From Bismarck To Germantown Hill - Tonnes Of Teutonic Names Changed During WWI

What do you when you find your nation embroiled in an utterly pointless European conflict whose causes were, (and are) completely obscure and you realise your town’s name sounds vaguely, well, foreign and sort of enemy-like.

You change that darn name, of course! As residents of bush towns around Australia did during World War I.

Hundreds of Australian towns had their names changed amid the nationalistic fever the war generated.

South Australia was of course the chief offender with its rich vein of Prussian stock, but Teutonic-sounding towns in Queensland, particularly in the Darling Downs, were renamed, as well as the German villages of the Riverina in NSW.

The new names were Anglicised, given Aboriginal names (like Kobandilla and Karawirra), or were named after notable soldiers (Kitchener and Holbrook).

Some were named after battlefields like the South Australian towns of Verdun (formerly the subversive sounding Grunthal), or Vimy Ridge - changed from the possibly seditious Germantown Hill, presumably lest it foment insurrection on the home front, or become the nerve centre of a Junker fifth column.

Main Street Hahndorf, South Australia.
Photo Credit: Adam Bruzzone / South Australian Tourism Commission

Even Tasmania did not escape – the residents of the tiny hamlet of Bismarck changed its name to Collins Vale for some reason.

Perhaps the most famous example is Hahndorf in South Australia’s wine country.

During the war, the town’s name was changed to Ambleside after the nearby Ambleside railway station.

Hahndorf was sheepishly reinstated as the town's name - with the enactment of the South Australia Nomenclature Act of 1935 on 12 December 1935, though there are still references to the name Ambleside in and around the town today. One of the most notable is local award-winning gin makers Ambleside Distillers.

Similarly Lobethal, and the Adelaide suburb of Klemzig reverted to their pre-war names.

There was of course a human dimension to this churlish behaviour.

During World War I nearly 7000 so-called ‘enemy aliens’ were interned in camps in NSW – most of whom were legal residents.

Most were summarily, and involuntarily, shipped home after the war in the largest repatriation in the nation’s history.

The treatment of our Germans eventually led the then governor-general to make a little-known apology in 1999 – over 80 years after the event.

As far as town names go though, for brutish, bull-headed stubbornness, the all-time prize must be given to the residents of Swastika, Ontario, Canada.

The good burghers of Swastika, a name which is still slightly problematic today as well as during both of the 20th century’s big wars, stubbornly refuse to rebadge their town to this day, and get crookedly cross if anyone suggests they do.

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