Focused on parallel narratives of internment camps and colonial-settler gambling games, we will run our own gambling den over three consecutive Saturday Nights.
During WWII, internment coins were minted in Australia so internees could trade for goods and services during their confinement. The idea to seize control of this prisoner economy came from the “Hay Camp” bank notes designed by German (mostly Jewish) ‘enemy aliens’ in the 1940s. Printed by a local newspaper, these were promptly destroyed and removed from circulation by camp officials and replaced with a suite of government minted holey camp coins.
Gambling was another illicit economy that also became controlled by the state. Australia’s longstanding history of unlawful gambling culture was shared by all immigrant Australians dating back to the very first waves of colonial-settlers. Two-Up was invented by European immigrants in the 1790s, and in 1890, a Royal Commission was set up to associate the extent of Chinese gambling (including Fan-Tan and Mah-jong) with the corruption of NSW police. Gambling is now a multi-billion dollar industry, legislated by the states, and still used to vilify Chinese high-rollers as much as the Chinese gambling dens of the Australian gold-rush.
These minor histories point to the dual appropriation and vilification of the many entrepreneurial actions of minorities and immigrants. The adoption of currency, taxation and legislation from these social enterprises have erased and dissociated much of the economic contributions that other communities have made to the pride in an economy that Anglo-Australia claims as its’ own.
Printing our own internment currency and re-staging the gambling den, we are implicating ourselves into these social enterprises. The currency we exchange and gamble with is built on the ideas and ingenuity of those who have done it before. We invite players, spectators and dealers to share in our social ability to compete, take a risk, and ultimately lose.
Place your bets!
We acknowledge that these performances are inherently limited, and incapable of contextualising the economies and exchanges that were established prior to colonisation. We are also aware of how gambling continues to harm and cause pain across all classes, communities, and most profoundly within our various families. We concede that these activities have the capacity to be triggering and deleterious to some who will require referral to additional support, and who may reconsider engaging with this artwork.