From the 1850s German settlers began arriving in the Australian colonies to escape the rising nationalist sentiment in Germany, they wanted to start a new life. For the majority of German settlers Port Adelaide was the point of arrival. From there they moved onto 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. The Germans formed close communities and transformed the dry marginal environment into good farming land. The German Australians maintained strong cultural ties with their German heritage up until World War I.
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.
One of the first actions by Australia in the war was the sinking of the German light Cruiser SMS Emden in the Cocos Islands by HMAS Sydney. The event created hysteria about possible German naval attack thus establishing immediately the cultural and national divisions within the community.
Quoted from a German migration history, website link below, "Throughout 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, German place names were changed to British ones." For example German Creek became Empire Bay.
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.
In 2006, while researching my family history for a family reunion, I discovered that my great great grandfather, George R Whiting, leased and subdivided a large tract of land in Waterloo in 1879, then known as Victoria Town. The precinct was bounded by Philip, Morehead, Wellington and Elizabeth streets and Whiting built several hundred workers’ cottages which were leased at low rents over a long term, perhaps what today we would call ‘affordable housing’. Whiting named several of the streets including Clarendon, Portland, Beaumont and Hanover streets, and later reusing some of these same names when he similarly bought and subdivided land on Gore Hill in the 1880s.
During a history talk in 2014 on WWI and Waterloo by City of Sydney historian, Dr Lisa Murray raised the subject of anti-German sentiment and the renaming of Hanover Street to Walker Street after WWI. At the time Dr Murray was writing a book on the history of Redfern, Alexandria and Waterloo. During her talk I learned that it was common practice for the owner of the subdivision to name the streets. I had always wondered why Hanover street was on the early map but had disappeared now when all the other streets were still the same.
During WWI the NSW government changed the name Germanton to Holbrook amid anti-German hysteria. The town was originally called Ten Mile Creek in 1836. A German migrant, John Pabst, became the publican of the Woolpack Hotel in 1840 and the area became known as ‘the Germans’. By 1858 the name had evolved into the official name of Germanton. In 1876 the name Germanton was officially gazetted, but on 24 August 1915 the town was renamed Holbrook in honour of Lt. Norman Douglas Holbrook, a decorated wartime submarine captain and winner of the Victoria Cross. Similar name changes occurred in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.
For German Australia in WWI it meant sustained scrutiny, suspicion and persecution that eventually erased nearly all traces of the Australian- German community from the cultural landscape in a hysteric ethnic purge. What remains are places and objects whose heritage is nearly forgotten. Many families are aware of a German presence in their history, but the stigma of World War I and II has erased almost all traces of it from many families’ and community memory.
It should be noted that apart from Aboriginal Australians German Australians were among Australia's first patriots.
For further information: http://www.migrationheritage.nsw.gov.au/exhibition/enemyathome/german-australian-community/index.html