Anoma Pieris (University of Melbourne)

anoma - 250pxAnoma Pieris is an associate professor at the Faculty of Architecture Building and Planning, University of Melbourne.

Her publications include, Architecture and Nationalism in Sri Lanka: The trouser under the cloth (Routledge 2012) and Hidden Hands and Divided Landscapes: a penal history of Singapore’s plural society (University of Hawaii Press 2009).

Anoma is co-author with Janet McGaw of Assembling the Centre: Architecture for Indigenous Cultures. Australia and Beyond (Routledge 2015).

This paper forms a part of a four year research project entitled Temporal cities, provisional citizens: architectures of internment, which explores how expertise in architecture and related fields was mobilized in the production of WWII internment environments and evaluates their legacy for histories of detention.


Paper title: Carceral archipelago: confinement architectures of the Pacific War

World War II substantially altered Australia’s relationship with Asia: Australian soldiers were criminalised in Japanese Imperial Army (JIA) prison camps spread across the Pacific; the continent functioned as a prison for the British and US military’s prisoners of war (POWs); the nation interned resident aliens who were nationals of Axis enemies; and Australians turned petty imperialists over native labour in New Guinea. All of these processes were mediated by specific military technologies deployed for demarcating sovereign boundaries. These boundaries in turn were mobilised and contested in a broader imperial border politics.

How did internment on the Australian continent compare with other regional strategies? What carceral technologies were deployed? How were the borders of a settler colony reinscribed by these penal processes? What legacies did they leave?

This paper approaches wartime incarceration from a discipline focused on spatial planning, physical infrastructure and residential accommodation to uncover hitherto unexamined histories of Australia’s Pacific War. It looks at penal accommodation through three spatial typologies of prison, camp and home. Australia is contextualised in a global struggle for regional supremacy, fought by Britain’s Allies against Japan, where soldiers and civilians become unwitting victims of this politics. They are captured, segregated and incarcerated based on their national affiliations and the relations of those nations to Allied or Axis powers. Civilian prisons, military camps and industrial dormitories are repurposed as penal facilities and POW labour is deployed for wartime production.

This wartime physical geography is envisioned as a carceral archipelago, where camps emerge like islands around the Pacific Basin, each with its own distinct spatial pattern and punitive logic. It includes JIA camps in Singapore and Japan, camps for Japanese Americans and Canadians in North America, and camps in Australia’s southeastern and western states; the main foci of this study. The paper includes a detailed examination of one such camp configuration: the Tatura Group in Victoria, which forms its own archipelagic cluster around the Waranga Basin. It asks how we approach this global history and interpret its physical residue through contemporary heritage practices, today.