During the Asia-Pacific War, Australia interned several thousand ‘Japanese’ people: among them people who had been living in Australia for decades before the war (many of them Australian citizens) and Japanese who had been shipped to Australia from Dutch East Indies, New Caledonia and elsewhere.
The internees included not only people of Japanese ancestry but also Koreans and Taiwanese (who were Japanese colonial subjects at the time), and spouses and children of Japanese people, who often had complex ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
This paper takes the story of two wartime internees – Japanese-Australian Tanaka Kazu, a.k.a. Ruby Lum, and her Chinese-Australian husband Diamond Lum – as a starting point for exploring several features of the experiences of wartime internees.
One point highlighted by their story is the multiculturalism of the Japanese community in mid-twentieth century Australia. A second is the way in which ‘fear of the foreign’ surges up in times of crisis, often tearing apart individual lives. Despite tragic aspects of Ruby and Diamond’s story, though, this small corner of history also reveals the fascinating light that wartime surveillance documents can shed on social history, including forgotten aspects of the history of Australian multiculturalism.
Tessa Morris-Suzuki is Professor Emerita of Japanese History at the Australian National University. Her current research focuses on the history of the indigenous people of the Okhotsk Sea region, and her most recent publications include Japan’s Living Politics: Grassroots Action and the Crises of Democracy (2020), On the Frontiers of History: Rethinking East Asian Borders (2020) and The Korean War in Asia: A Hidden History (edited, 2018).