Casino – Camp Victory
Fascinating time in Australia-Indonesia relations, 70 years ago
It was a rainy Saturday afternoon on the 24th October 2015, at Casino Community & Cultural Center Rooms, Casino, NSW, Kopi Brisbane had come to attend the invite of The Australia Indonesia Association of NSW, for Camp Victory Memorial Forum.
The event was a commemoration of hundreds of Indonesian servicemen and their families, that were held by the Dutch at Casino, in NSW, between 1942 and 1946, 70 years ago, during World War II.
When Kopi Brisbane heard of the opportunity to learn about this fascinating time in Australia-Indonesia relations, Kopi Brisbane put the event into their agenda, as a “MUST GO EVENT”.
The event was attended by The Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia, Bapak Yayan GH Mulyana and his wife; Bapak Frans Simarmata, Diaspora Indonesia NSW President; Jan Lingard, Former Lecturer in Indonesian at the University of Sydney and author of ‘Refugees and Rebels’ – Indonesian Exiles in Wartime Australia’; Adjunct Fellow Dr Graham Irvine, author of ‘Casino Victory Camp: Indonesians at Casino 1942-1946’ & ‘The Tanah Merah Exiles’ and 120 Local Residents of Casino, surrounding Suburbs, Brisbane and Sydney.
Casino is not only the name of a place for gambling, Casino is referring to the name of the town in NSW, where hundreds of Indonesian servicemen were held by the Dutch. Over 70 years ago,
when the Indonesian Declaration of Independence was declared, 500 Indonesians asked for their citizenship of the new Republic of Indonesia, in this town. The Casino township residents declared their support for the detainees. This support subsequently changed events and the Australian Federal Government’s attitudes and policies, in the first move of support for the new Indonesia.
The camp near Casino was called “Camp Victory” and during Japan’s occupation of Indonesia to its closure in 1946 at least 500 Indonesian soldiers passed through its gates to serve their Dutch colonial masters while in exile. Today, a series of nine unmarked graves and a nearby munitions bunker, the hut is what’s left of “Camp Victory”. This was started as a Second World War Indonesian soldier’s camp, later turned prison. After the Japanese surrender in mid-1945 and the ensuing Indonesian declaration of independence on August 17, 1945, Australia finally closed the camp in 1946 and repatriated 260 Indonesians.
It’s only now that Camp Victory and the ramifications of what happened there are being celebrated as having a crucial role in the birth of Australia’s relationship with Indonesia – as well as Indonesia’s post-war fight for independence from their Dutch colonial masters
Below is the interview between Kopi Brisbane and Katie Coughlan, an Australian speaking fluently Indonesian,
Kopi Brisbane: “Katie, what is the objective of the forum organized today?
Katie Coughlan: “to be able to reach Indonesian’s living in Australia or Australian’s with an interest in Indonesia living in Brisbane, this is indeed one of the objectives of the forum. Just to spread the word of the camp’s existence and historical significance to a wider audience”
Kopi Brisbane: “What make you organize the event?”
Katie Coughlan: “I grew up in Lismore where I started learning Indonesian at High School, the language was a form of escape to a wider world. At the University of Queensland I studied Languages and History. 15 years later, having lived, worked and studied in Australian capital cities as well as three years in Indonesia I moved home with my Javanese husband to start our family. I was intrigued by the snippets I had heard in my university years about a camp full of Indonesians during World War Two era right on my doorstep. I wanted to know why I hadn’t heard of it while growing up and was keen to find out more about this place which brought my love of Indonesian and history together. As I began uncovering the history and meeting the people from the local Southern Cross University and the Casino Historical Society who could tell me the camp’s history I wondered if more people would be interested to find out about this part of international relations in our backyard. Meeting fellow Indonesian history obsessive, Neil Smith of Australia Indonesia Association, in Sydney while I was working for Australia Indonesia Business Council was a stroke of good fortune as we were able to work together to bring the event into reality for the Casino community and beyond. Including the visit of the Consul General”
Kopi Brisbane: “What do you want to achieve by creating this event”
Katie Coughlan: “Two objectives:
“Firstly to bring the history of the campsite and the unmarked graves of the Indonesians who died whist in Casino to the attention of the Indonesian Government with the hope that this will prompt them to take steps to have it better commemorated and recorded”
Secondly to bring more local awareness in the Northern Rivers area to the historical significance of this place and hopefully further afield also in Australia and Indonesia at large. Many of the Casino locals with memories of this time will not be with us much longer so it is vital to get these people together to share memories and memorabilia of the ‘kite flying Jarvos’ of the Casino Victory Camp.”
Kopi Brisbane: “What do you see is happening now?”
Katie Coughlan: “The success of the weekend’s event was evident through the numbers in attendance, over 80 dignitaries, locals and members of the Indonesian community. The feedback from the Consulate General Office was very positive – nothing beats having your feet on the ground for bringing history to life. As many Indonesian student I have taken to the site from Lismore have expressed it is indeed strange to imagine hundreds of Indonesians just like them living in that cow field for months at a time. At a time before the White Australia policy was removed it is indeed a wonder that the community of Casino largely harmoniously (and sometimes romantically) engaged with the Indonesian’s stationed at the camp. This story resonates with many now in today’s world of conflict and tensions around race and place.
The Northern Rivers Indonesian Kids run were very proud to sing for the crowd and for the Consul General. It gave them an opportunity share their culture with the wider community. Another positive experience in building up grassroots relations outside the Jakarta-Canberra monopoly touched on in the Consul General’s speech.
Kopi Brisbane: “What is your short term expectation and what is your long term expectation?”
Katie Coughlan: “In the medium term we hope to have erected some history boards and plaques at the site as commemoration along with appropriate ceremony, involving the Indonesian Government and local dignitaries as appropriate. In this way visitors to the site will know what it is they are looking at. We hope some of the remaining artefacts will be preserved. As mentioned above we hope in future to spawn more interest in this history be it through media, school or touring visits, commemorative kite flying competitions and writings of tales from the camp. Some local theatre makers are currently looking at the possibility of recreating some of the camp tales in a more creative format to reach a wider audience.”