Netherlands East Indies Commission for Australia and New Zealand

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 officials. 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.

Rear-Admiral Coster became the Dutch representative in SWPA in Australia, he resided in Melbourne. In his book  Allies in bind: Australia and the Netherlands East Indies relations during World War Two,  Dr. Jack Ford  stated that by 10 June 1942, Coster’s command totaled 1,353 personnel comprising 207 officers, four midshipmen, 18 warrant officers, 241 non-commissioned officers, 144 corporals and 739 ratings/other ranks.


Submarine Beach Seal Rock named after the Dutch submarine K IX stranded here in 1945 (photo 2013)

The NEI Naval Headquarters was also set up in Melbourne with subsidiary naval establishments in Sydney and Freemantle. The latter became the base of 15 NEI submarines. Many were lost at the start of the war, others participated in successful attacks on Japanese vessels. The NEI air force went to bases allotted at Bundaberg, Brisbane and Canberra. 

441 St Kilda Road, Melbourne. This residence served as the headquarters of the KNIL in Australia for much of the war.

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].  However it was the Dutch Government-in-Exile who wanted to be in charge in all of the important decisions in relation to NEI. This increased tensions as it added to the bureaucracy. The US wanted to deal directly with the NEI Commission and Australia wanted to use the opportunity to strengthen it ties with NEI as it was their northern neighbour.  The leaders of Commission were the earlier mentioned Acting Governor General of NEI, Hubertus Van Mook and his deputy Charles van der Plas. 


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.


Perhaps the most important of these organisations was the Netherlands East Indies Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS). Because of it’s importance I have included information from Dr. Ford’s book on this organisation.

“Lieutenant Commander G.B. Salm was appointed to organise a NEI intelligence organisation in Australia within the SWPA. The Netherlands East Indies Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS) was born. NEFIS obtained about 50 Korps Insulinde troops from Ceylon. They already had intelligence training, having attended a Special Operations Executive (SOE) camp at Kharakvasla, India. Of the remaining Korps Insulinde members in Ceylon, 40 men were chosen to serve under Major Mollinger in the NEFIS equivalent for the India Theatre. 

 NEFIS recruitment continued in Australia. A NEFIS mapping unit employed Australian female sketch artists. In late 1942, Sergeant-Major H. De Haas (KNIL), Edward Danus (KNIL) and Coenraad Donald Schlette (Customs Inspector) escaped from Java. Due to their detailed intelligence information, NEFIS wanted them.  NEFIS was organised into two sections: General Intelligence and Security. Salm was NEFIS Director.

Memorial General Simon Spoor, Roermond

Major Simon H. Spoor (KNIL) was Assistant Director and headed General Intelligence. Lieutenant-Commander J.A.F.H. Douw Van der Krap headed Security. NEFIS moved into several houses along St Kilda Road, Melbourne to be close to both Salm’s HQ and the Australian Army HQ at Victoria Barracks. The mapmakers were housed in Domain Road, South Yarra. The maps were used in NEI bombing raids or planning future operations. In 1944 NEFIS moved to Camp Columbia in Brisbane”.

The service inserted small parties into Japanese occupied territory to gather information. Casualties among these groups were overwhelmingly high.

We also have some insights from one of the Australian employees of NEFIS, Mrs Jean van Schifgaarde.

Governor General van Mook brought a few moderate Indonesian leaders to Australia. The Sultan of Ternate Iskander Muhammad Jabir Syah, only arrived in April 1945 after a spectacular rescue mission from 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 was fiercely against the ‘communist’ who wanted an independent Indonesia. General MacArthur however, saw the Sultan as a potential leader of the eastern parts of the archipelago under a Dutch Government. He went to Wacol where the NEI Government-in Exile was situated and his children went to school there. After the liberation of the islands, in October that year the Sultan was brought back.  By that time Sukarno had already proclaimed independence. The Sultan 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].

As we saw in the previous chapter van Mook was called back to London, so he would be less of a threat to the hard-line Dutch interest and 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. He was the direct representative of the Dutch Government and  could and should keep a close eye on any developments that would foster greater independence of NEI.

The NEI Commission 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.  

Casino’s Camp Victory was a huge big tent camp. There were a few barracks for offices and amenities, but the men lived in tents. … The camp held the First Battalion of the Netherlands East Indies Infantry. It was made up mainly of what we now call Indonesians. They were all professional soldiers from the Nederlandsch Indisch Leger which had been the army in the Dutch East Indies before the Japanese invasion. They had last fought in Timor with the Australian before being evacuated to Australia in 1942. Now they were used in different theatres of war under General MacArthur. (Source: Edmund Nyst 2007 The Old Fellow’s War. New Holland: Chatsworth, NSW – p138)

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.

The official NEI Government-in-exile (1944-1946)

[1] Allies in adversity, Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War: The NEI government-in-exile  The Australian War Museum

[2] The untold story: how Z Force saved the sultan- Sydney Morning Herald

[3] De garoeda en de ooievaar: Indonesië van kolonie tot nationale staat – Herman Burgers

[4] Allies in adversity, Australia and the Dutch in the Pacific War: The NEI government-in-exile  The Australian War Museum

[5] NICA, Netherlands Indies Civil Administration

[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