Paul Budde's History Archives

The Dutch are settling down in Australia

Back to the actual situation after the fall of NEI.

Following hastily established diplomatic relationships in January 1942, the Australian Labor Government offered the Dutch, after the fall of NEI, shear unlimited support in relation to facilities and training, while at the same time providing them with a remarkable high level of independence for their operations in Australia.

What became clear was that both countries were hopelessly unprepared for this war. The Dutch had nowhere near enough military equipment available in NEI and most of it was too old to be of any match to the modern gear of the Japanese military. Australia was equally unprepared as it hardly had any military forces available to protect itself in the north.

In 1941, well before the Fall of Singapore, Britain had already secretly decided to concentrate its war effort to defeat Hitler and this left Australia very much on its own, a situation that worsened after the massive British military defeats in SE Asia.  Australia had no military industry of any significance to properly supply its military, let alone to assist the Dutch during its war with the Japanese. This led to diplomatic frustrations between both countries in the early days of the arrival of NEI government-in- exile. The Netherlands expected more military resources from Australia than they were able to provide.

With America leading the war effort in the South Pacific, significant military resources arrived from the US. With the NEI military placed under the command of Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA), supplies started be become available from the US.

After their arrival in Australia, Dutch governmental staff set about establishing offices and organisations to undertake the many administrative tasks required, this in addition to the (limited) resources of the newly appointed Ambassador Baron van Aerssen Beyeren and the existing Consul-General in Sydney. Initially, there was insufficient personnel available, but eventually Dutch staff arrived from diplomatic posts in other countries. The NEI government-in- exile was formally known as the Netherlands East Indies Commission for Australia and New Zealand (NEICANZ) and was created in April 1942. It looked after all of the NEI interests in Australia from there offices in Collins Street, Melbourne[1].  The Commission was in fact the NEI government-in-exile, be it that this was only officially proclaimed in 1944.

By mid-1943, more premises had been acquired among them offices on St Kilda Road, Melbourne (where the KNIL headquarters was housed), and the ambassadorial residence and chancellery at 4 Mugga Way, Canberra.

The NEI Naval Headquarters was set up in Melbourne with subsidiary naval establishments in Sydney and Freemantle. The NEI air force went to bases allotted at Bundaberg, Brisbane and Canberra.

The leaders of the de facto NEI government-in-exile were the earlier mentioned Acting Governor General of NEI Hubertus Van Mook and his deputy Charles van der Plas.

Van Mook brought a few moderate Indonesian leaders to Australia. The Sultan of Ternate Iskander Muhammad Jabit Syah, only arrived after a spectacular rescue mission of the Australian Z- force[2] . They had snatched the Sultan from under the eyes of the Japanese on the fabled spice island of Ternate (he later became a minister under Sukarno)

Colonel Abdulkadir Widjojoatmodjo arrived together with van Mook. He was an Indonesian civil servant who – on behalf of the Dutch – later-on led parts of the Dutch-Indonesian independence negotiations.

Van Mook preferred a progressive policy towards NEI, based on a Commonwealth arrangement with power sharing. The Dutch Prime Minister in exile Professor Gerbrandy (based in London) preferred a hard-line confrontation. This started to create tensions between the Australian Government and the Dutch Government in exile in London, as Australia was more sympathetic towards a slow change towards more independence for its northern neighbour[3].

The Dutch Ambassador Baron van Aerssen was the special Netherlands Minister for Australia. His aristocratic personally didn’t sit easy with the Australians and the relationship, especially later, with the post-war Labor Government, was often cool.

The NEI-in-exile established seven Departments in Australia[4]:

  • Defence
  • Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA) for re-establishment of civil rule in reconquered areas[5]
  • Economic Affairs
  • Education
  • Home affairs
  • Finance
  • Public works

Some of the Dutch facilities in Australia

Dutch medical clinic in Kent St (near the Harbour Bridge).Princes Juliana Hospital Turramurra (now Juliana Lodge).NEI Airforce bases in Bundaberg, Brisbane and Canberra.Military base Casino.Port facilities: Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne (naval HQ St Kilda Rd and depot in Middle Park, Freemantle (submarines).NICA – Melbourne first, later Brisbane.Lido, North Sydney and Belvedere at Kings Cross – clubs and accommodation for Dutch subjects.NEI government Information Service (NIGIS) in Melbourne.  

The Legislative Council of the NEI government-in-exile – comprising of the directors of the seven above mentioned departments, along with Van Mook could, if the need arose, be expanded to include 8 extraordinary members drawn from leading Dutch or ‘Indonesians’. Van Mook appointed the 7 directors on 12 April 1944[6].  The directors held their first meeting in Melbourne on 23 May 1944. They had nine more meetings before reconvening at their new headquarters in Camp Columbia north of Brisbane on 23 August[7] , from where the recolonialisation operation would be led.


[1] Allies in adversity, Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War: The NEI government-in-exile  The Australian War Museum https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/alliesinadversity/australia/columbia

[2] The untold story: how Z Force saved the sultan- Sydney Morning Herald https://www.smh.com.au/world/the-untold-story-how-z-force-saved-the-sultan-20100423-tj7q.html

[3] De garoeda en de ooievaar: Indonesië van kolonie tot nationale staat – Herman Burgers https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1163/j.ctt1w76wq4?refreqid=excelsior%3A47b85f7184fbf7447f83b893956a101a

[4] Allies in adversity, Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War: The NEI government-in-exile  The Australian War Museum https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/alliesinadversity/australia/columbia

[5] NICA, Netherlands Indies Civil Administration http://www.afscheidvanindie.nl/archieven-onderwerpen-nica.aspx

[6] Charles Van der Plas for the Department of the Interior and Chairman of the Board of Departmental Heads, Dr N.S. Blom for the Justice Department, Dr R.E. Smits for the Finance Department, P.A. Kerstens for the Education Department, P.H.W. Sitsen for the Public Works Department, General Van Oyen as Head of the Department of War and Emil Van Hoogstraten for the Economic Affairs Department and as acting General Secretary of the Government.

[7] Allies in adversity, Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War: The NEI government-in-exile  The Australian War Museum https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/alliesinadversity/australia/columbia