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in December, the remaining prisoners and were sent to Queensland for repatriation, with all Dutch and NEI personnel withdrawn from Camp Victory.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

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.        
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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.