On 5 September 1945 the acting premier of New South Wales, J. M. Baddeley, sent a letter to the prime minister of the Commonwealth of Australia to report about complaints that the Aborigines Welfare Board had made concerning the behavior of Javanese soldiers who were based at the town of Casino, New South Wales.
Apparently there were some Dutch soldiers based there from the Netherlands East Indies (N.E.I.). I’m not sure how they got there, but they must have evacuated to Casino as the N.E.I. fell to the Japanese during World War II. When they did, they brought with them some of their colonial forces, namely Javanese and West Indian soldiers.
Those men, it turns out, started to interact with Aboriginal women, and that did not please the Aborigines Welfare Board.
In his letter, Baddeley reported the following the information about these interactions:
“For some considerable time the Aborigines Welfare Board of New South Wales has received very adverse reports regarding conditions at Casino where there is situated a Camp of Javanese and West Indians, under the control of the Netherlands East Indies Forces.
“The reports disclosed that the presence of these coloured troops in the vicinity of Casino had attracted a considerable number of young aboriginal women to the town, resulting in immoral behaviour, drinking and gambling.”
The Aborigines Welfare Board had apparently first learned of this problem in November 1944, and local officials in Casino had decided to prevent the interactions between Javanese men and Aboriginal women by banning the Javanese soldiers from going to the area where the women were.
However, in July 1945 there were again reports of interactions between these two groups. To quote from Baddeley’s letter,
“Between 16th and 21st July, thirteen persons of aboriginal blood were convicted on charges of drunkenness, obscene language and resisting arrest, and it has been alleged that one of the main causes of this misconduct is the traffic in adulterated liquor between the Javanese and the aborigines.
“In the streets after dark and in the picture shows, numbers of aboriginal girls are to be seen in company with Javanese and West Indians although, apparently, the same also applies to many white girls.”
The Aborigines Welfare Board, originally founded in 1883 as the Board for the Protection of Aborigines, is an institution that regulated the lives of Aborigines. Today it is perhaps most well known (or notorious) for its role in the taking of Aboriginal children from their families in an effort to assimilate them into white Australian society.
This child removal policy was based on various motives and beliefs, but they were tied together by a shared conviction, on the part of white Australians, that it was in the best interest of the country that the “darkness” of the Aborigines (be that perceived as cultural backwardness or the actual darkness of their skin) should ultimately be eliminated.
The Aborigines Welfare Board was therefore concerned that the relations between Aboriginal women and “coloured” Javanese would perpetuate “darkness.”
I wonder, however, what the Board felt about the white women who were apparently interacting with the Javanese soldiers in the streets after dark. Their activities didn’t seem to concern Baddeley all that much. Were they seen to be reducing “darkness”?
[The letter is from the National Archives of Australia = NAA: A1066, IC45/54/5/1, and the image is from the KITLV Digital Media Library = Title: Een soldaat van het volksleger op Java; Image code14048]