside resort at the mouth of the Macleay River, in northern New South Wales. We always stayed at the family residence where my mother-in-law, Gwen Zann, had grown up. Gwen’s parents were both well-respected, and community-minded citizens of ‘The Rocks’. Her Dad, Frank Range, operated Spencers Creek Quarry, and built many of the roads throughout the Macleay district, including the steep roads up the notorious Comboyne Plateau. In addition he was president of the local Surf Lifesaving Club for more than 20 years. He piloted the river drogher, ‘The Urunga’, for many years. His wife, Adelaide, (nee O’Halloran) was a local girl from Frederickton, who was very committed to helping the community. Both Frank and Adelaide were commanding figures in The Rocks community and during frequent large flooding events along the Macleay were instrumental in many rescue efforts.

The Range family resided at The Rocks from the early 20s until when Adelaide Range passed away in 1988. Their house in Paragon Avenue was the place to ‘drop in for a yarn and a cuppa’. Frank Range was of German descent, both his grandparents having migrated from the Kassel area of the then German Empire in the 1850s – 1860s. On his paternal side, his Dad was Harry (Herman) Range. The family had anglicised their name from Runge. His maternal side were the Koenig lineage – who also anglicised their name to King. (However, Herman Joseph Koenig still used the Koenig surname when buried at West Kempsey in 1881). Gwen told me a family story about the Koenig’s when they first pioneered their ‘selection’ on the Macleay. One day, soon after their slab hut was built, the family were sitting down for a roast lunch when who should waddle in but a very large goanna. He quickly darted to the bench and grabbed the remnants of the roast – but not before Grossvater Koenig threw a fork which stuck in the reptile’s back. The goanna headed for the safety of the bush, with the roast and the much valued fork. The family searched for that goanna, and the fork, for many years without success. If that fork is found in the future it is unlikely that the finder will not know its humorous history and how it came to be lost in the bush!

When on these family holidays we would often visit the then derelict large stone gaol which sat on the imposing headland overlooking Trial Bay. Research over the next few years then revealed its fascinating history. Construction commenced in 1876 as a Public Works Gaol but it was not completed until 1886 due to difficulties in working the hard granite stone and contractual problems. The early prisoners were paid a small wage to construct a breakwater to make Trial Bay a safe harbourage for vessels. Although an imposing ‘castle’ style structure its main claim to fame came in the years 1915-1918 when it housed 580 German internees – most of them German ‘Nationals’ from the many corners of the Pacific and from various locations in Australia. Many of these men were academics, businessmen or from very distinguished backgrounds. As just one example, the distinguished medical surgeon Dr Max Herz was an internee at Trial Bay and many locals were treated with his kindness and medical talents. Dr Herz was a world acclaimed orthopaedic surgeon who after WW1 resided and practiced in Sydney. Trial Bay had theatrical groups and musical ensembles – string bands and a brass band.



German internees marching from Jerseyville Wharf to Trial Bay Gaol on arrival in 1915.

There can be no doubt that the huge German presence at Trial Bay during the War years 1915-1918 must have caused animosity in the local communities along the Macleay. It must be remembered that many young soldiers enlisted from these small rural communities and that the presence of the German internees must have been a cause for hostility.

Local author Gwen Kelly wrote a historically-based novel entitled Álways Afternoon’ which details the lives of a number of the internees at Trial Bay, local families and also two German-Australian families. Although the novel is based around a romance between an internee (young Franz Muller) and a local Arakoon girl (Freda Kennon). Also involved is a local German-Australian farming family – the Schreibers. Old Kurt Schreiber was born in Germany and came to the Macleay as a boy. His two sons, Erich and Tom, left the family farm to fight with the AIF in Europe. The ‘Monument- atop the hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Trial Bay. The story of the German monument at Trial Bay symbolises these mounting tensions and the simmering attitudes of the local Anglo-centric community.

In 1917 the internees were given permission to erect a monument in memory of their compatriots who had died during internment. They cut blocks of granite from the prison quarry and hired Jack Croad of Clybucca, with his bullock team, to take the granite up the steep slope of the hill behind the prison.



On the crest of the hill, overlooking the emerald Pacific Ocean, they built a 20 foot high granite obelisk. Four graves, inscribed with the names of the five internees who died during the internment period, formed a cross at the base of the monument. The impressive monument, and the German graves, formed a very visible landmark and caused bitterness in the Macleay district. In early July 1919, after an earlier attempt, the monument was blown ásunder’- possibly by a group of returned servicemen. The column was reduced to a pile of stones, but the graves at the base were undamaged. The locals welcomed its demolition and a large number of sightseers visited the spot.

Thomas Adamson, the last governor of Trial Bay, wrote: ‘Tonight I read with gratification of the destruction of the German monument at Trial Bay, built upon a spur of the Smoky Cape range…. I have a son buried upon the spur, and two sons absent at war, one, an ANZAC, born at Trial Bay, away five years.’

In 1959, the German Consulate, with assistance from the Macleay Shire Council and Kempsey Rotary Club, paid for the restoration of the monument. Today the monument again stands in its lonely scenic spot, high on the hill, overlooking the ocean and surrounded by wildflowers. The inscription of the stone reads: ‘To the memory of our dead. Built by interned comrades at Trial Bay Prison during World War 1914-1919’.

But the question that is still remains, and maybe the hardest to answer, is how were the ‘local’ Germans (i.e. the German-Australian community) viewed in this volatile situation, and more specifically were there any negative implications for those locals such as Frank Range and his family. In her historical novel Álways Afternoon’, Gwen Kelly uses the old German-Australian farmer, Kurt Schreiber, to illustrate attitudes of the authorities and community. Kurt, the family patriarch, was born in Munich, but farmed along the Macleay for most of his life. Even though his sons, Tom and Erich, were fighting for the AIF, his apparent loyalty and outspoken comments regarding Germany led to his internment at Trial Bay. It is fact that many German-Australians, who were suspected of loyalty to Germany, were interned in WW1 at a number of locations. I’m not sure how many German-Australians, if any, as contrasted to German Nationals (from the Pacific and in Australia), were housed at Trial Bay. This may be a fascinating topic for further research. However Gwen Kelly provides us with an insight into the ‘German-Australian’ context in the Macleay district. Early in the novel (p 15) she states: “Erich’s people, of course, were German, but it didn’t count. They had migrated to Australia years ago to escape the Prussians and both boys were dinkum Aussies, born in Kempsey. Not like the Huns they were bringing to Trial Bay.” This paragraph does illustrate that the ‘locals’ generally accepted those of German descendant as loyal Australians, whereas German ‘Nationals’ were viewed very differently. However, German-Australian farmers who were born in the Fatherland may have been viewed in quite a different light – particularly those who were vocal of their German heritage – as illustrated by the father, Kurt Schreiber, who was interned. Many of the German-Australians were proud of their heritage, as returned veteran and German-Australian Tom stated as illustrated in Álways Afternoon’, where he is asked to participate in blowing up the monument (p 258): Slowly, Tom put down his beer. “Count me out”, he said, “I’m going bush tomorrow to forget there ever was a bloody war…. Anyway, my name’s Schreiber, remember. Good old German name. As it happens my old man’s name is on a slab up there”. Although Frank Range, of German descent, didn’t reside at The Rocks during WW1, how was he looked upon just after the Great War and also during the latter times of anti-German sentiment in WW2? It must be remembered that resentments of the Trial Bay internees would have been long standing – and may have even lingered until the 1940s. The answer to this question is easily answered.

Although Frank’s ancestors had migrated from Germany in the late 1800s, he, and his wife, were always considered as leaders in their small community. During World War 2 he worked extensively for the Public Fence Construction Authority – constructing and upgrading the transport corridors required for defence of our Nation. Also in holding a number of prominent community positions, particularly being instrumental in the formation of the local Surf Lifesaving Club, held him in excellent public opinion. This meant he was locally regarded not as a German-Australian, but ‘top fella’ Frank Range – a true local community leader. His loyalty was to his community. Other German-Australian families, with mixed loyalties, may have suffered from community angst and resentment. However this was never the case for the community-minded Range family.

It seems more than just chance that I should have the opportunity to write about Trial Bay, the German internments and the German-Australian rural community along the beautiful Macleay River. As I write from our secluded beach house in the lovely Arakoon bushland, within walking distance of the old gaol, it is always afternoon’. The other day I walked down Paragon Avenue. Like Frank and Adelaide Range, the old colonial house has long gone and the prime land at ‘The Rocks’ is now up for sale. Any remaining German-Australian farming families in this region are today very Australian – and traces of any German traits are just a faded memory. However the memory of all these issues is still in the minds of the receding older generation.

Arakoon, Trial Bay and South West Rocks – a unique and fascinating history for such a beautiful region on the north coast of New South Wales.


  1. James Hurst

    This is a fascinating article. I am a History teacher at Faith Lutheran College in the Lockyer Valley, Queensland. I am looking for material about the internment of Germans during World War 1, the more local to the College the better. Any suggestions or resources would be gratefully received. My Year 9 History class will be the better for it.

    • Jeffrey Harpeng

      G’day James (via Mark)
      Looking at the date of your comment James, this is a few years down the track, but may still be of interest.
      While researching a family history I came across the article below on Trove, the finest resource for exploring Australian History and perhaps the finest resource of its kind in the world. The article concerns Caijus Christian Martens, one of my great grandfathers,(father’s, father’s father) uttering disloyal sentiments, which did not lead to his internment. Also my mother’s father, who lived at Walloon, was not interned, perhaps because he was a miner and mining was also considered an essential industry. I still have his registration as an alien card. He was required to report to the police once a week and was required to notify of changes of address. So despite Australia’s high level of internment there was the possibility of a rap across the knuckles and a warning to tuck your head in.
      Jeffrey Harpeng

      PS. Here then is the article.

      Disloyal Utterances.
      As reported briefly in the second edition of the Telegraph, yesterday, action was taken at the Marburg Police Court yesterday morning, in the direction of suppressing the utterance of disloyal sentiments. The case was heard by Mr. S. Berge, P.M. The defendant was Christian
      Martens, senior, an elderly German farmer, who was
      proceeded against under section 17 of the War Precautions Act of 1914, on a charge of having, at Marburg, on 23rd January, by word of mouth spread reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm amongst the civil population. It was alleged that he had said that the whole English race, was no good, that the national credit would soon be a thing of the past, that Germany would annex Australia, and pay only 2s. 6d. in the £ for paper money, and also that England and France would be crushed in a short time.
      Mr. F. W. Murphy (instructed by Messrs. Chambers, McNab, and McNab), represented the military authorities, and
      Captain Saunders also was present.
      When the charge was read to him, the defendant said that he did not understand it, and the services of a local justice of the peace immediately were secured, to interpret the charge to him. He then said that he was drunk at the time, and did not remember saying any thing of the kind alleged, but he was not in a position to deny the charge. He, therefore, entered a plea ot guilly.
      Mr. Murphy said that he had been prepared to bring
      evidence to show that the defendant was quite sober at the time. The man was in the main square of the town on the day in question, and was sitting in his cart talking to another man, who was standing in the street. He then made certain statements, and was told by the other man that he had no right to express such sentiments while enjoying the protection of British laws. Instead of desisting, he became worse, and a crowd quickly collected. ‘The two men then went into the bar of a neighbouring hotel, and they were followed by a number of persons. There he gave utterance to the statements mentioned in the complaint. It was well known to the authorities that in certain sections or the communitv a good deal of this kind of talk was going on, and the authorities we’re determined to put a stop to it.
      The P.M. asked the sergeant of police for particulars regarding the defendant’s character.
      The sergeant gave Martens an excellent character, remarking that he was a hard working, inoffensive type of man, who gave no trouble to anybody. The P.M. pointed out that the case was a most serious one. In times like the present, when so little could cause trouble, it was absolutely necessary that the laws must be observed. He was bound, however, to take into consideration, the excellent report of the police concerning the character of the man, and for that reason he would; deal lightly with him. He pointed out that the provisions of the Act allowed the imposition of either fine or imprisonment or both. He fined the defendant £15, in default imprisonment for two months, and also ordered him to enter into a recognisance of £50, and find a surety of £50 to observe tho provisions of the War Precautions Act, for six months, failing to find such, to be imprisoned for three months. The P.M. emphasised that he wanted this case to be a warning, not only to the
      defendant, hut to all persons, disposed to make statements such as he had made, that future cases would be dealt with more severely.

      The Telegraph, Saturday 27 March 1915, page 2

    • Kerrie Smith

      Hello, I am interested in the internees at Trial Bay. Would you have any information you can share please? Cheers Kerrie Smith

  2. I have just come across this entry and, whilst being entertaining to read, bears no resemblance to the stories I grew up with thanks to my Grandmother.

    My family is the Sanders, who actually owned the boarding house in Paragon Ave prior to the Range’s.

    My great grandfather was one of the Pilot Boatmen, whose cottages can still be seen. In his spare time, he used to deliver meat and goods to the gaol.

    According to my Gean, the people of SWR quite enjoyed having the Germans there – where else in rural NSW could you listen to a professional classical orchestra, watch the actors, painters and sculptors work, and obtain pioneering medical assistance?

    I grew up with artefacts that the internees made for Gran’s wedding, photos of many of them and a wealth of stories. In fact it took until WW2 for her to develop any disapproval towards Germans. The was quickly dispelled when my brother married a lovely German girl 🙂

    As a side bar – my grandfather was one of the guards, and it was because of the meat deliveries that he and Gran met.

  3. mike and jeanette Wohltmann

    i have read your great article and am seeking permission to include part of your story in my book and seek permission to use the photograph of the monument?
    A Future Unlived:

    History of Internment of German Enemy Aliens on Torrens Island and the marginalization of Germans in South Australia.
    Case study. 1914-1924.
    Cheers Mike

  4. Just surfing the net and found this article relating to my ancestors. My great, great grandfather was Herman Joseph Koenig. Very interesting, my great grandfather Joseph King was a drogher on the Macleay River at the Aldavilla wharf.

  5. jacqui hayes nee marshall

    hi i am a descendant of Azey Zoe Braun and James william Marshall just wondering if you have any more information on the family tree

    thanks jacqui hayes

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