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

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in December, the remaining prisoners and were sent to Queensland for repatriation, with all Dutch and NEI personnel withdrawn from Camp Victory.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.  

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