Camp Columbia at Wacol – Dutch preparing for re-colonialisation

The Americans establish Camp Columbia

 

Columbia is the female national personification of the United States.

Americans enter the war

After the disastrous bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941,  the US rapidly entered the Allied WWII effort and took leadership in the Pacific. General MacArthur had fled the Philippines and set up his office in Melbourne. However, in order to be closer to the theatre of war, a few months later, he set up his Pacific HQ in Brisbane. His personal office was in town, now the MacArthur Building in Queens Street. 

US service men arrived in Brisbane from where they were send to the various battlefields in the Pacific. Their transfer camp – set up by US Army Service of Supply (USASOS) – was in Victoria Park on the edge of the central business district. During the war close to 100,000 American soldiers passed through the Brisbane camps.

Staging Camp in Wacol

A large area in and around Wacol – which was nearly all bush land at that time – was selected as its major staging camp for the US Army in the South West Pacific. Here weapons, ammunition and equipment in transit were assembled or processed. A range of military facilities were build in the area which were all managed from the headquarters at Camp Columbia.

Part of what became Camp Columbia –  close to Brisbane River – was already since 1940  used by the units from the nearby Redbank Camp of the Australian Army for Bren Gun manoeuvres. 

The closest civil  (farming) communities to Camp Columbia where Darra, Richlands and Inala. Many people were able to profit from the enormous influx of Americans into their area. They opened fresh produce stall and shops to cater for these new customers, there was a high demand for produce, and the Americans paid well.

Many women were involved in washing for the army (some offered more private services) or simply fell in love with the visiting soldiers. There are plenty of stories about local girls in Brisbane’s South West to have born children from the soldiers, including black ones.  Several also married their soldier lovers, traveled to the USA and often afters years came back with or without their husbands. In all 16,000 of the one million American war brides came from Australia and 7,000 of them from Queensland.

The name Wacol is believed to come from the railway workers, an abbreviation of the notorious weighbridge for coal. Notorious as it caused great delays for other traffic. The original name for the area was Woogaroo (named after the creek) and Wolston (named after the homestead of Dr Stephen Simpson from the 1850s). At the time the Americans arrived there were approx 20 families living in the area.

Woogaroo – Wolston – Wacol –  a long military history

The site under discussion has an amazingly long law enforcement history, right from its beginnings in 1842 till today. It started with Dr Stephen Simpson who in 1841 became thew Colonial Surgeon. He temporarily moved into a cottage of the Female Factory at Eagle Farm. In 1842 the Commissioner of Crown Lands and after the military commander of the convict settlement left he also became the Police Magistrate, his original residence was built with convict labour. He was the most senior government official in Brisbane until Wickham arrived  a year later. Simpson established close to the spot where John Oxley ended his exploration of the Brisbane River at a spot he called Termination Hill  the Boarder Police Station with 4 troopers and 6 convicts manning a small slab hut and a lock-up, close to his own residence . This was a strategic point as it was here where the convict road from Brisbane to Ipswich met with Brisbane River. He also did build here his residence what soon became known as Wolston House, which still stands here on the river.

Simpson soon extended his property to what today is the whole area of Wacol. After the British Troops were withdrawn from Australia, the Queensland Defence Force (QDF)  was created in 1876. In 1884 a reserve was gazetted for them at Wolston for a long rifle range. However, the reserve was never used for this purpose.

Another related developments was that in 1865 the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum was opened. The Superintend of the Asylum was also the Acting Police Magistrate for the district. It was situated on the land that previously was used for the Boarder Police Station. In the 1880s a range of military exercises were held at the Asylum. During that period the Superintendent was also the Captain of the QDF. Around 400 volunteers camped on the site during these exercises.

During WWI a considerable number of soldiers were admitted to the Asylum and in WWII it was also used by the US Army, however, they did establish their own hospital at Camp Columbia. Today the Asylum has grown into ‘The Park  Center for Mental Health’.

Back a few decades to 1917 when a Wolston Soldiers Settlement was surveyed, for returning WWI soldiers. It consisted of 12 small farms, however not all blocks were sold. A few of these buildings were later incorporated in Camp Columbia.

In 1942 large parts of what was the previous Simpson property was required by the US Army for Camp Columbia. In 1944 the site was taken over by the Netherlands East Indie Government-in-Exile. After the war large parts of the site were taken over by the Australian Army and after their departure Corrective Services established several prisons on the site,

Camp Columbia

The site selected for Camp Columbia was close to (the old) Ipswich Road and the Wacol railway station. It had three sections:

  • Camp 1, west of Sandy Creek, north of Grindle Rd towards Wolston Creek
  • Camp 2 , east of Sandy Creek, between the railway and Ipswich Road
  • Camp 3, between Sandy Creek and Bullock Head Creek, south of Ipswich Road.

The site was selected because it had large government reserves and was close to the Wacol railway station. The aging and poorly maintained railways system became the major transport corridor to the northern parts of Australia for the supply of bombs to the various airports that were set up by the American forces. Often thousands of bombs were stored in the railway yard waiting to be transported north.

Australian Builder and Civil Engineer.Manuel Hornibrook was selected by the Americans to build many of the buildings required by the military.  The camp would have to be able to house 5,000 staff. He brought together over 50 local Brisbane builders for the construction. He designed the camp in such a way that it could be used after the war for shearers’ quarters on station properties. In the end it were refugees and migrants who benefited from his foresight. The Hornibrook company also constructed the Story Bridge and the Hornibrook Highway (Bridge). The headquarter buildings were constructed using timber with asbestos cement (fibrolite) cladding.

The top of a hill along Wacol Station Road was earmarked for the Camp’s headquarters. This comprised administrative offices, barracks, accommodation huts and an internal road network.

The first unit stationed at Camp Columbia was the 738th Military Police Battalion, they arrived here omn the 9th of August 1942. In Brisbane this division received notoriety during the Battle of Brisbane (26 November 1942) between (overpaid, overdressed and oversexed) US soldiers and their Australian counterparts.

In April 1943 Camp Columbia also became the headquarters of the Sixth United States Army. This is the theater army of the United States Army and was formed in Australia at Camp Columbia. It was activated in January 1943, commanded by Lieutenant General Walter Krueger. Under the code name Alamo Force, it assumed control of the majority of US Army units involved in Operation Cartwheel, the campaign to isolate and neutralise the Japanese base at Rabaul in New Britain. Following the completion of Cartwheel, Sixth Army joined Australian Army and other US forces on the north coast of New Guinea. Similar in conception to the island hopping operations of the central Pacific, the object of the attacks was to land, establish a garrison and airfield which could support the next strike, and then move on.

At Camp Columbia they had their offices and living quarters on the north-eastern side of the land. The US army stayed here till 1944, after which the Dutch took over the Camp.

 

Camp Columbia. Towards top left HQ, below hospital, mid right Poo Corner below Camp 3 and the school (see text).

There was no infrastructure in Wacol but within weeks canvas water pipes were connected to the water supply in Darra;  electricity infrastructure was also built, again linked to the facilities in Darra. Over the following months significant extra infrastructure was developed. The main roads used by the military from Wacol to the railway station and the airfield were sealed. A large sewerage system was built on the western side of Wacol.  People in Brisbane complained that the military and later the refugees and migrants that used the camp had a better sewerage system than people in town.

Poo Corner

This area was already known as Poo Corner before the sewerage system was installed.  Night soil from the thunderboxes was dumped here.

The train line rounded this smelly corner and people had consequently given it this name. In 2005 it was renamed into  “Pooh Corner”  as an Environment Reserve.

The Americans didn’t wait for permission to do their infrastructure work.  They didn’t wait for permission from the railway authorities and almost overnight greatly extended the existing siding for the coal trains as they needed it for the transport of ammunition from the Darra Ordnance Depot.  A loading platform was added for that purpose. This large ammunition dump was established between the airfield and the Camp. 

Extended military facilities in the area

Several of the details below are coming from the books World War II stories from Brisbane’s South West and 150 Years Richlands, Inala & Neigbouring Suburbs in Brisbane’s South West both by Vicki Mynott. Receptively in 2006 and 2009 she published stories from locals who provided some of the information in this chapter that I have – with her permission – weaved into a more general overview.

A large range of military facilities were established between Archerfield Airport and Camp Columbia they were all managed from the headquarters on the top of the hill.

Military facilities around Wacol 1942-1945

Map No

Facility

Notes

1

Wacol Railway siding

Dispatched ordnance to the war zone

2

Camp Columbia, Wacol

US staging camp for 5000 men

3

Motor Pool

For Camp Columbia

4

Darra Station

Declared ‘black’ to separate warring black and white US soldiers

5

Officer Candidate School

US training centre for officers in the SW Pacific

6

Emergency Landing Ground

B1 type (over 800 m); RAAF controlled

7

Small Arms Renovation Plant

Repaired small arms for reuse

8

Camp Darra

Ordnance workers camp for 200 men

9

Darra Ordnance Depot

Supplied the US army in the Southwest Pacific

10

Archerfield House

Centre for civilian guards of Ordnance Depot

11

Camp Freeman

Quartermasters camp with 1000 men

12

Chemical Camp

200 men in Blunder Road

13

Searchlight Station

On private land in Brookbent Road

14

Charcoal Pits, Pallara

Made alternative fuel for vehicles

Neighbouring Military Facilities

15

Archerfield Aerodrome

Australian, US, British, Dutch training field

16

Camp Muckley

US military camp

17

RAN/RAAF Stores

Ammunition depot (now in Greenbank MTA)

18

Redbank Army Camp

Major Queensland Army Camp – up to 2500 men

US soldier with Dutch nurses, Camp Columbia, Wacol 1945. Source KNIL
Ambulance Train ca. 1944. Source: QR The Workshop Museum
The Hospital

The other major use of the the Camp was a large 500-bed hospital at the corner of Grindle Road and Wacol Station Road.  It was operated by the US Army 42nd General Hospital. A separate 150 bed hospital was set up at the site for Black soldiers. It was known as the Section II hospital and was an overflow from the main military hospital at the Stuartholme College. 

Thousands of wounded soldiers were treated here and hundreds of military nurses were employed at the site. It also operated as recuperation hospital. A large number of patients needed to be treated for malaria.

 

 

Officer Candidate School

During 1942/1943 the Americans established the Officer Candidate School, on the other side of the railway, in the area known as Camp area 3.  They  provided training for nine different army branches and was of the most comprehensive schools of its kind in the world. They provide training for: infantry, field artillery, ant-aircraft artillery, engineers, ordnance, quartermasters, chemical warfare service and Air Corps Administration. The courses lasted 13 weeks. Interestingly this school was the US Army’s first experiment with the integration of Black and White students, they lived separately but studied together.

The American Non Commissioned Officers (NCO’s) who attending the school rented the Oxley Progress Hall for their club. Trucks from Wacol provided for the transport. The ‘real’ officers did of course have their own club within the Camp 3 area. It trained close to 6000 officers (of which only 152 were Black)  in its short period of life and was closed in June 1945. 

Counter Intelligence Corps School

Counter Intelligence Corps School used by the the Dutch – 1944/1945

There was a permanent shortage of qualified military staff at all levels among the forces in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA).  To overcome this problem, they introduced a permanent Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) training school in the SWPA theatre. At this school, agents recruited within the theatre were given the necessary training, and agents previously trained in the United States were given advanced training in subjects peculiar to the local areas. Reports received from the relatively few agents on duty in New Guinea indicated their lack of adequate preparation for combat; and, to offset this, a course was instituted at CIC Headquarters at Camp Columbia on 28 June 1943 to provide advanced training. The quality of instruction at this school was improved by experts from various Australian intelligence and field agencies.

Personnel of the Dutch CIC conducted daily interrogations of natives and other persons recently liberated; and, as a result, valuable tactical and counterintelligence information was obtained. The services performed during this operation was considered of such importance that the commanding officer of I Corps CIC Detachment was awarded the Bronze Star on 28 July 1945. Source: Counter Intelligence Corps History and Mission in World War II

After the Americans moved out in June 1944, the CIC School was mainly used by the Dutch and NEI Forces.

Camp Muckly Archerfield

The USAAF 49th Fighter Group  arrived in Brisbane in October 1942 as part of Fifth Air Force, they set up a camp at Archerfield. Called  Camp Muckley after Second Lieutenant Dwight S. Muckley, Jr. who was killed in a bomber crash in the Archerfield area on 5 June 1942. The unit received Curtiss P-40 Warhawks in Australia and, after training for a short time, provided air defense for the Northern Territory, before moving to New Guinea. In 1945 they became part of the occupation force of Japan.

By the time the squadron arrived in Brisbane the Army  had already bulldozed a road from the airfield to Camp Columbia, for which they also had to build a bridge over Bullockhead Creek. 

Darra Ordnance Depot

Darra Ordnance Depot in 1945.  Oz@War (www.ozatwar.com/locations/darraordnancedepot.htm)

Also the Darra Ordnance Depot was situated on Archerfield Road.  The US 636th Ammunition Ordnance Company (black soldiers, white officers) was in charge of the weapons systems, vehicles and equipment and had to make sure that these were ready and available, and in perfect condition, at all times. They also managed the developing, testing, fielding, handling, storage, and disposal of munitions. It was the largest munition depot in South West Pacific war theatre. Some 70 civilians were deployed as guards on horseback around the perimeters of the Depot, including several locals.  The main access was from Archerfield Road with two more entrances from Progress RD (the Wacol Gate) and the back gate on Blunder Creek Rd. There were day and night transports to the train station at Wacol or to the wharves. The site was dangerous so there were no buildings except an fire tower and a command post. The latter was situated where the old Archerfield Homestead once stood. Homestead Park is the former garden of the Homesteads.

The army groups was in 1943 assisted by the 577th Ordnance Ammunition Company, the 28th Chemical Company, the 48th Quartermaster Truck Regiment and the 5203rd Quartermaster Truck Battalion.

Freak War Dump Blast

Courier Mail Brisbane 24 January 1947

QUESTIONS about a Dutch dump of 300 tons of ammunition at Darra, which was the scene of a violent explosion yesterday, were answered last night by Dutch and R.A.A.F. officials.

Yesterday’s explosion was a freak, and unlikely to occur again, and probably was caused by water mixing with chemicals in the ammunition, said the R.A.A.F. officer in charge of the dump.

Dutch authorities to-day will investigate the explosion, which, occurred soon after 11.30 a.m. yesterday.

A Dutch Army spokesman said last night that 300 tons of Dutch ammunition were stored at Darra.

Of these. 180 tons had been marked for disposal. It had not been decided what was to be done with the remaining 120 tons, which was still usable. The Australian Army had undertaken to dispose of the useless ammunition.

Quantity of ammunition lost in yesterday’s explosion was not known. The dump consisted chiefly of mortar bombs, hand grenades, and rifle and revolver cartridges.

Two other dumps of about equal size, both of which were within 20 yards of the explosion, remained intact.

Fireman’s Escape

The explosion started a fire, flames from which rose 20 feet in the air. Firemen who were called were powerless to fight the blaze.

A piece of shrapnel smashed the windscreen of the fire truck, which was parked more than 200 yards from the dump. A fireman who had been sitting where the shrapnel struck had just descended from the wagon and was lucky to escape serious injury.

Rain prevented the flames, from spreading through the surrounding bush, and the fire burned itself out within two hours.

Flying-Officer Dutton, the R.A.A.F. officer in charge of the dump, said that Dutch ammunition was stored at Darra because there was no other dump available round Brisbane. He had made repeated efforts to get the Dutch to remove the ammunition, because plans had been made for closing the dump.

No Dutch ammunition had been taken away, but some had been brought in since he took over command of the camp about nine months ago. The Darra unit was known as a replenishment centre.

It supplied ammunition to the R.A.A.F. for training, and also served as a store.

Source: Trove – National Archives of Australia

Eye witness account: Explosion at Dutch ammo depot

Next grenades started to explode followed by small arms ammunition.

Shrapnel was flying everywhere ruining the roof of a nearby house and smashing the windscreens from the approaching fire brigade vehicles. They obviously didn’t enter the site. The carnage went on for 4 hours and fortunately the nearby stockpile of 250lb bombs didn’t go off.

Eyewitness account from Keith Brough published in the above-mentioned book.

The cause was indeed that after a heavy storm, rainwater had seeped through the tarpaulins covering mortar bombs, the water reached a Seamarker flare and made it to go off. These markers alert rescuers for pilots who crash in water After the war the RAAF cleaned up any remaining dangerous ammunition.

Camp Darra

The men of 636th Ammunition Ordnance Company  manned both the Ordnance Depot and the Small Arms Renovation Plant nearby. They were housed in Camp Darra. It catered from approx 200 Black Americans. Within the camp were four large wooden huts, fifty bell tents, a parade ground and an open air picture theatre. The camp was positioned on the city side of Archerfield Road, opposite the Pine Road intersection in Richlands. With the housing shortage especially for low income earners. In 1946 a private housing co-operative was set up ‘Serviceton’  and people started to occupy the deserted army huts. The co-operative however failed and the Queensland Housing Commission took over and in 1953 the name Serviceton was changed into Inala (Aboriginal for ‘a good place to camp’). 

Freeman Camp

Original Igloo Hut, Camp Columbia, moved to the museum.

On the corner of Archerfield Road and what is now Azalea Street (now McEwan Park) was Freeman Camp, with a guard hut on that same corner. Freeman Road to the north of it is a reminder of that camp. At this time there still was strict segregation in the USA between white and black people. The Blacks were limited to Freeman Camp, a rather ambiguous name for this place. There are many reports from locals that Blacks were treaty badly by the white officers and that they were often shot at and even killed. Locals several times hid Blacks who were chased by white officers. An estimated 200 hundred Black soldiers were camped, unlike their white colleagues they were not allowed to wear weapons. There were barracks and tents as well as a canteen, mess hall and a very large motor pool. There was also one of those famous igloo shaped hut (Nissan Hut) which was used as a picture theater and locals were always welcome to join in. As a consequence of the American segregation policy Darra was declared a ‘black’ area. Interestingly in 1945 the camp was used to again accommodate coloured people, this time Javanese awaiting repatriation home as the White Australian Policy was still in full force.

Interestingly under the ‘White Australia Policy’ Australia had tried to keep Black Americans out of the country, however the US Military ignored the government and brought in over 6300 0f them as labourers, and for use in their transport divisions. Also 152 Black people went through the Officer Candidate School.

 

Camp Columbia Motor Pool 1943

Motor Pools

A motor pool was established at the foot of the hill on the corner of Wolston Rd and Wacol Station Road, now the Centenary Memorial Gardens. There was another motor pool at the railway station.

Emergency landing-strip and Small Arms Renovation Plant

Further to the south the Gailes emergency airstrip (now Carole Park) next to the Darra Ordnance Ammunition Depot  was built by the RAAF and the US military built a Small Arms Renovation Plant next to it. There are however, no indications that the airstrip was ever used.

 

Charcoal Pitts

In what is now the suburb of Pallara where 8-10 small charcoal pits. They were ca. 10 by 2 meters, the military set up a hot fire than put the timber of too, cover it and let it smoulder. The timber turned charcoal and it was as needed as an alternative fuel when petrol was severely rationed.

Dutch take over Camp Columbia 1944 – 1947

Correspondence re transfer Camp Columbia to the Dutch – National Archives

 

US approval of transfer of Camp Columbia to the Dutch – National Archives

In June 1944 after the liberation of New Guinea, the South Pacific Allied  Headquarters moved to a new base at Hollandia, the capital of Dutch New Guinea, in order to be closer to the theater of war.

With the war in the Pacific nearing its end the Dutch started to prepare for the recolonisation of the NEI (Netherlands East Indies). Consequently the Dutch decided, with the approval of the Australian Government, to establish the NEI Government-in-Exile, the first and only time that this happened in Australia.

 

The Dutch received the use of the Camp Columbia site, free of rent.

One of the few personal identifications of the Dutch at Camp Columbia. NEFIS Lieutenant Lou Bierens de Haan

Ever since their arrival in Australia the Dutch had problems with getting enough Dutch staff. With the Netherlands occupied that avenue was closed and the Dutch Government in London was preoccupied with the liberation of the Netherlands.  The most senior person for NEI affairs was the Dutch Minister for Colonies Hubertus van Mook, who – as the Minister for Colonies – between most of 1942-1944 was based in London. This made communication regarding the recolonisation of NEI extremely difficult. In February 1944 van Mook resigned as Minister and finally became the full time Lieutenant Governor-General of  NEI. Slowly more staff had been recruited from other Dutch overseas posts and now accommodation became a serious problem.

Communication and travel between the various Dutch military offices across Australia had equally become difficult and time-consuming, and to prepare for the return to NEI, consolidation was urgently needed. Thus it was decided to move the various Dutch headquarters to “Camp Columbia“ at Wacol. By  the end of 1944 most of the 2,000 Dutch and NEI staff ended up in Brisbane.

 
Dutch Flag on the parade at the NEI Government-in Exile  Head Quarters
NEFIS-II Building with Lieutenant Lou Bierens de Haan on bicycle

The move of all of the offices of the NEI government-in-exile to one place was a major exercise. 

The first group that moved into the Wacol facilities was The Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS), in June 1944. The Australian Government provided a special train for the NEI government-in-exile to move its NEFIS staff and files from Melbourne to Wacol.

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, but the work itself was done by the Dutch.

The NEI Labour Battalion – consisting of interned non-European NEI nationals as well as Indonesians opposing Dutch rule in NEI and overseen by Dutch officers – were brought in as extra labour from the NEI camp in Casino.

 

The following photos marked Collection Jack Ford are copies of pictures from Mrs. Jean van Schilfgaarde.  Dr. Jack Ford had contacted her for his research for his publication: Allies in bind: Australia and the Netherlands East Indies relations during World War Two.

This is one of the few, perhaps even the only personnel record of a civilian staff member of Camp Columbia during the Dutch occupation of the Camp. Jean worked at office of the Netherland Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS). The text of her letter to Jack can be read here.

Camp Columbia, Wacol -office blocks used by the NEI Government-in-Exile. Collection Jack Ford
Camp Columbia, Wacol -Mess Hut for Australian civilians employed by the NEI Government-in-Exile. Collection Jack Ford

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 arrangement1, 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 Lockwood2, there was criticisms about the rather luxurious renovation, including beer gardens for the Dutch colonial officers amidst war time austerity. It was thought that the  American camp, certainly by Australian military  standards was already in an excellent condition.

Over the following months the following groups moved into Wacol and some of the other buildings in Brisbane:

Camp Columbia, Wacol -the building in the background (Building 7) was the headquarters for NEFIS where Jean worked. Collection Jack Ford
  • The seat of the NEI Government-in-Exile was established in the former HQ of the US 6th Army.
  • The Headquarters if the NEI Army.
  • Specialised Dutch military units moved to Brisbane to serve the NEI government-in-exile.
  • The Women’s Army Corps moved to Wacol but trained at Yeronga Park.
  • NEFIS, the first unit to move to Camp Columbia,  provided one of the most important contributions to the Allied effort.  Providing critical intelligence information supporting the war effort. They also leased offices at the New Zealand Insurance Building at 334-338 Queen Street in Brisbane.
  • NEI Government Information Service (NEIGIS) along with its Film and Photographic Unit.
  • The NEI Army Air Corps (Militaire Luchtvaart or ML-KNIL) leased fourth floor offices in the Courier Building at 240 Queen Street, 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 to rent the Pacific Private Hotel at 421 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley for use as a hotel or canteen for Dutch military personnel.
Camp Columbia, Wacol -accommodation huts (3 bedrooms, 2 persons per room). Collection Jack Ford

Furthermore 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 – was close to Wacol and Pinkenba, Fortitude Valley and the CBD were connected to Wacol by rail. 

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. 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).
 
Camp Columbia, Wacol -entrance to area containing office blocks. This was the main gate that was always open and guarded. Collection Jack Ford
Camp Columbia, Wacol -entrance from lower road that was locked but unguarded at night. Collection Jack Ford

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 provided civil relief and rehabilitation plus defended the local population from Japanese raids. They however, where a drain on the military efforts aimed at liberating DNG.  All NEI operations suffered from a serious lack of manpower throughout the war. NICA also ran an administration school in Melbourne for new staff needed after the liberation. Their task after the Japanese surrender was horrific with enormous shortages of food, clothing, medicines, etc.

 

Some of the key activities that took place from their new premises in Wacol:

  • Negotiating the acquisition of civil relief supplies with the Australian Government and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (from 1945 onwards).
  • Seeking Commonwealth permission for the basing in Australia of a 30,000-strong liberation army being raised in the Netherlands3.
  • 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.
  • General van Oyen, Mauritz Kokkelink and Governor General van Mook after the medal ceremony at Camp Columbia
    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.
  • On 8 August 1945: Seargent Mauritz Christiaan Kokkelink, of the Royal Netherlands Army, was decorated with the highest military award of his country, the Militaire Willems Orde, at Camp Columbia in front of 500 of the highest-ranking Dutch and Allied service men and women.

The Navy and Air Force headquarters didn’t move to Camp Columbia. The Royal Netherlands Navy was situated at 441 St Kilda Road in Melbourne and the Air Force was a few door further on at 431 St Kilda Road.

 

Yeronga Park 

US and Dutch Service Women at Yeronga Park

The US Army had chosen Yeronga Park for a military camp in 1942. Camp Yeronga Park housed a variety of units including, military police, 99th Signal Battalion, 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 and NEI 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 military administrative positions to relieve Dutch or Indonesian males for combat duty. Initially the unit mustered 26 women led by a male officer.

The women also volunteered to sew uniforms and arranged and assisted inRed Cross fundraising. 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. (Pics left and right)

 
Netherlands Forces Intelligent Services numbers. US Army Telephone Directory, Brisbane, of February 1945. Collection Jack Ford

There were ongoing small diplomatic raptures in the relationship between the Dutch and Australian authorities, the major issue was the frustration by the Australians that not all people transported by the Dutch from liberated Dutch New Guinea had the required paperwork in place. The Australians were paranoid about their White Australian Policy and didn’t want any coloured people coming in, unless their cases were thoroughly investigated, the bureaucracy around that could take weeks or months and the Dutch took the attitude to bypass the bureaucracy and ask for forgiveness later, this attitude was regarded by the Australians as arrogant. An interesting case involved a Dutch dance group that toured the Allied Forces in the South West Pacific in 1945.

 

Housing

Uniform button with the Dutch Lion.
Dutch insignia.

A large number of buildings were built scattered  between the headquarters and the hospital.  They are both side of the Wacol Station Road. It was in these house, close to Sandy Creek, that a large number of the Dutch staff members were housed. This is also the area where the dog tag of Willy de Eeren was found (see below) as well as other Dutch artifacts, by people using detectors.

There are several remnants of buildings in the area on the side of the Wacol Station Road that is now situated in the Pooh Corner Reserve.  It is yet unknown what these remnants represent perhaps part of a kitchen, other parts of an ablution pit. The houses here were not connected to the main sewerage facility.

 
The remnants of some of the buildings along Wacol Station Rd.
Top left road surface, rest remnants of the sewerage system.

There is also a track (Picture right –  top left) that would have been a previous road in this area.  A bit further to the north are the ruins of the above mentioned sewerage plant (bottom right). From here the pipes would come down from the headquarter buildings on the top of the hill. Part of the current walking track through the Reserve follows these pipes and some of the pipes, wrapped in concrete is now exposed (2 pics bottom left). There are also the remnant of a bridge over Sandy Creek, used for the sewerage pipes (top right).

 
Wacol Station Road- Possible last hut Camp Columbia Hut 200. Source Angela Naumann

Willy de Eerens

Willy de Eerens’ dog tag was found in Camp Columbia.
Willy de Eerens was born on 27 February 1921 in Tjilatjap, an important port on the south coast of Java.

During the Japanese invasion he was evacuated to Australia as one of the 99 student pilots from the class of 1 July 1941 of the Vlieg- en Waarnemersschool  (V.W.S. – Flying and Observer School). They left from Tandjung Priok on the 18th of February on board the ms Boissevain.

From February to April 1942 he was at the Flying School and the Observer School of the Army Aviation Corps of the Royal Netherlands Indies Army- KNIL, at the number 6 RAAF Service Flying Training School (6 SFTS) at Mallala, Adelaide. He was trained on the CAC Wirraway aircraft.

 
Packet of cigarettes specially made by the Americans for the Dutch at the Flying School. Collection Jack Ford.

According to Dutch military historian Dr. Peter Boer [7 The evacuation and posting in Australia of the Flying and Observer School of the Army Aviation Corps KNIL, February-April 1942], from Australia he went with the other students to the Royal Netherlands Military Flying School RNMFS) in America. He was tested as an apprentice pilot (ll vl) and trained as a radio telegraphist-air gunner.

He received basic training with the USAAF to become a wireless operator at Sioux Falls, South Dakota and graduated in March 1943. He was then trained as an air-gunner at Tyndall Field, Florida and Jackson, Mississippi. He was certified as a radio telegraphist-air gunner on 30 June 1943 and transferred to Australia on 9 August 1943, destination 18 NEI Squadron. 

Casualties plane crash Willy de Eerens

On 6 March 1944, he was on board the North American B-25D-25 Mitchell bomber plane, registration number N5-179 who left from Batchelor Air Field, NT destination NEI.

The plane was most likely shot down during a night attack on Toeal, a city in the current Maluku Province of Indonesia. The city, called Kota Tual in Indonesian, is within the Kei Islands, on Dullah Island.

All 6 crew members died in the crash and the wreck was written off.  In the relevant documents of the crash, he is listed as Sgt ML KNIL a/b N5-179. (Sergeant Pilot Netherlands East Indies Air Force on board N5-179). They all will have been close colleagues and friends as most, if not all, went through the same training facilities and would have flown together on many missions.

Sultan of the Spice Island of Ternate in Wacol

Sultan of Ternate Iskander Muhammad Jabir Syah

From April – October 1945, Wacol hosted the Sultan of Ternate Iskander Muhammad Jabir Syah, He was a member of one of the longest rulers in the East Indies, from a lineage dating back 800 years.

He arrived with his two wives and eight children, after a spectacular rescue mission from the Australian Z- force. General MacArthur’s plan was to make him the head of Eastern Indonesia under a new Dutch-controlled federation. This of course never eventuated and he became a minister in the new government of Indonesia

His children went to school at Wacol together with the children of the Dutch officers.

The Dutch planned to stay in Camp Columbia until the liberation of sizeable towns in the NEI.  People from these liberated towns could provide relief to their acute staff shortage across all NEI organisations. 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 March 1946[6].  Most officials and their offices moved to the NEI. Part use of Camp Columbia continued into 1947 when some barracks and houses were used for the recuperation of Dutch victims of the Japanese occupation of NEI who had been put into concentration camps. In groups they stayed for 3 to 6 month in Wacol (and elsewhere in Australia) again with the full support support of the Australian Government.

The facility was consequently greatly extended into an Australian refugee and migration camp . By 1949, it is estimated that one-tenth of the old Camp Columbia area became the Wacol East Displaced Persons Holding Camp. In the early 1950s the camp was developed to become the Wacol Migrant Centre, the biggest in Queensland. In 1952, the 1600 people capacity of the camp was exceeded, reaching close to 2000. The initial post-war refugee program was transformed into a larger program of re-settling migrants from Europe. A number of houses along Wilruna Street, close to Wacol Station were used for the refugees from NEI. This was close to the Gailes Golf Club, its clubhouse was used by the military officers.

Presentation of the commemoration plaque at Netherlands Association Queensland – Richlands – Collection Jack Ford
Netherlands Honorary Consul for Queensland Marjon Wind makes the first goundradar scans at Camp Culumbia – December 2021

By the 1980s the converted timber Army huts were aging and a different model for receiving immigrants was evolving. The Wacol Migrant Centre was closed in 1987. The Prisons Department took over the site and the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre was opened in 1992.

In 2020 the Dutch Government provided a grant to the University of Queensland to conduct archaeological research at the site of previous Camp Columbia (now the Brisbane Correction Centre). I was added to the team as a volunteer.

I also met up with colleague volunteer researchers who had done investigation at the adjacent Poo Corner, another part of the extensive former Camp Columbia. Amateur detectors had found here several Dutch artifacts including a dog tag of Willy de Eerens. In follow up research I found the following information on this person.

Claire Wilson (nee Evans) recalls in the book World War II stories from Brisbane’s South West by Vicki  Mynott:

“In the latter years of the war we got to know some of the Dutch soldiers as they visited our homes for meals, music and relaxation. I have a letter from the family of one in Holland, thanking my aunt Audrey Jones for the parcel of handknitted articles she had made for them”.

A few of the old Wacol Military Barracks have since been converted into the Wacol Military Museum4. The Nissan Hut ( Igloo) has been transferred possibly from the hospital site ((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).

SBS Radio interview with Paul Budde (in Dutch) SBS Language _ ‘Er zijn heel veel verhalen die we kunnen vertellen over Camp Columbia’

The following  are some of the reactions from my Brisbane friends on the Facebook App “Old Brisbane Album” .

Wacol Migration Centre – National Archives Australia

Noel Hall In early 1957 I threw hand grenades into a old tree stump opp side of Railway Line in Poo Cnr when doing my Army Training and this area was the main sewerage treatment works for the Wacol Training Camp and the housing area-to the Dutch Immigration Housing Estate while doing my National Army Service.

Allen Draper That rectangular concrete one is like one we have seen at a WW2 army camp that we found up at Camira. (he has a range of artefacts, forks, spoons, plates from the site (mess hall?)

James Michael Many years ago, my Great Uncle in the QPS chased and caught an escaped prisoner. They found him huddled in this very trough (as in the picture above) after the dog squad failed to find his tracks.

Wacol  Museum Barracks – April 2020

Janette Downie As a kid I remember there where 3 old army huts that had been fenced of and rented out we lived in one of them it backed onto a creek we would go exploring the huts where near a dump site on Bowhill Road was just an old dirt track back then it runs of Blunder Road. (Looks like this was at the Darra Ordnance Depot).

Karen Slater I lived and grew up on King Ave, rode all through the land that backed onto those three houses (as mentioned above) and spent many days playing and exploring that creek!

Wayne Pringle My mother & extended family lived there for a while. After leaving Indonesia then New Guinea & on to Australia (Wacol) about 60 years ago.

Paul Fulloon (Re pic above) It is either a septic tank or a grease trap. Judging by the size I would think it is a septic tank. No sewerage there is WW2 or even later. Its location could help to identify it. A grease trap would be very close to a kitchen while a septic tank would be close to an ablution block. There appear to be a vent at the end and this would also indicate a septic tank as grease traps are not vented.

May St My oma, opa and family lived there for some after emigrating from Netherlands. They then moved and bought a beautiful queenslander at Cribb Island. Wonderful life remember visiting them at Cribbie.

Paul O’Malley I remember doing Army driver training at poo corner about 25 years ago. They spent 30 minutes teaching us how to negotiate the roundabout, so we made the correct turnoff to cross the highway and get to poo corner.

Terry Stedman The Dutch were grated sovereign status there during ww2, so that they could claim their government was still operational. I wonder if the sovereign status of that parcel of land was ever revoked or is it still foreign soil?

Marion N John Harvey My parents, 2 Sisters and Brother lived there for a little time after emigrating from Netherlands. They then moved into a house in Hurston.

Vikki McLeod My stepfather was there as a LT in the KNIL and after the war surveyed the Timorese border. He wrote up his experiences up in a book. He was 16 when he joined the war effort, so his writing is from a youth’s perspective rather than a geopolitical one. The Old Fellow’s War : A True Story Edmond Nyst , Chatswood : New Holland , 2007 autobiography

Ray Gregg I did my Nasho Service there in 1955..3rd.intake 10 platoon C company.

Malcolm Knowles The entry point to the Barracks on Ipswich Rd would be about the point where the “UD Truck” sign is as part of the Volvo National Headquarters signage. The Sharron Phillips sign is in place again – a reminder of how the area holds a dark secret.

Geoff Baker 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!

Bob Gould There 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.

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.

Some of the Dutch families came to Australia via Indonesia where they worked as supervisors on coffee plantations. Our neighbours Triebels & Vissers both came via Indonesia.

Wacol East, Yvonne Weston (nee Smit) lived here for at least 20 months when her parents came from the Netherlands to settle near Brisbane. Yvonne is in the pram. Pic 1958.

Gareth Davis 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.

 Grant Madden 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.

Tony Torrisi Lots of Italians were there as well. Many eventually purchased farmland just up the road on Progress Rd and surrounding. My grandparents had grapevines up the top of progress rd next to the now Hans factory

Mal Bramley Top left building is the old gym, my unit from Adelaide were housed in there for a week waiting clearance to go to Shoalwater bay in 80 or 81.

Anastasia Sullivan For most of my childhood my Dad was based at Wacol I remember playing in the gym and how hot it was. The kids play ground where my brother broke both his arms falling off the metal slide at a Xmas party.

Gerry Rusing We as Dutch migrants in the 50’s were housed there when we arrived, until we found our own house and job.

 Rob Brechin My dad was posted there in the early sixties to 4Fd Regt LAD. I worked there 2008-10 on the Safelink Project and we could wander around and see where a lot of the old barrack buildings were. I seem to remember a firing range there as well.

The Brisbane Lions started as the Hollandia Soccer Clubin 1956.  In 1989 the Netherlands Association of Australia moved in next door. They also operate the Dutch Shop.  These are all lasting memories of the many Dutch immigrants that settled after the war in Richlands, Inala and beyond. See also: Wacol Remembered 1949-1987

The Lions, Dutch Shop and Netherlands Association of Qld

The Dutch at Archerfield Airport, Brisbane


  1. 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.[]
  2. Rupert Lockwood – The Indonesian Exiles in Australia, 1942-47 []
  3. 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.[]
  4. Wacol Military Museum []