Threepenny internment camp tokens
An olive branch and a sprig of eucalyptus.
These coins – small, thin and with a central hole – don’t look like any kind of Australian money we’re familiar with. They were never legal tender, but they were issued as currency in Australia’s wartime internment camps in 1943.
During the Second World War, the government forced so-called ‘enemy aliens’ – mostly Australians of Japanese, German and Italian descent – into internment camps, fearing they posed a security threat. The number of interned people, including prisoners of war, peaked at 12000, confined in 18 camps across the country.
Embellished with a wreath of eucalyptus and olive branches, a symbol of peace
Internees earned income for their labour and were permitted to spend it on tobacco, sweets and toiletries. Initially, they received paper coupons to spend, but these were replaced with metal tokens in 1941. Some 224,000 threepenny tokens were produced that could only be used at internment camps.
After the war most tokens were exchanged for legal tender or melted down.
Japanese prisoners of war at Cowra, New South Wales, 1944. Australian War Memorial 067197
The Hay Internment Camp in New South Wales, about 1941. State Library of New South Wales
Male internees at the Loveday internment camp in South Australia, 1941.
Australian War Memorial P11187.002