A YOUNG man gazes reflectively from a painting in our Kempsey Museum that dates back over 100 years to the German Concentration Camp period of the Trial Bay prison.
The painting was recovered shortly after the closure of the camp in 1918.
The identity of the young man in the portrait, presumably the artist himself, remained unidentified until the portrait was loaned to the Historic Houses Trust for the 2011 exhibition, The Enemy At Home.
The former Public Works Prison at Trial Bay was revived in 1915 to house German nationals interned in Australia during World War I.
In 1918, the presence of the German raider Wolf off the coast of NSW raised security concerns about the isolated internment camp and the men were relocated to Holdsworthy Camp in Sydney.
The internees left many out-buildings and dugouts which they had built outside the grounds of the prison, so they could enjoy privacy and quiet away from the main body of men and pursue their own interests.
Before the authorities had started to take away the possessions and destroy the buildings, local children began to explore these refuges.
A local woman, Mrs Maud Swift, became interested in a painting that had been found in one of the dugouts by her two children. She had previously studied art at the school of Lister Lister in Sydney and took the painting, a self-portrait by a young man, back to her home and copied it, possibly with the intention of returning it one day.
After Maud's death in 1963, her daughters Adelaide Swift and Mrs Pam Casey, donated both the original and copy of the painting to the Macleay River Historical Society. They were later professionally restored by our society.
Thirty years later the painting still remained unidentified although it was thought to be the work of another internee, Kurt Wiese, who later became famous as a cartoonist in America.
During a study of internment for the Migration Heritage Centre, curator Nadine Helmi became interested in the photographic works of inmate Paul Dubotzki and eventually tracked Paul's descendants in Germany. One of the Dubotzki photographs she found there had an almost identical self-portrait of Paul hanging on the wall in the background.
By the time of the 2011 Historic Houses Trust exhibition, it had become generally accepted that the portrait was that of Paul Dubotzki.
Paul Dubotzki was born in Ingolstadt, Bavaria in 1891 and later apprenticed as a photographer in that State.
His talent as a photographer was recognised early in his career when in 1913 he was invited to accompany a scientific expedition to China as a photographer.
After the outbreak of war in August 1914, Paul had somehow made his way from Asia to South Australia where he was interned as an enemy alien. He was eventually transferred to internment camps at Holdsworthy and later Trial Bay.
Paul continued to pursue his photography interests in internment, and documented many scenes of camp life from 1915 to 1917.
He not only ran a photographic business, but also excelled in painting and acting.
The Dubotzki self-portrait is a relic of a little known era in history, when over 7000 Germans were interned in NSW. It represents the creativity of the internees as they sought to overcome the boredom and isolation of their imprisonment.
In 2014, the painting was featured in an episode filmed at Trial Bay in the second television series of Coast Australia, featuring Scottish archaeologist and historian Neil Oliver.
Adelaide Swift, one of the two daughters of Maud Swift who discovered the portrait, later became an accomplished artist herself and established the Adelaide Swift memorial Art Award held biennially in South West Rocks.