WWII was a well-documented and chaotic point in world history. Among the many stories to arise from that time, a perhaps lesser-known - but unique episode of European and Australian significance took place close to home, right here on Australian soil. In New South Wales – in the town of Hay, to be exact – the town’s Internment Camp Seven played host to civilian refugees. Over two installments, the following article contributed by Downies member of staff, Matthew Thompson, explores the numismatic mystery surrounding this significant page in our history books.
Part 1 - Ingenious Internal Currency
Many collectors are familiar with the tokens of “Camp Seven”.
Above: Complete set of Camp 7 Tokens: (left to right) 2/-, 1d, 1/- and 5/- (Obverse and Reverse).
However, prior to these Government-issued tokens, the Internees of Hay’s infamous Camp Seven were freely exchanging their own private and unique form of currency in the form of “Hay Internment Banknotes”.
A complete collection of Camp Seven Notes consists of three denominations: a blue Sixpence (A), a green Shilling (B), and finally, a red Two Shilling note. (C)
A. Sixpence Note
B. One Shilling Note
C. Two Shilling Note
Designed by George Telscher (an historic customer of Downies) to facilitate a more sophisticated method of trade within the confines of the Internment Camp, the banknotes of Hay are a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of internees with limited supplies and assistance.
These notes replaced the small chits, pictured below, of which fewer than twenty examples are currently held in private collections.
3d chit, signed by Richard Stahl (Bank Manager)
The Camp Seven Banknotes contain several features which have been the cause of much discussion.
Above: Several features of the notes have sparked discussion. (Figure 1.)
“HMT Dunera” (Figure 1, B)
“Liverpool to Hay” (B)
"We are here because” (A)
Camp 7 was filled primarily with members of the Jewish community, some of whom had managed to evade a grim fate in concentration camps. They were going about their daily lives before being shipped over to Australia, as it was suspected that they were potentially German Spies working for Hitler. As a member of a race being targeted by Hitler, being wrongfully accused of being a German Spy would have evoked a number of poignant responses, but this text seems to be a subtle and poetic nod to the nonsensical injustice that was taking place.
Intrigued? Matthew’s journey of discovery continues in part 2 of this series, out tomorrow – stay tuned!