Camp Columbia (Dutch Forces 1944-45)

NEI Government-in-Exile/NICA/NEFIS/NIGIS Headquarters

Military camp
Greater Brisbane

Ipswich Road, Wacol 4077

Established at the former US Army Camp Columbia at Wacol in July 1944, the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) Government-in-Exile is the only foreign government to be established on Australian soil. Other agencies - the Netherlands East-indies Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS), the Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA) and the Netherlands Indies Government Information Service (NIGIS) moved from Melbourne to support their administration. A NEI transport unit maintained and flew Dakota aircraft at Archerfield.


On 7 March 1942, just prior to the fall of Java to the Japanese, the NEI Lieutenant-Governor Herbert Van Mook and 14 officials flew to Australia to establish an NEI administration to continue the struggle. Van Mook was recalled to London but on 8 April, he established the NEI Commission for Australia and New Zealand. Based in Melbourne, the Commission worked with the Netherlands Ambassador Van Aerssen Beyeren in Canberra.

On 14 September 1944, the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina, residing temporarily in London, decreed the formation of a NEI Government-in-Exile led by Van Mook. To prepare for Van Mook’s return, the NEI Commission and various Dutch/NEI military headquarters had begun to move to Brisbane from July 1944. The NEI Government-in-Exile was quartered in Camp Columbia. It had been built in October1942 for the US Army. In April 1943 it became the headquarters of the US 6th Army. That headquarters moved onto a new base at Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea by June 1944. Situated across Ipswich Road from the Wacol railway station, Camp Columbia comprised existing offices, barracks, accommodation huts and an internal road network.

The Dutch refurbishment of Camp Columbia began in June 1944. All building work needed the approval of the Australian Department of War Organization and Industry Works’ priorities sub-committee. The NEI Labour Battalion brought from Casino, NSW, was tasked with improving the camp. This battalion, comprising Indonesians led by Dutch and Indonesian officers constructed new office buildings, club facilities and a laundry while showers and toilets were added to the accommodation huts. After taking advice from US authorities, the Australian Government took the unusual step of not charging the Dutch for the lease of the site under a Reciprocal Lend-Lease arrangement.

The NEI Government-in-Exile comprised seven departments, whose directors along with Van Mook constituted the Legislative Council. This Council could, if the need arose, be expanded to include 8 extraordinary members drawn from any Dutch or Indonesians then available. Van Mook appointed the 7 directors on 12 April 1944. They were Charles Van der Plas for the Department of the Interior and Chairman of the Board of Departmental Heads; Dr N.S. Blom for the Justice Department; Dr R.E. Smits for the Finance Department; P.A. Kerstens for the Education Department; P.H.W. Sitsen for the Public Works Department; General Van Oyen as Head of the Department of War and Emil Van Hoogstraten for the Economic Affairs Department and as acting General Secretary of the Government. The directors held their first meeting in Melbourne on 23 May 1944. They had nine more meetings before reconvening at Camp Columbia on 23 August. On 3 November 1944, Van Aerssen Beyeren informed the Commonwealth of the formal closure of the NEI Commission.

Dutch military units moved to Brisbane to serve the NEI Government-in-Exile. A Women’s Army Corps lived at Wacol but trained at Yeronga Park. The Commonwealth provided a special train for NEFIS to shift its staff and files from Melbourne. NEFIS leased offices for its headquarters in the New Zealand Insurance Building at 334-338 Queen Street, the CBD. The NEI Army Air Corps (Militaire Luchtvaart or ML-KNIL) leased fourth floor offices in the Courier Building at 240 Queen Street, the CBD as headquarters. The Hotel Mornington housed Dutch aircrew who flew air transport for Camp Columbia. By June 1944 there were 16 Dutch Dakota aircraft concentrated at Archerfield aerodrome. A NEI Personnel & Equipment Pool section under Captain P. Schelling serviced the planes. It later became No.19 NEI Squadron. The NEI Commission had rented the Pacific Private Hotel at 421 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley since 26 November 1942 for use as a hotel or canteen for Dutch military personnel. On 12 October 1943, the Brisbane City Council approved owner F.J. Boustead’s request to add a temporary recreation building to the hotel’s rear. Two small warehouses No.23 and No.24 were allotted to the Dutch at the US supply base of Camp Meeandah at Pinkenba. All sites were chosen as they had transport links to Camp Columbia. Archerfield, then Brisbane’s domestic airport, was close to Wacol. Pinkenba, Fortitude Valley and the CBD were connected to Wacol by rail.

The Bank voor Nederlandsche Indie NV (NEI Bank Ltd) that controlled the currency supply for the liberated parts of the NEI shifted to Camp Columbia. The Bank oversaw the NEI Government-in-Exile’s new economic agencies. These were the Nederlandsche Indische Escompto Maatschappij NV (NEI Discount Co Ltd), the Nederlandsche Indische Handelsbank NV (NEI Commercial Bank Ltd) and the Nederlandsche Handel Maatschappij NV (Dutch Trading Company Ltd). NIGIS led by H.B. Quispel along with its Film and Photographic Unit relocated to the Camp. The NICA headquarters went to Wacol. NICA’s role was to follow behind the Allied invasion of the NEI and restore the Dutch colonial administration in the re-occupied areas. NICA units were militarized. They brought civil relief and rehabilitation plus defended the local population from Japanese raids. Eventually, nearly 2,000 personnel from various Dutch or NEI organisations would be based at Camp Columbia.

The NEI Government-in-Exile undertook important work at Camp Columbia. It negotiated the acquisition of civil relief supplies with the Australian Government and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. It sought Commonwealth permission for the basing in Australia of a 30,000-strong liberation army being raised in the Netherlands. It signed the Principles Governing Arrangements for Civil Administration and Jurisdiction in Netherlands Territory in the Southwest Pacific Area agreement with General Douglas MacArthur on 10 December 1944. Its administration of liberated parts of the NEI was studied at the Institute of Pacific Relations conference held at Hot Springs, Virginia in January 1945. It supplied members to the Dutch delegation to the UN Plenary Conference held in San Francisco (25 April to 26 June 1945).

The Dutch planned to stay at Camp Columbia until the liberation of sizeable town in the NEI that could provide relief to their acute staff shortage. As no such large population centre was liberated, the NEI Government-in-Exile remained at Wacol until War’s end in September 1945.


Dr. Jonathan (Jack) Ford, Allies in a Bind - Australia and Netherlands East Indies relations in the Second World War, (Loganholme: NESWA, 1996).