RELIC: This munitions depot is one of just a few relics which still stand from Casino’s Camp Victory.
RELIC: This munitions depot is one of just a few relics which still stand from Casino’s Camp Victory. Hamish Broome

Casino’s importance in Aust-Indon alliance revealed

A FEW kilometres north of Casino lies a ramshackle hut, one of the last relics of a chapter in Casino history which few realise helped shape the modern world.

Alongside a series of nine unmarked graves and a nearby munitions bunker, the hut is what's left of "Camp Victory", a Second World War Indonesian soldier's camp turned prison.

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.

They mingled with the Casino community, and could be seen in those years cycling into town, drinking milkshakes, and even developing romances with local girls with sometimes broken-hearted consequences.

But after the Japanese surrender in mid-1945 and the ensuing Indonesian declaration of independence on August 17, things started to go awry.

The Indonesian soldiers supported the battle for independence back home and went on strike. In reaction their Dutch officers tightened the screws.

What was a military camp became a military prison.

A flashpoint came on an April night in 1946, when a 28-year-old Indonesian soldier, Soerdo, was machine-gunned down during a confrontation with Dutch officers.

That followed another brutal death, according to long-time Australia-Indonesia researcher Neil Harris, where a man was forced into a metal box for his "rebellious behaviour" and died after being released 24 hours later.

Both men now lie in unmarked graves in Casino.

Casino residents, to their credit, refused to accept what happened, and the incident's reverberations went all the way to Canberra.

The controversy of a foreign national getting killed by a foreign government on Australian soil made it a political incident.

The Chifley government opted to recognise Indonesia's independence - against British and American wishes - and two years before the United Nations finally did in 1949.

When Australia finally closed the camp in 1946 and repatriated some 260 Indonesians (among some 5000 scattered across Australia) they shipped them to friendly soil, not the Dutch-controlled port cities of Indonesia.

From the Dutch, they took their weapons and sent them packing. It was quite the diplomatic incident.

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

On Saturday, the Indonesian Consul-General attended the Australia Indonesia Association's inaugural Camp Victory Memorial Forum, where historians spoke about the camp's importance and a delegation visited the site near the Casino meatworks.

Organiser Neil Smith, the vice president of the Australia Indonesia Association said Camp Victory and its story was more than just a symbol in the Australia-Indonesia relationship.

"We went against all the powers of the world - that was the first time we stood on our own two feet," he said. "The British and Americans were telling us to support the Dutch, but we said 'no, we'll support the Indonesians'."

Mr Smith has been researching Australia-Indonesia relations for 20 years and only about five years ago stumbled upon the importance of Casino's part in the story.

The race is now on to preserve the story and its relics for posterity.

"I believe these men should be recognised. It's time - it's the 70th anniversary," Mr Smith said. "It's been buried for 70 years and now it's all coming out."

INDONESIA FAST FACTS

Archipelago colonised by the Dutch in 1800 and became the "jewel" in their empire like India was to the British.

Occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War.

Following the Japanese surrender in August 1945, Indonesian nationalists declared independence

The Indonesian National Revolution eventually declared victory in 1949, when modern Indonesia was born.

Australia declared its support in 1947, breaking ranks with the US and Britain who supported the Dutch.



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