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Hans Overbeck

The Home Front: Australia during the First World War

Hans Overbeck, internee and entomologist

Hans Overbeck, 1915–18
Hans Overbeck, 1915–18. National Archives of Australia, D3957,4981.

Hans Overbeck was fascinated with the world. A German businessman, linguist and entomologist, he was working in Singapore when war broke out. Imprisoned as an enemy alien, he was transferred to Australia with other German internees in 1915 as the British attempted to rid their Asian colonies of German influence.

Overbeck spent four years in Australia’s two largest internment camps: Holsworthy near Sydney, and Trial Bay on the northern New South Wales coast. While interned, he translated traditional Malay texts, began learning some of the local Aboriginal languages and collected ant specimens, many of which were later identified as new species.

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World War I internment camps, National Archives of Australia website

A work party from Trial Bay internment camp cutting wood, 1917.
A work party from Trial Bay internment camp cutting wood, 1917. These work parties gave Overbeck an opportunity to collect ant specimens. He is towards the centre of the photo, standing on the fallen tree. National Library of Australia, vn4703393-s58-a2.