German Place Names
The outbreak of World War I had many disastrous effects in Australia which affected its economic, political, social and cultural framework. Those who were affected most during that war were the 33,000 people of German origin residing in Australia. German-Australians were discriminated against by the Commonwealth and State governments and the general public. No matter how long they had been in Australia or the contribution they had made.
Many of them lost their jobs, business and friends. If that was not bad enough, thousands lost their freedom as well after they were interned in concentration camps. Some 4500 of them were Australian residents. They were treated as prisoners of war, living in cells and subjected to mundane but often degrading treatment.
Lutheran schools were closed, as were German newspapers, and German language lessons were removed from the school curriculum. Names of long established towns and other geographical features with a German name were changed to a more ‘appropriate’ English or native name. Anything related to Germany was affected.
Food, wine and animals with German-sounding names were also changed. The much liked Berliner bun was renamed Kitchener bun after the 1916 British Minister of war, who incidentally sealed the fate of Australian Breaker Morant and Peter Hancock during the Boer War in 1902.
When on 8 August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany, the Australian public were united in their passion for the British Empire and against all German-Australians living in Australia, even though many of them had been naturalised prior to the outbreak of war, while many others were second or third-generation Australians.
Australians of British descent erroneously assumed that Australians with German origins would automatically give their full support to Germany. Many even thought that German-Australians were spies. Almost overnight they became the target of a relentless hate campaign.
Carl Strehlow, who had arrived in Adelaide in 1895 and shortly afterwards moved to the Hermannsburg Mission near Alice Springs was particularly affected by the war hysteria. He, and his wife Frieda, were soon regarded as enemies. Although both were naturalised they still had to register as aliens and often received hate mail and called German scum or Kaiser Bill's spy. His son Theodor, born at Hermannsburg in 1908, came in for similar treatment during the early stages of the Second World War.
Almost all persons of German origins were subjected to contiuous harassment in the form of name-calling and often physical abuse. They were spat on, refused service, prohibited from driving motor cars and owning homing pigeons. Many German-Australians changed their names to one that looked and sounded more British. But many Australians refused to work beside them and went on strike until they were sacked. Businesses owned by Germans went broke as they simply did not receive any patronage at all. Australians refused to buy any German made goods.
The Lutheran Church, started with the arrival of the first German settlers in 1839, was also affected during this time. Many of the original Lutheran Germans came to South Australia, with the help of George Fife Angas, to escape religious persecution and to find political freedom and achieve a better life. During World War I, their churches were constantly attacked, verbally and sometimes even physically.
One of the first acts passed by the Labor government was the War Precautions Act in October 1914, barely two months after the start of the war. This Act stated that all 'enemy aliens' and foreign residents from enemy nations had to register and report weekly to the local police or military authorities. A particular interesting example of this was the harassment of Dr Siegwart Bruehl from Hawker.
Aliens were required to pledge their allegiance to Australia and the Empire as well as inform the authorities of any change of address. In addition, Australians had to cease trading with the enemy which meant that not only were all German-made imports impounded, but the nation had to cease exporting to Germany, resulting once again in the loss of many jobs.
The Act also authorised the Commonwealth Government to do whatever it felt necessary in order to secure the safety of the nation, which included the internment of nearly 7000 Germans. Later it introduced even more stringent regulations which involved preventing enemy aliens from voting, owning cameras or telephones, using their German language and stopping them from buying and selling property, including their own.
Surprisingly, there were a sizable number of German-Australians who believed so strongly in the war against Germany and its allies that they enlisted and fought valiantly at Gallipoli and the Western front for Australia. Many made the ultimate sacrifice and their names are prominent on the many World War I memorials. The war memorial in the main street of Hahndorf lists the names of 50 Hahndorf men who served with the A.I.F.
As a matter of fact, Germans were generally more patriotic to Australia and referred to themselves as Australians whereas those who had descended from England still referred to themselves as English. During World War I anti-German feeling ran especially high in South Australia. Despite the German and Lutheran communities pledging support for the British Crown and their contributing to the Wounded Soldiers’ and other patriotic funds, they were still victimised.
South Australians of German descent regularly came in for some very harsh treatment. Many were interned, at first on Torrens Island and later in New South Wales, regardless of the fact that some internees had sons serving with the Australian Army and many of these became casualties of the war. Other ‘Germans’ lost their jobs, leaving their families in financial difficulties. Among them was Hermann Robert Homburg, Attorney-General, born 1874 in Norwood. His father had arrived 20 years earlier. Like many others he too was forced to resign.
During the debate in the House of Assembly in July and August 1916, Mr Ponder moved ‘that in the opinion of this House the time has now arrived when the names of all towns and districts in South Australia, which indicate a foreign enemy origin, should be designated by names either of British origin or South Australian native origin.
When first proposed by him in 1914 to then Attorney-General, Mr Homburg, he was told that such action would give offence to a large number of excellent citizens whose loyalty stood unquestioned. It made no difference. Mr James, MHA, would like to see all Germans disfranchised and their land given to returned soldiers as well as close all their schools. The motion was carried unanimously. One reader of The Mail, wrote that these ‘Guttural Monstrosities’ just had to go.
With the passing of the War Precautions (Enemy Shareholders) Regulation in 1916 Germans and Australian-Germans, including those who were Brirish subjects, had to transfer their shares to the Public Trustee. Several of them owned shares in BHP, the National Bank and the Mararoa Gold Mining Company of Kalgoorlie. Johannes Paul Otto Ditter had to transfer 200 Mararoa shares while Walter Hugo Schmidt who was interned in the German Concentration Camp at Liverpool, held 500 shares in the same company.
By 1917 the anti-German agitation resulted in the establishment of a Nomenclature Committee, of which Rodney Cockburn was a member, to make recommendations for changes of names of ‘foreign enemy origin.’ The Nomenclature Act was passed in late 1917 and the final list of 69 South Australian place names, the vast majority of which were private towns, gazetted in January 1918. Other States too changed German names. Queensland changed 14 of them, New South Wales and Victoria three each, and Western Australia and Tasmania one each.
Some names were translations into English, Steinfeld was changed to Stonefield, Bethanien became Bethany. Friedenthal became Black Hill while others were given an aboriginal name. Friedrichswalde became Tarnma while Mount Ferdinand was changed to Mount Warrabillinna. The town of Blumberg was renamed Birdwood after Sir William Birdwood who was commanding the ANZACs at Gallipoli. Other names commemorated the battles in France, such as Verdun, Polygon Ridge and Jutland, or the names of Australian military leaders, among them Allenby, Haigh and Jellicoe. The town of Hahndorf was struck by intense anti-German feelings during World War I, even though most of the residents could trace their origins back to 1839. Once again it made not the slightest difference.
Another interesting fact is that it was not named after a German but after Danish Captain Hahn. Still, who cared? Hahndorf was changed to Ambleside. And it was not the only one where the Committee had it wrong. Cape Bauer, named by Matthew Flinders in 1802 after his Austrian painter of natural history on the Investigator was changed to Cape Wondoma.
The Committee also overlooked several other German names. The capital city, Adelaide, had been named for the German-born wife of King William IV. Sedan was noted at the time as the name of a German victory in the 1870 War. However a newspaper correspondent explained that it commemorated the French defeat rather than the German victory! The much used Kindergarten also escaped their attention.
Peter Monteath wrote in the introduction of the recently published book Germans,Travellers, Settlers and their Descendants in South Australia, which he edited, ‘South Australia can boast German connections which reached to the very pinnacle of politics and society on the other side of the world. Britain’s reigning monarch at the time of the colony’s foundation, King William IV, had a consort who went by the name of Queen Adelaide. By birth she was German royalty.
The ascent of Queen Victoria to the British throne did nothing to weaken these lofty links with German Europe. For more than two decades through the middle of the nineteenth century, and during a crucial phase in the development of South Australia, the monarch was married to another German consort, Prince Albert.
The Prince had been born in the same year as Victoria, and, as coincidence would have it, with the help of the same midwife. Although the Queen’s choice of consort provoked initial misgivings in some quarters, Albert came to be a valued and admired member of the British royal family. Victoria’s grief at his premature death in 1861 was shared widely through the realm. When her son Alfred visited South Australia in 1869, both rural and urban Germans vied with one another to outdo the British in demonstrating their loyalty to the British prince.
Powerful German links were formed among more modest folk as well. Religious refugees of German peasant stock played an invaluable role in populating the infant colony of South Australia with a rural workforce. Through their trademark toil on the land they helped provide the colony with the food it so desperately needed.
In time they more than repaid the gift of religious freedom with their industry and tractability during the colony’s tenuous formative years, and far beyond. In many regards they were the model human building blocks for the new colony. These South Australian connections with Germany, high and low, are deeply inscribed in South Australians’ historical consciousness; indeed they remain visible to this day in a multitude of forms, from the streetscapes of Hahndorf and the Barossa townships, the architecture of Adelaide, the foods and wines we consume, to the names of streets, towns and people. In Adelaide and beyond, a German heritage is omnipresent.’
By the late 1920s there was a move for the restoration of the original German place names. Unfortunately this caused some objections as it would be very costly to alter all the title deeds, maps and other documents. In November 1929 Victor C. Gare of Goodwood wrote to the editor of the Advertiser, 'The Rev. John Blacket's letter suggesting that the German names of certain South Australian towns should be restored, prompts the question why were they ever altered?
There is a large minded patriotism which is able to see beyond the boundaries of its own country. Surely that was not the kind that prompted the persons responsible for these alterations. I question the sincerity of a patriotism that exhibits such shallow-mindedness. The bitter scorn and resentment, if not grief, which that petty action must have aroused among our loyal and worthy German colonists, can only be effectively healed by the restoration of the names that have honourable, pleasant, and historic associations to many Britishers as well as Germans.
Some names were eventually restored. At the start of World War II in 1939 some of the same arguments surfaced again to remove them. One reader wrote to the local newspaper that ‘We are entitled to have our English names restored in place of German. It is time too that the German language was unheard in schools and churches. Let us be truly British in everything.
Published in the South Australian Gazette in 1918.
* original name restored in 1935
German Name NEW NAME
Bartsch’s Creek YEDLAKOO CREEK