Australian waterfront workers support Indonesian independence against the Dutch

To support Indonesian independence, 4,000 Australian waterfront workers joined Indonesian crew members in a blockade against Dutch ships carrying arms and supplies.

Year 1945

Location: Melbourne VIC, Sydney NSW, Brisbane QLD, Fremantle WA

Until World War II, Australia’s nearest neighbour was known as the Netherlands East Indies. The Japanese invasion of 1941 and the defeat of the Dutch colonial government in 1942 enabled the Indonesian independence movement to establish the Republic of Indonesia in August 1945. As the Dutch prepared to reoccupy its colony, Indonesian nationalists in Australia lobbied the Australian government and forged strong links with the trade unions. In a show of solidarity, over 4,000 Australian waterfront workers joined Indonesian crew members in a strike and refused to load Dutch ships carrying arms and supplies, declaring such ships ‘black.’ The blockade was a high point in the relationship between Australia and Indonesia. It established a bond of friendship between the two nations which made later tensions in the relationship less acute. The support shown by Australians to the infant Indonesian republic suggested the possibility of a post-war shift in the way Australia conceived its position in the region, aligning itself regionally ahead of imperial ties.

In this radio broadcast from 1945, the first Premier of the Indonesian Republic, Sutan Sjahrir speaks to the people of Australia, claiming as friends to his fledgling nation the Australian workers who refused to load the Dutch ships. Promising close political and economic ties between neighbours, Sjahrir also refers to the recent experience of the war in the Pacific and the Australian success in repelling the Japanese in the name of freedom. Sjahrir promises that in future conflicts, an independent Indonesia will help defend Australia’s freedom.

Image Source: Sylvia Mullins being attacked with firehoses by Dutch troops on the Stirling Castle. The Sun, Sydney 7 November 1945, courtesy the Mitchell Library, NSW



John Jongejan :

  • 02 Apr 2012 7:17:57pm

    I’m sorry, but I find this article offensive beyond belief.
    My tears shall never make up for the loss my family had to suffer.
    The .. ‘people’ responsible for these atrocities shall always be perceived as martyrs, whereas reality shows them to be worse than the ‘enemy’ they were supposedly fighting and I will oppose this until my dying breath.

    Fighters of freedom?
    Spare me the BS.
    Children who knew now what was happening were classed as enemies and killed on sight.
    Nice way of showing how much you cared for justice & independence.

    I will *NOT* forgive the atrocities perpetrated by those who claim to be the bringers of freedom.

    May you rot in hell

    • Brian T. Manning :

      02 Apr 2012 9:23:12pm

      The struggle to prevent the Return of the Dutch Administration after they had fled in the face of the Japanese advance must not be confused with the overthrow of Soekarno by Suharto and the one million members of the PKI he slaughtered.
      Rupert Lockwoods book “Black Armada” provides a valuable account of events leading up to Australian Trade Union support for Indonesians held in the Casino internment camp by Dutch exiles.

      • John Jongejan :

        13 Apr 2012 6:23:54pm

        Thanks Brain, I’ll look into it 🙂

  • Suzbat :

    02 Apr 2012 3:07:06pm

    Right now, the West Papuans are seeking independence from Indonesia and so far, the repercussions are very similar to the fate suffered by the East Timorese. Given our spotted history with the East Timorese against the Indonesians (some good, some not good), my hope is that Australians would continue to provide their support for independence, and hopefully encourage the Indonesians to return the favour they once received from Australians.

  • Anon1985 :

    25 Mar 2012 2:28:17am

    I’m Indonesian and I wasn’t aware of this event. If the Dutch ships had managed to sail to Indonesia with weapons, Indonesia’s independence could have been delayed for a few years back.

    I’m not so familiar with Mr Sutan Sjahrir but it seems he was a key player in Indonesian politics. I always thought Indonesia’s president in 1945 was Mr Soekarno. What’s a premier? Similar to a Prime Minister or Vice President?

    It’s good to learn and discover historical facts previously unknown to my knowledge. All I hear nowadays are antagonisms between Indonesia and Australia.

    • Andrew from Red Cliffs :

      27 Mar 2012 10:21:06am

      A Premier is the leader of an Australian state, similar to an American governor, I’m unsure what Indonesia terms the heads of their provinces (I think that is the right term?).

    • Walter from Canberra :

      02 Apr 2012 4:15:10pm

      According to what I read, Mr Sukarno was the first President, Mr Mr Sutan Sjahrir was the first Prime Minister (appointed by mr Sukarno). Not sure why the article calls him ‘Premier’ (perhaps a mistake?)


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