The Black Armada (Armada Hitam) opening at the Museum Benteng Vredeburg, Yogyakarta on 31 August with the permanent screening of Ivens' Indonesia Calling showed decorations, traditional dancers, prayers, speeches, a sumptuous feast, and to top it all off, an explosion-packed historical re-enactment of a battle by Indonesian freedom fighters. Film and exhibition commemorate the Australian support of the fight for independence of the Republic of Indonesia 70 years ago.

The exhibition has two displays. The Museum Benteng Vredeburg took the opportunity of hosting the travelling exhibition of the National Maritime Museum of Australia in Sydney to create a temporary exhibition of their own. It was created in a complementary style and told the wider story of the Indonesian Independence struggle. Usually in Indonesian depictions of this iconic story of national struggle, Australia doesn’t rate a mention, neither does the support of one of the few Dutchmen in favor of this fight: Joris Ivens. However this new display includes not just the actions of the Australian maritime workers who ordered black bans against all Dutch ships returning to Indonesia in late 1945, but also the critical actions and support of the Indian and Chinese Seamens Unions based in Australia as well as Ivens'film, which had an impact on international media as well as film history: the first of anti-colonial films supporting the movement of Third-World countries in their struggle for national independence.

While Australian and Indonesian diplomatic relations have been a bit frosty of late, it was wonderful to see both Pak Dubes Riphat Najib Koesema Indonesian Ambassador to Australia and the Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Paul Grigson attending the opening. In their speeches both Ambassadors were keen to point out that despite some differences along the way, the broader picture of Australian-Indonesian connections over time has often been overlooked. Ambassador Grigson noted the hundreds of years of trade relations between Makassan bech de mer fishers and Indigenous people in northern Australia. Ambassador Koesema noted that the borders of the two countries are closer than Sydney is to Canberra.

Anthony Liem, who lobbied for the two exhobitions in Australia and Indonesia, still has memories of the Indonesian war of independence. He was barely three when a bomb exploded near his home in Semarang, on the north coast of Java, in late 1945.
"My father was a doctor, so he went out and treated the dead and wounded."  Little did Mr Liem know, more than 5000 kilometres away in Sydney, his future father-in-law, Fred Wong, was also doing his bit for Indonesian independence. In a period of history that has largely been forgotten by both nations, Australians such as Mr Wong played a central role in the Indonesian fight for freedom from Dutch rule. This remarkable connection between the two countries is explored in Armada Hitam (Black Armada), which opened at the Museum Benteng Vredeburg in Yogyakarta on Monday. It is simultaneously on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.  The Dutch administration had fled to Australia in 1942 after the Japanese occupation of what was then known as the Dutch East Indies. They brought with them 10,000 Indonesians, including political prisoners. That was something of a shock to Australians, Mr Liem wryly observes, given the White Australia policy. In late 1945, when the war was over, the Dutch prepared to return to Indonesia in the Black Armada – ships loaded with military arms and personnel – in order to re-establish colonial control. However, Australian maritime workers sympathetic to the Indonesian independence cause boycotted the ships, refusing to supply them with coal, food and munitions. "In fact, everything Dutch is black," a leaflet issued by the Trades and Labor Council said. Support for Indonesian independence grew from the maritime workers to the Chifley government and Australia led the way in international political recognition of Indonesia. A decade ago, Mr Liem discovered his father-in-law's role in the struggle when he read a research paper, Unbroken Commitment: Fred Wong, China, Australia and a World to Win by University of Western Sydney academic Drew Cottle. Mr Wong, a greengrocer from Leichhardt, helped organise meals for waterside strikers in Chinese cafes. "The whole family didn't know anything about this political background," Mr Liem says. The paper also mentioned a film, Indonesia Calling, which featured Mr Wong's best friend, Arthur. The film is based on a re-enactment of a mutiny by Indian seamen on board the Patras, a Dutch ship sailing for Indonesia that was forced to return to Sydney Harbour. Mr Liem believed the fascinating story of this period of transnational co-operation needed to be told to a wider audience. In 2008, he approached the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney and the Museum Benteng Vredeburg in Yogyakarta and suggested an exhibition. "I thought it was an excellent story about the maritime connections between the two countries that has almost been forgotten in the public consciousness," Stephen Gapps, curator of the National Maritime Museum, says. Armada Hitam features Indonesia Calling on continuous loop. On display in the National Maritime Museum is also a gamelan (Javanese percussion instrument) made from sardine tins and cooking pots by an Indonesian political prisoner, Bapak Pontjopangrawit. The Dutch brought the political prisoners with them to Australia, fearing the prisoners would establish a guerilla force if left behind that could make the Dutch return to Indonesia difficult. They were initially interned in Australian camps with Japanese, German and Italian prisoners of war, where Pontjopangrawit entertained prisoners with his makeshift gamelan. However, the prisoners were released after unions lobbied then attorney-general Herbert Evatt, pointing out the Indonesians were not political enemies of Australia. Mr Liem  marvels at the Australian support for Indonesians at the time. "Australia had just come out of a terrible war in Asia in 1945 and if a Chinese, Indonesian or Japanese person was walking down the street, people wouldn't have known the difference. This is a story about Australians 70 years ago who had the courage to stand up for their beliefs and their courage and foresight of a modern, multicultural, dynamic Australia."
"I see so much potential for a grander, larger exhibition about all the historical connections between the two countries that would suit the 75th anniversary of the Black Armada."

Anthony Liem: 'I am pleased to talk about Joris Ivens and his contribution to the Indonesian independence 70 years ago and hope that he will be honoured in future by becoming a Pahlawan/ Hero of the Indonesian Independence struggle. He will be the first Dutch person to get this decoration.'
Anthony Liem wrote a bilangual text about the black ban of Dutch ships in 1946:


Sesudah masyarakat Indonesia di Australia mendengar Proklamasi Kemerdekaan Indonesia pada tanggal Agustus 17, 1945, Central Komite Indonesia Merdeka (CENKIM) didirikan di Brisbane pada tanggal September 20, 1945. Pak D. Tamin menjadi Ketua dan M. Bondan Sekretarisnya. Organisasi Komite Indonesia Merdeka (KIM) juga didirikan di Sydney, Melbourne dan Mckay.

Pelaut Indonesia dan pelaut China dan India bersama dengan buruh dermaga Australia memboikot kapal Belanda NICA di pelabuhan Sydney dan pelabuhan lain di Australia. Kapal-kapal ini mengangkut pasukan Belanda dan senjatanya untuk kembali membangun pemerintah penjajahan kolonial Belanda di Indonesia yang sudah merdeka. Kapal -kapal ini juga perlu untuk mengangkut anggota pemerintah Belanda. Kapal ‘Karsik’ memuat uang Belanda NICA.

Di Brisbane pada tanggal September 20, 1945, 85 pelaut Indonesia di kapal KPM Bontekoe, menolak pekerjaan dan meninggalkan kapal ini.  Komite Pelaut Indonesia berhubungan dengan Komite Pelaut dan Buruh Dermaga Australia. Mereka didukung dan Sekretaris J.Healy memutuskan pada tanggal September 24, 1945  semua buruh di pelabuhan Australia memberi ‘black ban’ pada semua kapal- kapal Belanda. Kira-kira 500 kapal di pelabuhan Australia ditahan dan diberi nama ‘Black Armada atau Armada Hitam’.  Perdana Menteri Australia Ben Chifley mendukung ‘black ban’ ini.

PM Chifley mengatakan ‘Arms, Munitions are loaded on Mercy ships’. Buruh dermaga menemukan peti yang bernama ‘medical supplies’ dan di dalam peti ini penuh dengan peluru dan senjata. Berita ini di depan surat kabar Daily Miror dengan berita tentang empat kapal ‘mercy ships’ yang mau menyelundup ‘black ban’ ini.

PM Chifley juga mengatakan karena problem ini tentang Pemerintah Belanda dan penduduknya. Ini bukan problem Australia. Pemerintah Australia tidak bisa ikut campur di ‘black ban’ ini

‘The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 25 September 1945’ mengatakan ‘Watersiders Ban Ships to N.E.I. if Taking Arms’

Sekretaris Buruh Dermaga Mr J. Healey mengatakan ‘Masyarakat Indonesia di Sydney mempunyai kepercayaan pada Pemerintah Republik Soekarno yang didirikan di Jawa. Dr Soekarno seorang nasionalis Indonesia yang mendukung demokrasi. Kita berdamping dengan PBB untuk mencegah Fasism Jepang dan Indonesia harus diberi kemerdekaan dan pemerintah demokratik di negaranya sesuai dengan dasar- dasar di Atlantic Charter.



On hearing the Indonesian Independence Declaration (Indonesia Merdeka) on August 17, 1945, the Central Komite Indonesia Merdeka (CENKIM) was founded in Brisbane on September 20, 1945. Mr D. Tamin became the Chairman and M. Bondan was the Secretary. The Komite Indonesia Merdeka (KIM) organisations were formed in Sydney, Melbourne and Mckay.

The Indonesian sailors, the Chinese and Indian sailors together with the Australian Maritime Unions put a black ban on Dutch East Indies (NICA) ships in Sydney Harbour and other harbours in Australia. These ships were loaded with Dutch/Koningklijk Nederlands Indies Leger (KNIL) troops and their arms back to Indonesia to re establish colonial rule on the independent Indonesia. These ship were also needed to transport the NICA civil administration. The ship Karsik was carrying NICA currency.

In Brisbane on September 20, 1945, 85 Indonesian  sailors on the Koningkelijke Paketvaart Maatschappij (KPM)ship Bontekoe, refusing to work the ship and walked off the ship. The Committee of the Indonesian Seamen’s Union contacted the Australian Maritime and Seamen’s Unions. These Unions gave their support and the Union Seccretary J. Healy decided on September 24 that all maritime workers in Australia put a ‘black ban’ on all Dutch ships. About 500 ships in Australian ports were affected and they were given the name ‘Black Armada or Armada Hitam’. The Australian Prime Minister Ben Chifley refused to intervene on the grounds that it was a dispute ‘between a foreign government and its own subjects’, therefore the Australian government will not interfere.

PM Chifley made a statement to parliament that ‘Arms, Munitions are loaded on Mercy Ships’. Members of the Maritime Union found a packing case labelled ‘medical supplies’ and this case was found to contain arms and munition. This was reported on the front page of the Daily Mirror with news that four ‘Mercy’ ships tried to escape the ‘black ban’.

The Sydney Morning Herald of Tuesday September 25, 1945 reported ‘Watersiders Ban Ships to N.E.I. if Taking Arms’. In this report the Secretary of the Maritime Union J Healy stated that ‘the Indonesian community in Sydney had confidence in the Soekarno Republican Government, which had been set up in Java. Dr. Soekarnowas a democratic Indonesian Nationalist and the provisional constitution of his Republic was a democratic one similar to that of Australia. We stood side by side with the United Nations against Japanese Facism and believe that the reward of Indonesia should be the right to establish a democratic Government of Indonesia in their country in accordance to the principles of the Atlantic Charter……………..An attempt is being made to restore the autocratic and anti -democratic Dutch rule in our country by force. A Dutch army is already on its way to Indonesia for this purpose. The Indonesian Republic Government has made it clear that it wants a friendly alliance with the United Nations, but it will resist any attempts by the Dutch to reimpose their will against the wishes of the vast majority of the Indonesian people if necessary with force of arms’.

Commander H. Quispel of the N.E.I. Information Service, said, in Brisbane last night that ‘the Indonesian Government, which was a Quisling- Japanese sponsored Government had been disbanded. The main Indonesian Quisling in Batavia, he said was Soekarno, whom the Japanese had made President of the Independent Republic of Indonesia. This Japanese-sponsored Government, which Australian Wharf labourers had decided should not be interfered with.  As late as August this year Soekarno has urged his countrymen to ‘fight in the last shoulder-to-shoulder with the Japanese’.

Dutch ships in Sydney which were affected yesterday by the general strike – before the waterside workers decision on the Indonesian issue – were Japara, Patras, El Libertador, Van Swoll, and Maetsuycker.

Ship held up in Melbourne- ‘following the sit-down strike commenced on Sunday by more than 40 Javanese members of the crew of the Dutch ship Karsiknow in Victoria Dock, the early departure of the vessel seems unlikely’. – The Argus Tuesday 25 September 1945.

Trouble extends to Brisbane – ‘Brisbane waterside workers yesterday refused to supply labour for three Dutch ships – Van Heutz, Cawra, Khoen Hoea – pending a guarantee satisfactory to Indonesian people living in Australia. The Union Secretary said it also had decided that demands made by the Dutch Government in Australia must not interfere with the government established by the Indonesian people in the NEI. – ‘The Telegraph, Brisbane – September 25, 1945’





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