Voyage and Adventures of a Good Little German in Kangarooland
Research at the University of Adelaide has helped us understand the extraordinary significance of a sequence of autobiographical comic books, produced by a pseudonymous author in the Holsworthy Internment Camp around 1918.
The sequence of five small books titled Voyage and Adventures of a Good Little German in Kangarooland (Reise-Abenteur eines braven Deutschen im Lande der Kangaroo) documents life in an Australian internment camp. From 1914 these camps detained Australian residents who were viewed as potentially sympathetic to a wartime enemy, and came to house nearly 7000 ‘enemy aliens’ over the course of the First World War. These comics were created by a German internee who signed his work as C. Friedrich, a pseudonym. The series depicts life in Holsworthy internment camp, in Liverpool New South Wales, which soon became known as the ‘German Concentration Camp’ (GCC), and was one of the largest – and the only one still operating at the end of the War.
Most internees were ‘German,’ a broad category that made no distinction between recently rounded up German sailors and naturalized Australians of German heritage. Others in the camps had backgrounds across the ‘Austro-Hungarian’ region, including Serbia and Croatia.
Friedrich’s comic features an autobiographical cartoon avatar who begins as a sharply dressed passenger on the deck of an ocean liner, ready to begin a new life in Australia, but who is hauled away to Holsworthy shortly after his arrival, suspected of being a spy.
Historians have described the Holsworthy camp as ‘oppressively overcrowded’, with basic sanitary facilities and inadequate accommodation for the extremes of heat and cold. Internees lived in cramped cubicles, with little space and less privacy, the only comforts those that they made themselves.
Despite, or perhaps in response to these challenges, the internees fashioned a vibrant camp life. Cafes, restaurants and other small businesses emerged, and historians have observed that by the end of the war Holsworthy resembled a distinctively German town. Friedrich’s comics draw on a flourishing theatre scene at Holsworthy that produced not only German-language plays, but also hosted dozens of cabaret performances making light of camp life and parodying various camp figures.
Friedrich details the life and struggles in the internment camp as he is forced to construct his own rustic bed, haul provisions across camp and contend with the ever present bayonets of the camp guards. Each cartoon is accompanied by text that uses poetic, multi-lingual wordplay to evoke the divisions and solidarities between campmates and their guards.
|Reise-Abenteuer eines braven Deutschen im Lande der Kangaroo I, p.10|
Some of Friedrich’s cartoons depict the internees as a collective, united in their opposition to the Allies, whether directly or in the proxy form of the camp guards. Other cartoons paint a less cohesive and more complicated picture of internee identity. Friedrich uses dialect in several cartoons to cut across the notion of a pan-German internee identity, reinforcing the regional allegiances that prevailed in the camp.
Friedrich’s cartoons are a rare early example of autobiographical comics from before the form was solidified as a literary genre more than half a century later. The late twentieth and early twenty-first century has seen a genre of comics that function as memoirs, autobiography and reportage. Freidrich’s comics prefigure many of the themes that have become common in these sorts of comics: migration, transnational identity, and the mundanity and irony of daily life. Friedrich’s ironic and self-depreciating wit mark him as an important, if long-forgotten forerunner to graphic novelists of conflict and displacement, such as Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco, and Marjane Satrapi.
Little is known about the initial distribution of these self-published comics, Friedrich or his life beyond internment. Single volumes or parts of the series survive in the State Library of NSW and the National Library of Australia. The University of Adelaide Special Collections cares for the only known copy of the full series in an Australian archive or library. This set of five books was collected and preserved by Carl Goers, the wartime editor of a Barossa Valley newspaper, who was imprisoned alongside Friedrich due to his German origins. His great-niece Sally Goers Fox donated the rare collection on behalf of the Goers family.
This collection page shares findings from the following article:
Humphrey, A., & Walsh, S. (2021). The Border Separating Us: Autobiographical comics of an Australian World War I internment camp. International Journal of Comic Art, 23(1), 254-270.
External LinksMSS 0263 - Material relating to German internment in Australia during World War I, 1914-1919