Shared Dutch-Australian military history -Introduction

This essay will discuss historical events during and shortly after WWII that brought Australia, the Netherlands and the emerging country of Indonesia together in a complex and often messy set of international affairs. Being Dutch, living in Australia and interested in Dutch-Australian history I would like to invite you to join me in unravelling this interesting, but largely forgotten, piece of history.

After Japan invaded The Netherlands East Indies (NEI) its government together with perhaps as much as 20,000 people moved to Australia from where it started to prepare for re-colonialisation.

With Britain more and more preoccupied with the war at home and a rapidly declining empire,  Australia being situated in Asia – far away from Mother England – had to develop its own foreign policies especially in relation to its relationship with the Dutch Government (through the NEI Government-in-exile) and its neighbours in South East Asia.

There were hundreds of diverse ethnic and cultural groups throughout the NEI archipelago. There was well into the 20th century little notion of a united country.  To best describe these people in the context of this essay is to call them the native people of NEI. Apart from them there were the ‘Indos’ or  ‘Indo Europeans’ people of mixed Dutch and native blood and then of course by far in the minority, the white Dutch people.

The Dutch fought a bloody colonial war shortly after WWII at a time when Australia with its White Australia policy[1] had great difficulties in finding its own place in the SE Asian region.

It is only in the last 20 years or so that the damage of this colonial war is being repaired, and there still is the occasional cultural and political clash between Australia and some of its Asian neighbours as well as between the Netherlands and Indonesia.

This essay will provide an historic overview of the events during this period and the situation that led up to it and mention the immediate consequences following the events. lt will tell the story in a chronological sequence through military, political, social-economic and humanitarian themes.

There are several personal connections with the story.  There is the importance the Digulists played in fuelling the Indonesian independence movement in Australia. They were political prisoners from the Digul Camp in Tanah Merah in Dutch New Guinea (now West Papua). From 1956-1963 my father’s sister Annie Budde was a teacher in Tanah Merah and I have written a book[2] about her.

Back in the Netherlands Siem de Luij, a friend of my parents had fought in Indonesia during the infamous police actions in 1947/1948. Not long before he died, I had a long discussion with him about his time in Indonesia during this conflict.

Lastly, I was present at the burial of the remains of Samuel Jacobs, one of the people mentioned in this story. The plane on which he travelled crashed in 1944 in Far North Queensland and the wreck and his remains were found in 1986. He and the other passengers were buried with military honours in Cairns. At that time, I had no idea that I would come across him in our research a bit further in this publication.

In 2019 I moved to Brisbane, it was here that the NEI Government-in-Exile operated from and more research is taking place from here,

This essay starts in 1942 with the rapid Japanese invasion in South East Asia and the collapse of the British, French and Dutch colonial empires.

Paul Budde 2019 + ongoing updates and additions (current version 2022)

Key elements of the story putting it in a broader context 

·         Japanese invade NEI – 20.000 Dutch people fled to Australia (most of Indonesian decent or from mixed parents)

·         NEI-Government-in-Exile established in Australia – the first and only one ever operated in Australia. Wacol became the headquarters of the NEI-Government-            in-Exile.

·         The Dutch transported Indonesian political prisoners from Tanah Merah in Dutch New Guinea to Australia (mostly well-educated people)

·         Australia forces the Dutch to release these prisoners, amazingly many of them became employed at the NEI-Government-in Exile (where they had easy access to communication equipment to stay in contact with their compatriots in Indonesia).

·         These Indonesian were able to harness support for a free Indonesia. Australian Unions established a boycott of all Dutch re-colonialisation shipping to NEI (Black Armada) the largest maritime boycott ever.

·         Australia played a key role in the negotiations of a free Indonesia (and simultaneously in the creation of the UN).

·         Australian military established the first ever peace mission of the UN (in Indonesia).

·         The case of a stranded NEI women Annie O’Keefe caused a ruling from the High Court that became the start of the end of the White Australia Policy.

·         Because the Dutch lost Indonesia, most of the related history got buried and was never looked at.

·         The Dutch Government is funding archaeological research in Wacol (2021) – Wacol plays a pivotal role in this history – this broader story now gets more attention. 

Brief overview – Japan and World War II

[1] The term White Australia policy was widely used to encapsulate a set of historical policies that aimed to exclude people of non-European origin, especially Asians (primarily Chinese) and Pacific Islanders (primarily Melanesians) from immigrating to Australia. Governments progressively dismantled such policies between 1949 and 1973.

[2] Annie Budde in Nieuw Guinea (in Dutch)