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Memento : Issue 31
to life through his own writings that had lain in the archives for 60 years, and through the reports of others who had dealt with him during his time as a prisoner in internment camps during World War II. While Queenslanders had believed for 50 years that Kast was merely a deranged gunman who had killed two orthopaedic specialists in revenge because they would not provide him with documentation for workers’ compensation, the National Archives files disclosed a complex hypochondriacal personality set on an inexorable path to disaster and self-destruction. As I read the files, a three-dimensional picture of Kast emerged: his young life in Germany, the war years in confinement as an internee and serving in a labour unit, and his last adventurous decade in Queensland. When Kast jumped ship from the German freighter Halle in Brisbane two months before the outbreak of World War II, he claimed he was fleeing the tyranny of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. The files in the National Archives record his story as told to Australian military authorities. Kast claimed that as a member of the illegal Social Democratic Party, he was arrested and sent to Bavaria to face the Political High Court. He managed to jump from the train en route, and took refuge in Czechoslovakia. After returning to Germany to make contact with an illegal cell of the Party, he was again arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp as a political prisoner. After his release, he managed to escape Germany via a ship from Hamburg to Australia. Robert ‘Bob’ Wake, who had been a Commonwealth Investigation Service inspector before taking charge of wartime security in Queensland, was sceptical of Kast’s story. He was convinced Kast was a Nazi agent infiltrated into Australia in the guise of a maritime deserter, a ploy known to be used widely by the Hitler regime. With the coming of war, Kast was interned as an ‘enemy alien’ in Gaythorne in Queensland and later in Tatura camp in Victoria. He escaped four times from the [left] Kast was photographed by military authorities on the day he was interned. A camp officer described Kast: ‘He is short and sturdy in build, has a full face with a large mouth and thick lips. His eyes, which are of a vivid blue, are habitually wide open’. [right] Camp officers found this hand-drawn map of eastern Australia after one of Kast’s escape attempts from Tatura camp in Victoria. internment camps, only to be caught shortly after and re-interned each time. He also joined compatriots in digging an escape tunnel under a hut at Tatura. Camp officials discovered the tunnel before its completion, but not before the would-be escapees dug 10 metres towards the camp’s boundary wire. Kast appealed against his internment and argued his case in a letter to the Director- General for Security in Canberra. He claimed ‘100% loyalty’ to Australia, and said that he was looking forward to standing ‘shoulder to shoulder with the people who treated me from the very first day as one of their own’. An intelligence officer suggested that Kast was ‘an individual and something of a philosopher’. Some of his former workmates from a Queensland sugar mill signed a petition calling for Kast’s freedom. In 1944, Kast was released from internment to join the Civil Alien Corps, a wartime construction unit run under military discipline. He was assigned to the Allied Works Council in the Northern Territory, NAA:A367,C74840 MEMENTO WINTER 06 19