A new book that explores the significance of the Australian peacekeeping role in the four-year revolution for the control of Indonesia will be launched in Darwin next week.
Charles Darwin University history academic Dr Steven Farram said that while Australia’s contribution to Indonesia’s independence struggle in the late 1940s was relatively well-known, his book revealed a part of the story that had been barely touched on.
Dr Farram said that the mix of internal Indonesian power plays, tensions with the Dutch, and broader Cold War politics provided a rich backdrop for a fascinating story.
“A lot of ground was broken at the time (1947) and Australia was in the thick of it,” Dr Farram said.
“The Indonesian struggle for independence took place in the aftermath of a world war that was still fresh in the minds of Australia, and in the early years of the United Nations (UN), which was learning what to do on the run.
“The UN Security Council had just issued its first ceasefire order and Australia was called on to provide military observers to monitor proceedings. They could be considered to be the world’s first peacekeepers.”
Dr Farram said that European post-war decolonisation of South-east Asia was another key factor.
“Britain had move towards a decolonisation policy, which may have influenced Australia to think that the Dutch were on their way out too. The Netherlands and Australia had been allies in World War II, but new forces were now at play. While the Dutch had regarded us as a good ‘white’ neighbour, their refusal to recognise the independence of the (Indonesian) republic was at odds with Australia’s position.
“The involvement of Royal Australian Air Force Group Captain Charles Eaton as Australia’s consul in the UN Consular Commission was viewed as interference in Dutch internal affairs. But we stood up for the Indonesians and quickly gained a reputation as being a big friend. This involvement has played a positive role in long-term Australian-Indonesian relations.”
Dr Farram, CDU’s Senior Lecturer in North Australian and Regional Studies, said Australia’s primary motivation was peace and security.
“The bombing of Darwin and the fear of a Japanese invasion was the impetus for Australian efforts to ensure peace to our north. We wanted peace in our region and a level of security among our neighbours that would facilitate trade.”
Dr Farram said he had invested about two and a half years on researching and writing the book.
“Initially, I was encouraged by Charles Stuart Eaton, the son of the Australian consul, who showed me his father’s photo album. This led me to archival material in Australia and the UK.
“It appealed to me as an amazing story. In what little had been written, key events had been overlooked.”
The book will be launched by Dr Rod Nixon at the NT Archives Centre, Millner, on Thursday 9 May from 5.30pm. The event is free and open to the public.