Paul Budde's History Archives

Camp Columbia – preparing for re-colonialisation

Communication and travel between the various offices had become difficult and time-consuming, and to prepare for the return to NEI, consolidation was urgently needed, so it was decided to move the various Dutch headquarters to “Camp Columbia “at Wacol, near Brisbane[1]

Camp Columbia at Wacol

After Pearl Harbour the US set up one of its Pacific HQ in Brisbane led by General MacArthur. Their main base – US Army Service of Supply (USASOS) – was in Victoria Park on the edge of the city. During the war more than 100,000 American soldiers passed through the Brisbane camps. By 1944 also most of the 20,000 Dutch and NEI staff ended up in Brisbane.

Camp Columbia in Wacol was built in October 1942 for the US Army. In April 1943 it became the headquarters of the US 6th Army. Those headquarters had moved to a new base at Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea in June 1944. Situated across Ipswich Road from the Wacol railway station, Camp Columbia comprised existing offices, barracks, accommodation huts and an internal road network.

The concentration of all of the offices of the NEI government-in-exile was a major exercise

  • Dutch military units moved to Brisbane to serve the NEI government-in-exile.
  •  A Women’s Army Corps lived at Wacol but trained at Yeronga Park.
  • The Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS) leased offices for its headquarters in the New Zealand Insurance Building at 334-338 Queen Street, the CBD.
  • NEI government Information Service (NIGIS) along with its Film and Photographic Unit relocated to the Camp.
  • The NEI Army Air Corps (Militaire Luchtvaart or ML-KNIL) leased fourth floor offices in the Courier Building at 240 Queen Street, the CBD as headquarters.
  • Mornington House Wooloowin – housed Dutch aircrew who flew air transport for Camp Columbia.
  • By June 1944 there were 16 Dutch Dakota aircraft concentrated at Archerfield aerodrome.
  • The NEI government-in-exile continued the rent of the Pacific Private Hotel at 421 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley for use as a hotel or canteen for Dutch military personnel.

Two small warehouses were allotted to the Dutch at the US supply base of Camp Meeandah at Pinkenba. All sites were chosen for their transport links to Camp Columbia. Archerfield – then Brisbane’s domestic airport – which was close to Wacol. Pinkenba, Fortitude Valley and the CBD were connected to Wacol by rail. The Australian Government provided a special train for the NEI government-in-exile to shift its staff and files from Melbourne.

Other facilities moved to Wacol too. The Bank voor Nederlandsch Indie NV (NEI Bank Ltd) that controlled the currency supply for the liberated parts of the NEI was one of the first[2].

The US Army chose Yeronga Park for a military camp in 1942. Camp Yeronga Park housed a variety of units including, military police, signallers, USASOS enlisted men and the US Women’s Army Corps (WAC). The Australian Army placed an oil depot in an undesirable and low-lying section of the park. Dutch members of the Women’s KNIL Corps joined the WACs at Camp Yeronga Park in September 1944. The Women’s KNIL Corps was established in Melbourne on 5 March 1944. It provided drivers, typists, and nurses or for military administrative positions to relieve Dutch or Indonesian males for combat duty. Initially the unit mustered 26 women led by a male officer. They trained at Yeronga but were accommodated at Camp Columbia, Wacol. The (WAC) hosted a Welcome Lunch for the Women’s KNIL Corps members in their WACs Mess on 26 September 1944.
Dutch and American service women at Yeronga Camp

The Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA) headquarters went to Wacol. NICA’s role was to follow behind the Allied invasion of the NEI and restore the Dutch colonial administration in the re-occupied areas. NICA units were militarised. They brought civil relief and rehabilitation plus defended the local population from Japanese raids.

Eventually, nearly 2,000 head office personnel from various Dutch and NEI organisations would be based at Camp Columbia.

The Dutch refurbishment of Camp Columbia began in June 1944. All building work needed the approval of the Australian Department of War Organisation and Industry Works’ priorities sub-committee, but the work itself was done by the Dutch. The NEI Labour Battalion – consisting of interned non-European NEI nationals as well as Indo’s who opposed Dutch rule in NEI and overseen by Dutch officers – brought in extra labour from the NEI camp in Casino.

They constructed new office buildings, club facilities and a laundry while showers and toilets were added to the accommodation huts. After taking advice from US authorities, the Australian Government took the unusual step of not charging the Dutch for the lease of the site under a Reciprocal Lend-Lease arrangement[3], allowing for the provision of aid between World War II allies with war materials, such as ammunition, tanks, airplanes, and trucks, and with food and other goods.

According to Lockwood[4], there was criticisms about the rather luxurious renovation, including beer gardens for the Dutch colonial officers amidst war time austerity. 

Some of the key activities that took place from these new premises:

  • Negotiating the acquisition of civil relief supplies with the Australian Government and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.
  • Seeking Commonwealth permission for the basing in Australia of a 30,000-strong liberation army being raised in the Netherlands[5].
  • Signing of the Principles Governing Arrangements for Civil Administration and Jurisdiction in Netherlands Territory in the Southwest Pacific Area agreement with General Douglas MacArthur on 10 December 1944.
  • Supplying members to the Dutch delegation to the UN Plenary Conference held in San Francisco (25 April to 26 June 1945), where the Charter of the United Nations was officially and unanimously adopted by the 50 states present, representing over 80% of the global population.
MacArthur Building Brisbane. MacArthur had his office on the 8th floor.

The Dutch planned to stay in Camp Columbia until the liberation of sizeable towns in the NEI that could provide relief to their acute staff shortage. As no such large population centre were liberated, the NEI government-in-exile remained at Wacol until War’s end in September 1945, however the site remained in use by the NEI Government until well into 1946[6].

After World War II, it was used by the Australian military and then served as a migrant reception and training center. The camp was then known as the “Wacol East Dependants Holding Camp for Displaced Persons”. A few of the old Wacol Army Barracks had been converted into the Wacol Military Museum.

Wacol Barracks – April 2020

After moving to Brisbane I made the above pictures of the current Wacol site. These are some of the reaction from my Brisbane friends on the Facebook App “Old Brisbane Album” (April 2020).

  • “I remember doing training at Wacol barracks in 1969/70 while in army cadets at Kedron high. I also played soccer at the time and remember going to nearby Richlands to play against teams of Dutch boys, big lads much taller than us. Dutch migrants must have been based in this area. For years there was also a Dutch food shop on Beaudesert Rd at Acacia Ridge. Great spot to get poffertjes supplies!”
  • “Here were a lot of Dutch families settled in Upper Brookfield after WWII. Treibel, Visser, Schoonen, Jansen, Heybrook, De Jong, Newland, to mention a few. Some of the names were anglicised to fit in better.”
  • “At one time the Army had occupied both sides of Ipswich road. One side was converted to a migrant hostel but the other remained with the army.”
  • “Our family were housed in the military village across the road 1971-78(?). The main base entry was off Ipswich Road outbound, at the top of the rise near Wau Rd. There was a second entry, more elaborate with brick fencing further west, and downhill from the main entry with its own slip lane and apron before you got to the gate. Photo 3 looks like the buildings near that gate.”
  • “The left building is the old gym, my unit from Adelaide was housed in there for a week waiting clearance to go to Shoalwater bay in 80 or 81”
  • “When the army finished with the barracks the huts were sold off. We lived in one at Upper Brookfield when we first moved there. That was late 50’s. After a couple of years another wing was added to it as the family was still growing.”
  • “The Dutch Club is next door to the Richlands Soccer club, their colours are Orange hence the Dutch connection.”

[1] Wacol Military Museum

[2] The Bank oversaw the NEI government-in-Exile’s new economic agencies. These were:

  • The Nederlandsche Indische Escompto Maatschappij NV (NEI Discount Co Ltd);
  • The Nederlandsche Indische Handelsbank NV (NEI Commercial Bank Ltd); and
  • The Nederlandsche Handel Maatschappij NV (Dutch Trading Company Ltd).

[3] In return for Lend Lease aid, Allied nations were to provide goods or services to the United States for their assistance in the war under a program known as reverse or reciprocal lend lease. Similar arrangements were made between other allies such as in this case between Australia and the Netherlands.

[4] Rupert Lockwood – The Indonesian Exiles in Australia, 1942-47

[5] Originally the Australian Government had committed to base as many of 30,000 Dutch soldiers for training in bases in Western Australia which were already surveyed for this. The Dutch however wanted to increase these numbers to 100,000. However, when the first ship with 1,500 new recruits arrived in Brisbane, they received a hostile reception and the troops couldn’t get ashore. In the end the troops had to go untrained to Java and the plans for Dutch training camps in Australia evaporated.

[6] After the war the site was occupied – from 1950 till 1973 – by the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles & Papua New Guinea Volunteer Rifles ex-members Association. In 2006 some of the buildings were earmarked for preservation and are now part of a military museum