From the 1850s German settlers escaping the rising nationalist sentiment in Germany began arriving in the Australian colonies looking to start a new life. Port Adelaide was the point of arrival for the majority of German settlers. The Germans moved on to Western Australia, the Barossa Valley, the Riverina and South East Queensland where they found the regions suitable for wheat and dairy farming, the planting of vineyards and wine making. They formed close communities transforming the dry marginal environment into good farming land. The German Australians maintained strong cultural ties with their German heritage up until World War One.
By 1914 over 100,000 Germans lived in Australia and they were a well-established and liked community. With the rising tension between the British and German Empires this began to change and German Australian communities often found themselves the subject of suspicion and animosity. When war broke out in 1914 this changed to outright hostility. In 1914 Australia was besotted with war fever and people were keen for ways to get involved to ‘do their bit’.
The sinking of the German light Cruiser SMS Emden by the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney in the Cocos Islands was one of Australia’s first actions of the war and it excited the nation. The event created hysteria about possible German naval attack thus establishing immediately the cultural and national divisions within the community.
In 1915, Germans and Austrians who were old enough to join the army were put into German Concentration Camps across the continent. In New South Wales the three main internment camps were at Trial Bay Gaol, Berrima Gaol and Holsworthy Army Barracks. Women and children of German and Austrian descent, detained by the British in Asia, were interned at Molonglo. Others were carefully watched by the police and neighbours. Germans lost their jobs or had their business destroyed. Some voluntarily went into camps so their wives and children could survive on a government allowance.
Meanwhile throughout Australia there were many changes that affected Germans living in Australia.
Many German families changed their names to stop harassment from the government and a war mad community; German schools and churches were closed; German music was banned; German food was renamed.
Traders, businessmen, sailors and tea planters in South East Asia were arrested and transported to Australia to be interned in the camps
German place names were changed to British ones (in South Australia under the Nomenclature Act) — Blumberg became Birdwood, Germanton became Holbrook & German Creek became Empire Bay.
Anti German League Association formed in many suburbs early in World War I, which pledged members to not deal with or employ Germans, and advocated their internment along with that of all disloyal persons. Anti German feelings ran very high as can be seen by this cutting from the Sydney Morning Herald dated 24 November 1915 (Trove).