New England's History

Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A note on New England Aboriginal servicemen

Interesting piece on ABC Radio National's Awaye! Program,  Indigenous Anzacs: Letters home from Aboriginal WWI diggers reveal humour, sadness, (program itself here, Saturday 22 April) on Aboriginal servicemen during the First World War. Presenter Daniel Browning's great-great uncle Thomas Browning (photo) was one of those featured in the piece.

Quoting from the piece on Thomas Browning::

"In May 1917 a military order revoked the nominal ban on Aboriginal men serving in the Australian Imperial Force, although in fact many had already enlisted.

One of the Aboriginal men who joined up after the military order was Samuel Browning, a fisherman from Fingal (then known as The Caves or Caves Point) on the North Coast of New South Wales.

One of Browning's mates enlisted with him but was rejected on the grounds that he had no European heritage. Browning left Australia in late 1917 aboard the troop ship Euripides, and disembarked at Devonport in the south of England on Boxing Day.

In Browning 's letters to his mother Mary, his heartbroken bride-to-be, and 10-year-old sister, there is no mention of the horrors of the Western Front nor of his gassing in the trenches near Rouen in northern France in August 1918, just a few months before the guns fell silent.

In an undated letter from Bath, where he was convalescing, Sam wrote urgently to Fingal, anxious that his younger brother stay away.
"Dear Mother, tell George to stop where he is instead of enlisting — one is enough from home, so don't forget."
Elsewhere, Browning longed for the beach.
"I am longing for a good feed of oysters and pippies. I'd give ten bob for a feed," he wrote to his mother from the ANZAC training camp at Codford in February 1918. 
Others who served from the opposite side of New England were the three Firth brothers.  Again I quote;
.
"Francis Walter Bertie Firth served in the Middle East and lost a brother in Egypt, but his letters from "somewhere in France" are consumed by anxiety about missing letters apparently sent by his mother Kate from Pilliga in northern New South Wales but never received.

Bertie wrote to his mother on Easter Sunday in 1917: "Just a few lines to let you know that I am still in the land of the living," he wrote.

"It is about time the winter was over, I would not like to be here for another, the coldest place on earth."
Characteristically, and presumably without irony, Bertie signs his letters that he hopes everyone at home is well as it leaves him, "in the pink of condition".

Another letter suggests that he may he have been jilted: "I got a letter from Peggy the other day. She is engaged to someone else. Good luck to her."

I don't have a lot of information on Aboriginal servicemen from Northern NSW. Another who served during the Second World War was David Cook. From a piece by Noah  Riseman:

"Lance-Corporal David Cook is an Aboriginal man born in Ebor, near Armidale New South Wales, in 1945. Around the time of Dave's tenth birthday, he and his four siblings were forcibly removed from their parents. Dave was placed in Kinchela Boys Home for three years before being fostered. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Army, seeking a life away from his daily troubles.

Dave served in Papua New Guinea, Borneo and Malaya before being sent off to Vietnam. Throughout his service he proved to be a successful soldier and was well-liked by his peers. He served two tours in Vietnam before being discharged in 1968.

When Dave returned to New South Wales, his life rapidly spiralled out of control. Cycles of violence, imprisonment and racism threatened to turn him into another Aboriginal statistic. However, Dave managed to reconnect with his siblings, who helped him get his life back on track through emotional support, stability and employment. Now retired, Dave does volunteer work in Cambodia, applying his Army engineering knowledge in a land mine clearance program.".

I wondered if readers had more information on Aboriginal servicemen (and later women) from Northern New South Wales, Hunter to the border? This would help me flesh out another part of New New England's history.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Swift beginning for the new college

The third in my series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. The new Teachers' College was part of David Drummond's vision for education in the North. 
The most remarkable feature of the establishment of the Armidale Teachers’ College was speed. Four people were critical in that process.

As Minister, the college was part of David Drummond’s vision. His role was to provide top cover and to organize support in the Government and in the North to the initiative.

As Departmental Head, S H Smith saw the College as a vehicle for the implementation of his own ideas on teacher training. Smith had to oversight all the Departmental and administrative requirements necessary to bring the project to fruition.

A W Hicks as the local District Inspector of Schools knew Armidale well and was close to Drummond and Smith. His job was to identify the buildings and facilities required to allow the College to begin operation quickly pending construction of a new permanent building.

Finally, C B (Pop) Newling, the newly appointed head of the College, had to handle all the detail required to create a new institution.

Nine days after his appointment as Minister in October 1927 David Drummond had asked for an urgent report on the possible establishment of country teachers’ colleges, suggesting Wagga Wagga and Armidale as possible sites. Department Head S H Smith immediately recommended Armidale, a recommendation Drummond accepted.

The matter had to go to Cabinet. Hicks in conjunction with Smith began the process of identifying buildings that might be rented or purchased with costs. By 9 December 1927, Smith had prepared a Cabinet Minute seeking approval for the establishment of the College and the purchase or lease of the necessary buildings.

By 12 December, Cabinet had approved the proposal. On that day, C B Newling was summoned to Sydney by telegram, sworn to secrecy and offered the post of Principal. Newling, sympathetic to Smith’s views on student teaching, saw the post as a major opportunity.
Memoir: In The Long day Wanes, CB Newling reflects on his life and especially his period as Principal of the Armidale Teachers' College
Newling would prove a superb choice. While paternalistic by today’s standards, he was totally committed to the College and its students, guiding the new institution through the difficult immediate establishment phase and the equally difficult early years that followed.

News of the possible formation of the College seems to have first broken in the press on the day of Newling’s appointment when the Tenterfield Star reported a rumour that the Armidale goal site was to be used to erect a technical college or teachers’ training college “either of which would serve the northern districts and not Armidale alone.”

From this point, action to create the new College took place against a backdrop of growing criticism from the Labor opposition and the city press, from country towns elsewhere in the State who felt that they had a better claim and from prospective students and their parents reluctant to chance the new college.

Drummond and Smith were unmoved, with work continuing apace. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 5 April 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.  

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

College born in conflict


The second in my new series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England. Alexander Mackie at Sydney University. Mackie had "that type of mind", Smith said, "usually associated with the Scottish metaphysician." 
In some ways, there is something just so 2017 about events surrounding the establishment of the Armidale Teachers’ College in 1928.

Then, as now, there was conflict over the balance between academic and vocational education. Then, as now, there were problems in attracting teachers to go to the bush, a belief that a country college would help overcome this.

There were also concerns about the extent to which students would wish to study in Armidale as compared to Sydney. A new building was required. There were arguments over the costs and value of the proposal compared to the cheaper expansion of existing facilities at Sydney Teachers’ College..

The NSW State elections held on 9 October 1927 had seen the election of a Nationalist/Country Party coalition government. David Drummond, the 37 year old Country Party member for Armidale and new Minister for Public Instruction, saw the establishment of a teachers’ college as the creation of a country college for country kids. He also saw a possible Northern college as one key building block in the creation of the infrastructure required to support a new Northern State.

Drummond found a ready ally in his department head, S H Smith, who saw the college as a chance to put his own ideas into practice. Then in his early sixties, Smith was (to use Drummond’s words) handsome and intelligent, with a commanding presence and a beautiful speaking voice. He was also shy, fussy, sensitive and vulnerable to personal attack.
The member and the Under Secretary. Drummond wanted a country college for country kids. Smith wanted a college that would reflect his view in the importance of vocational education. It was a powerful combination. 
Smith had started as a pupil teacher and then worked his way though the ranks, becoming Under-Secretary in 1922 upon the retirement of the famous Peter Board. Smith knew that there were those who affected to despise him because of his lack of formal education and was deeply wounded by it. Drummond who had left school at twelve was sensitive to Smith’s feelings and the two men became close.

Smith clashed with Professor Alexander Mackie, the head of Sydney Teachers, College. Mackie, a brilliant Scottish-born academic, had come to Sydney in 1906 to head the newly established Sydney Teachers’ College. He was a man of strong views who believed that that the main emphasis in teacher training should be academic, that the independence of Sydney Teachers’ College must be preserved, and who had little time for financial or other constraints on his activities.

Smith took a very different view. Bound up in the day-to-day problems of State education, he regarded the College’s job as training those teachers the Department required in the way the Department required. Smith also disagreed with Mackie as to the most desirable form of teacher training: Smith thought that Mackie’s academic bias meant ill-trained teachers and wanted more vocationally-oriented training.

These differences in approach would have made for difficulties anyway, but their personalities compounded problems. Smith and Drummond therefore combined.

In December 1927 came the announcement that a new College would be established in Armidale with teaching to commence in 1928. The rush was on. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 29  March 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.  

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Education in another era


This is the first of a new series exploring the early days of tertiary education in New England.  1935. Armidale Teachers' College staff and students. Students entered the college at 17, sometimes 16, and began teaching two years later.

Over coming columns, I thought that I would share with you a few stories about the early days of the Armidale Teachers’ and New England University Colleges with a special focus on people and life. This column sets the scene.

The past is indeed a far country. We are blinded to this because we think that what we think now, our experiences, our beliefs. can be used to interpret or understand the past.

The reality is very different. The Armidale Teachers’ College was founded in 1928, the University College in 1938. That’s not all that long ago and yet it was a totally different world. To a degree, what we believe today is tangential to what was.

The establishment of the Armidale Teachers’ College (ATC) was due to a confluence of political circumstances made possible because the small city was already an educational centre.

Armidale had five boarding schools, a boarding hostel and one state high school when the ATC was established in 1928. While many boarders came from Northern NSW, the boarding catchment extended from far North Queensland to Sydney and beyond.

The pupils were drawn to Armidale because of the city’s and schools’ reputations, because the city’s cold climate was seen as healthy. 

Boarding conditions were spartan, austere, unacceptable by today’s standards.  
TAS dormitory 1913 illustrates the spartan conditions at Armidale's boarding schools.
 The schools set part of the pattern of Armidale life, busy during term time, deserted during holidays.

The departure of the boarding school trains, the end-term mail trains south and north, were a scene of bustle. At each small stop during the night, pupils were dropped off to be collected by family.

Glen Innes Mail. Werris Creek. As term ended, the Brisbane and Glen Innes Mails became boarding school trains returning borders home. Some traveled for as much as 30 hours. 
Queensland country borders in particular had long journeys. They had to change at Wallangarra, in Brisbane and then perhaps again later for the appropriate country line train. It might be more than thirty hours before the train disgorged the now tired and grubby student into the arms of its parents.

Mind you, these long trips were not necessarily seen as a hardship. They were often fun.

Our attitudes towards education and age have also changed. Most students left school at the Intermediate Certificate, year ten in today’s money, some much earlier. The proportion going on to the Leaving Certificate (Year 11) was relatively small, the proportion going to teachers’ college or university smaller still.

The average starting age at college or university was 17, some were still 16. The normal teachers’ college course was two years for primary school teachers, the basic BA or BSc three years, four if you did honours or a Diploma of Education.

The college graduate would be in the class room as early as 18, more normally 19 or 20. The university student would be at work or in postgraduate study at 21, in some cases as early as 20.

It was a different world, but these were not the only differences. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 22  March 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sad final days of Casino's Camp Victory


October, 2015: The Australia Indonesia Association of NSW held a Camp Victory Memorial Forum at Casino to remember the place of Camp Victory in the story of Indonesian independence.
Camp Victory, Casino, Wednesday 11 September 1946. An Indonesian corporal is found hanged within the camp. It is unclear whether the death is suicide or, as camp officials appear to have suspected, a political murder.

Two days later, on Friday 13 September, camp officials attempted to enter the internment portion of the camp to interview prisoners believed to have been involved in the killing. A hostile demonstration took place, leading to the guards firing a volley into the air. Most prisoners went to the ground, but some of the Indonesians stood their ground, reportedly attempting to push a guard against the barbed wire.

More shots were fired, hitting three of the prisoners. One died, having received a full burst from a Sten submachine gun. Interviewed many years later, one of the Casino Boys said that he felt the guard was frightened and simply lost his head. In any event, it was a sad ending to what had once been a generally harmonious place.

The death was greeted with outrage. “How much longer is Dr. Evatt going to leave this concentration camp at Casino?” wrote V Thompson in the Lismore Northern Star. “How long will it be before he does the democratic thing—breaks up the camp and repatriates the prisoners to Republican territory in Java?”

Over September, the Netherlands East Indies and Dutch Authorities attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate arrangements with the Commonwealth Government whereby the prisoners would be discharged from the NEI armed forces and be supervised by Australian guards pending repatriation.

In October, two hundred prisoners who had completed their military sentences were repatriated. Finally, in December, the remaining prisoners and were sent to Queensland for repatriation, with all Dutch and NEI personnel withdrawn from Camp Victory.

That wasn’t quite the end of the story of Camp Victory, its Indonesia prisoners or the Casino Boys.

The Casino Boys had come to Australia to learn to fly and then found themselves as camp guards and even wharfies loading Dutch shipping to counter the union black ban.. Now they returned to the Netherlands to complete their flying training.

Most had had enough. When there were further delays in flying training, a group negotiated their return to Australia for discharge here. Expert scroungers by now, they also persuaded the authorities to return them via troop ship to the Dutch East Indies and then Dutch aircraft to Australia.

Over coming decades, they remained a tight knit group holding annual reunions.

Memories continued on the Indonesian side too.

On 24 October 2015, the Australia Indonesia Association of NSW held a Camp Victory Memorial Forum at Casino to remember the place of Camp Victory in the story of Indonesian independence.

The Forum included cultural displays and a tour of the Camp Victory site where the Casino & District Historical Society described the camp and recounted the interactions with internees.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 15  March 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The remarkable contribution of Vera Deacon to the preservation of Newcastle history

The Newcastle Herald carried some archival photos of Newcastle during the Great Depression. The photos were supplied by the University of Newcastle's Cultural Collections with the help of the Vera Deacon Regional History Fund.

I hadn't heard of Vera Deacon nor the Fund set up in her name to support the work, so I followed the links through.The University describes Vera's work in this way:
Vera over the past 17 years has donated to assist the University’s Cultural Collections (formerly Archives, rare Books & Special Collections Unit) in the Auchmuty Library. That has provided employment for over half a dozen people, who have accessioned over 637 boxes of regional research archives containing many thousands of individual items, digitised over 2.5 kms of Hunter Regional maps and plans, and many thousands of local photographic images that have had over 41.1 million hits on flickr, sponsored the creation of a Virtual 3D Colonial and Aboriginal Newcastle landscape and a Newcastle WOW smartphone app. Not a bad achievement for a pensioner from Stockton, New South Wales. We are forever thankful for this help, and for the cultural riches it has provided for the wider global community.
As an original resident of Moscheto Island (now part of Kooragang Island), Mrs Vera Deacon became acquainted with the University Archives during her research work into the history of the Islands of Newcastle, especially her childhood home; Moscheto (or Mosquito Island).

Later moving from Sydney to Stockton she became involved in her local community joining the Stockton Historical Society and the Booklovers group that regularly met in Cooks Hill Books. The latter organisation consisted of a number of University of Newcastle academics and staff including the late Professor Godfrey Tanner. A friendship grew and following the death of Professor Tanner, she made her first donation to Cultural Collections to have the published papers of the late Professor collated. This was then succeeded by a steady stream of cash donations to Cultural Collections to have the papers of the late Merv Copley accessioned as well. She has continued to this day to make donations to accession the University’s archival holdings relating to labour history and environmental themes.

The UoN piece lists the remarkably wide range of projects she has contributed to. Now the University is seeking donations to continue the work.

As a regional historian, I know how important the work of people like Vera is to the preservation of our past.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

History Matters - state of chaos after surrender

"Complex mess" filters down to Casino. Jim Belshaw continues the story of Camp Victory and the Casino Boys
The position in the Netherlands East Indies in the last months of 1945 and first months of 1946 can best be described as chaotic.

Upon surrender, the Japanese troops had withdrawn to barracks, leaving a power vacuum. The terms of the subsequent peace treaty required them to maintain civil control pending the arrival of the Allies, but there was reluctance to become re-involved.

The Allies had undertake to restore the previous civil order, ie the Dutch East Indies Administration, but were stretched and slow to move. The independence forces under Sukarno had asserted independence, but were weak in both military and administrative terms, especially outside Java.

They were also divided. While the main movement supported a pluralist unitary state, some wanted an Islamic state, others a soviet state.

The result was a complex mess that saw Japanese troops fighting independence forces, British and Dutch forces fighting independence forces and Indonesians fighting each other.
BLOODY BATTLE: British troops Surabaya,1945. The battle of Surabaya from October 27 to November 20 1945 was the single most bloody engagement of the war for Indonesian independence.  
 The position in Australia was also messy. The Netherlands East Indies (NEI) Government-in-Exile wanted to re-assert control and had been planning to that end, partly supported by a $US 10 million dollar loan from the US Government.

Its military position was relatively weak, but it now sought to deploy the military resources it had back to the Netherlands East Indies. As part of this process, Australian personnel were withdrawn from the three joint RAAF/NEI squadrons, with full control restored to the NEI Government in January 1946.

The union boycott intended to prevent NEI Government action was blocking shipping. The Australian Government had been bound by Allied arrangements, but as fighting in Indonesia dragged on and faced by union boycotts and local support for Indonesian independence, its position began to shift.

DAILY LIFE: Camp scene in Camp Victory, Casino 1946. There was strong support for Indonesian prisoners following the Indonesian declaration of independence
Conditions at Casino’s Camp Victory began to deteriorate. At the end of 1945, some locals wanted to give presents to the Indonesian prisoners who had been court-martialled and imprisoned for refusing service. When the Camp authorities refused to allow this, a local protest movement formed to supporting the prisoners.

There were also growing local fears about the risk of a prison break-out. Papers across Northern NSW and beyond began carrying stories about the camp, calling it a concentration camp.

The Dutch authorities were in a difficult position, They wanted to maintain military discipline, but Camp Victory had become a running sore. The couldn’t move the prisoners because of the shipping bans. Initial attempts to encourage repatriation to rebel territory in Indonesia failed because of distrust among the prisoners. The Australian Government was reluctant to take direct responsibility for the prisoners.

In September 1946, the whole thing blew apart, forcing the Camp’s closure.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 8 March 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Musings on the latest Aboriginal DNA studies from Professor Cooper and his team, issues for New England studies

The map shows possible Aboriginal migration routes. ka stands for a thousand years ago. 

The latest  research published in Nature on Aboriginal DNA provides further light on our evolving understanding of the pattern of Aboriginal occupation of this continent. I haven't read the original paper, that will have to wait until I can access it via a library, but both ABC and ars technica have good coverage.

The researchers analysed mitochondrial DNA — which allows maternal ancestry to be traced — from 111 hair samples that were originally collected, with permission, from Aboriginal families who had been forcibly relocated to the communities of Cherbourg in Queensland and Koonibba and Point Pearce in South Australia.

The South Australian Museum's collection of more than 5,000 hair samples, complete with cultural, linguistic, genealogical and geographical data, came from the expeditions run by the Board of Anthropological Research from the University of Adelaide between 1928 and the 1970s.

I don't want to comment on the detail of the paper until I have read it, but a few broad observations.

The idea that the continent could be settled quite quickly by the descendants of an original small group seems feasible once one thinks of "quite quickly" in terms of multiple generations. The idea of a run or area capable of supporting an extended family or small group is central to our understanding of the pattern of traditional Aboriginal life.

Even if the Aboriginal population descended from a single small group, natural population expansion in a land unoccupied by other humans or major natural predators would have led to the spotting of new family groups into territory already known through exploration, groups that would in turn have spotted new family groups in a continuing process. Over 2,000 to 5,000 years (50 to 125 generations), this compounding process would have led to occupation over very large geographic areas.

One of the debated questions in Aboriginal history is whether occupation extended first down the east and west coasts and then expanded inland as compared to a broader pattern of dispersion. Despite the references to waves of migration down the west and east coasts, so far as the east is concerned, my present judgment is that the easiest migration routes would have been inland, to the west of the Dividing Range along the slopes and immediate Western Plains country.

I am cautious about the meaning to be placed upon the relationship between place and people as summarised in the ABC  heading "DNA confirms Aboriginal people have a long-lasting connection to country". I need to be very careful and precise here, for my concern is the popular linkage about very specific peoples and very specific places over long periods.

The broad problem can be stated this way. Given the enormous climatic changes that took place in Australia (Sahul) over the millenia, when was the modern connection between modern Aboriginal groups and their country established? Was it a result of the changes that came with the Holocene?

The first thing that I think we can now say with a reasonable degree of certainty is that recent DNA analysis suggests that modern Aborigines are directly descended form the original founding group(s). This is important because alternative models popularised by Joseph Birdsell concluded that there had been several waves of settlement to the Australian continent, with later comers merging with or even supplanting existing populations. There may still have been later admixtures, but the core DNA component suggest a continuity over the 47-50 or so millenia of human occupation of the continent. The considerable differences in Aboriginal populations revealed by both physical anthropology and DNA analysis can be explained by the combination of different settlement patterns with time and relative isolation including that created by the effects of climate change.

To go from this to arguing a connection between particular groups and particular areas is more problematic. I note again that I have yet to read the paper itself.

I would expect some connection. As environmental conditions worsened with the Late Glacial Maximum (LGM), groups would have been forced to shift. Particular areas may have become uninhabitable, or at least inhabitable only on an irregular basis, forcing people to move. The changes took considerable time, so people would have moved slowly to join other groups in moves linked to existing family and cultural links. This would have preserved, even reinforced, particular DNA structures. It would also probably have led to genetic divergence between groups now more separated. As conditions eased, land would have been reoccupied starting with the immediate, more familiar traditional territories. Oral memories of past connections preserved over generations would also have come into play.    
 
I am especially interested in the history of a particular area. The latest research provides further tantalising clues on Aboriginal history, but I need to translate this into hypotheses about what happened in my area. For example, inland and coastal patterns are likely to be different. During the LGM, one can hypothesize that contact between coastal and western groups in New England would have been reduced as the Northern Tablelands became more inhospitable, more desolate. This suggests that the DNA of the two groups would have altered, accentuating differences.

Taking into account the paucity of recent archaeological work in Northern NSW outside rescue digs, I await the results of further DNA analysis with considerable interest. i need it to tell my story.        
    .

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

History matters - the ripple effect of Indonesia's declaration of independence


Tense wait: A scene from the 1946 Joris Ivens film Indonesia Calling showing Indonesian seamen in Sydney listening to a short-wave radio for news of Indonesia’s declaration of independence. Jim Belshaw continues the story of Camp Victory and the Casino Boys
 May 1925, Dutch East Indies. The Executive Committee of Comintern (Communist International) orders communists in Indonesia to form a united anti-imperialist front with non-communist nationalist organizations, but key elements in the PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia) demand revolution to replace the Dutch colonial government with PKI rule. At a conference in Prambanan, Central Java, communist-controlled trades unions decide that revolution should start with a strike by railroad workers that would signal a general strike and then a revolution.

The attempt was poorly coordinated and quickly crushed by the Dutch East Indies Authorities. A number of those arrested were sent to the Tanah Merah prison camp in West Papua, with others added later. By 1943, numbers in the camp including women and children totalled more than 500.

Concerned that the Tanah Merah detainees might become a fifth column, Charles Van der Plas, the Chief Commissioner of the Netherlands East Indies Government-in-Exile, persuaded General Douglas MacArthur to overrule Australian Government reluctance and bring the Tanah Merah detainees to Australia. The evacuation was completed between 27 May and 2 June 1943, using a mix of boats and flying boat.

Initially the detainees were sent to the Australian Government’s internment camp at Cowra, but then redistributed to various places including the 36th Australian Employment Company at Wallangarra and Camp Victory at Casino. While supporting Indonesian independence, most of the detainees saw defeat of Japan as a first priority.

The proclamation of Indonesian Independence on 17 August 1945 reached Australia by crackly short wave radio. Among those listening to the announcement were a group of Indonesian sailors crowded around a short-wave radio set in the Indonesian Seamen’s Union offices at Woolloomooloo.
Indonesian seamen speaking at a pro-Indonesian demonstration in Wynyard Square, Sydney, on September 28, 1945.
One of the things that I hadn’t properly realised until researching this series was the extent to which the relatively large Indonesian presence in Australia after 1942 created organisational linkages and a support base supporting Indonesian independence. This included both the Indonesians themselves and their organisations and their Australian supporters, building on previous fraternal links established through the unions and the Communist Party.

These links now came into play.

On 23 September 1945, Indonesian crew members on four Dutch ships in Sydney began a sit-down strike partly over pay, partly concerned that that the material on the ships might be used to suppress the independence movement. They were supported by the Australian Maritime Union and the Waterside Workers’ Federation, leading to a black ban on Dutch or Dutch chartered shipping that would last for over four years.
SS Moreton Bay. One of the Dutch chartered ships help up by the Union boycott 
News of Indonesian Independence seems to have reached both the Australian Army base at Wallangarra and the Netherlands East Indies’ Casino Camp Victory by 12 September 1945. At both places, Indonesian troops refused to continue service, while a grenade was thrown at Wallangarra.

At Camp Victory, barbed wire fences were hastily erected to contain troops who were (from a Netherlands East Indies’ Army perspective) in dereliction of duty. Instead of learning to fly, the Casino Boys found themselves pressed into duty as guards. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 1 March 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

History Matters - the Casino Boys wait for wings

The RMS Rangitata which brought the Casino Boys to Australia.
Jim Belshaw continues the story of camp Victory and the Casino Boys
With the final German surrender on 8 May 1945, attention switched to the defeat of Japan. As part of this process, the Dutch Government recruited 200 trainee pilots who were sent to Australia on the New Zealand Shipping Company’s RMS Rangitata for pilot training.

The group knew little about Australia. At Sydney, they were put on a troop train for travel to an unknown destination. After a long trip, the men found themselves at the Dutch East Indies Army base at Casino, Camp Victory, for basic training. 

We know from photographs that conditions at Camp Victory were fairly primitive, with the men living under canvas or in huts. Despite that, we know from later records such as interviews that they enjoyed themselves

They got on well with the Dutch East Indies troops, enjoying the food. With the exception of the Aboriginal settlement in South Casino which was out of bounds, they could move around freely, including visiting Casino or the nearby beaches.

A number acquired local girlfriends. Three of them, including Jill Spilsbury’s
step father Jacobus Johannes (Koos or Jack) Dalmayer, would marry local girls. They were also able to visit Sydney and in some cases Melbourne for R&R.

The experiences built on the bonds formed on ship, creating a tight knit group that would come to be called the Casino Boys.

Their biggest problem was that the military authorities really didn’t know what to do with them. Cornelus (Corry) Koedam recalled that they didn’t even have proper uniforms, wearing American uniforms at one point, Australian uniforms at another.

The men’s main frustration was that they had come to train as pilots. This depended on the Royal Australian Air Force and kept being deferred. The Pacific War was winding down, and the Dutch trainee pilots were not high on the list of immediate war priorities. They were effectively in limbo.

On 15 August 1945 Japanese time, the Japanese announced that they had surrendered. The official surrender document was signed on deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2 September.

The Dutch Government still wished the men to be trained, but the RAAF had no further interest in the matter. Other events now intervened.

In March 1945, the Japanese had organised an Indonesian committee on independence. On 9 August 1945, Sukarno, Hatta, and Radjiman Wediodiningrat were flown to meet Marshal Hisaichi Terauchi in Vietnam. They were told that Japan intended to announce Indonesian independence on 24 August.

With the Japanese surrender, Sukarno and Hatta decided to take immediate action. Two days after the Japanese surrender, they unilaterally proclaimed Indonesian independence. Indonesians were called upon to refuse service in the Dutch East Indies armed forces.

Word of the independence proclamation reached Camp Victory in September. With that, everything changed.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 22 February 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017.