Monday, 15 October 2012

Wurst or Windsor Sausage? Erasing the Hun

When our KUHN and CRAMER ancestors came to Queensland, they were part of a wave of germanic immigration actively encouraged by the colonial authorities. Although it was made plain that they were not "British", the continental Europeans were well received. After all, the Queen had taken a German husband.

Rich detail can be seen in the on-line presentation Immigration Stories: The Germans by the Queensland State Archives.

Relationships between the communities changed at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 and deteriorated further as the Great War progressed. Individuals with obviously germanic names or strong accents fell under (usually groundless) suspicion of aiding the enemy and 2,940 German and Austrian men were interned in ten different camps under the provisions of The War Precautions Act 1914.

It is a widely-held belief that "all the German place names" or at least very many of them were altered to more appropriate British titles. Certainly there were examples known to our family that make this claim plausible.

The township of Engelsburg where our COLEY ancestors would have shopped for supplies and obtained their news between trips to the major centre of Ipswich was renamed Kalbar in 1916. Gramzow, originally named for the ancestral village in Uckermark, became Carbrook at approximately the same time.

So how many other places must have had their names altered in this wave of patriotic fervour? The Australian Bureau of Statistics provides a full list extracted from Year Book Australia 1926 and the detail is surprising.

In Queensland there are only twelve locations to be added to the two with which our family has an association.

Original name From 1916Postcode (2012)
BergenMurra Murra4353
GehrkevaleMount Mort4340

The changes occurred between July and October 1916 and comparison with modern maps indicates that a number of the old names have come back into local use.

Perhaps the earliest change in Australia took place in May 1915 on the Richmond River, northern New South Wales where the township of German Creek became Empire Vale. There were only two more changes (at Germanton and German's Hill) in the whole of NSW for the rest of the war.

There were more than 60 placename changes listed for South Australia, the other major centre of germanic settlement in Australia. Does this discrepancy reflect the fact that the immigrants were able to name fewer places in Queensland (and so there were not so many to change) or a greater acceptance among northerners that the name of the mountain nearby was not a slur on your honour as a citizen of the Empire?

Evidence suggests that any public demand for these changes was selective. Teutoberg (north of Brisbane) was altered but the township south of Brisbane from which that community had moved remained Bethania. Perhaps the latter sounded "less German" or more biblical to English ears.

While there was certainly anti-german sentiment during the war years, the extent of the changes to placenames was not so great as is commonly believed. On the other hand, no patriotic Australian could possibly buy and eat wurst.

So in Queensland, sausage followed the lead of the British Royal Family and changed its name to Windsor. Its cousins in other states adopted other names including devon, belgium, polony and fritz (those rebel South Australians!). What is it they say about the first casualty of war?

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