192 Mr T. Elink Schuurman, Netherlands Consul-General in Sydney, to Lt Col W. R. Hodgson, Secretary of Department of External Affairs

Letter SYDNEY, 22 April 1938

You remember the articles in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' of 6th and 7th April 1938 regarding Anglo-Dutch defence co-operation. I telephoned to you and also had a talk since with Mathew [1] about them.

I had hoped that after a disclaimer I had published in the paper on 8th April the matter would die down but I now see that the 'Bulletin' of 13th April devotes its leading cartoon to what must practically be the same rumours. This cartoon is not only silly in the way it deals with the defence question, but it also brings in the matter of the trade balance, which has its very special features (oil).

I fear that the general public is led to believe that these rumours about defence co-operation are proved by the invitation extended to the Governor General and Lady Gowrie by the Netherlands Indian Government. [2] That such a formal invitation was sent by us is true, but you know as well as I do that the initiative came from Australia.

It has always been our aim not to give a political background to that visit, which otherwise we greatly welcomed. This seems not to be appreciated by the press, which not only has more than necessary stressed our parallel interests in the Pacific, but has also credited rumours regarding defensive alliances which are absolutely groundless and even absurd for those who know something of the policy of neutrality which the Netherlands Government has followed now for many years.

It is my definite impression that publications as referred to cause the Netherlands a great deal of unnecessary embarrassment, not so much in Australia as in certain quarters abroad, where such expressions of opinion, even if they are only made by the press, do not pass unnoticed.

The Governor General's visit to Java was meant to bring Australia and the Netherlands Indies closer together and to establish more intimate personal contacts. As far as I know this purpose has been achieved. It is therefore all the more regrettable that, from our point of view, this success is marred by a wholly incorrect interpretation placed upon this visit by certain sections of the press here.

I do not know whether your Minister intends to make a statement in the House regarding the relations of the Commonwealth with other countries. [3] I wonder whether in that case it might be possible to make a reference to Lord Gowrie's friendly visit to Java, winding this up with a remark regarding the inaccurate rumours it has given rise to in certain newspapers. I feel that by such action the Minister would render a service to my country and also facilitate the possibility of a return visit by the Governor General of the Netherlands Indies [4], which the Commonwealth Government and Lord Gowrie are anxious to arrange, but which for us would be all the more difficult to accept if wrong constructions are placed upon it.

I am leaving on a fortnight's trip to New Zealand on the 29th but would be willing to talk this over, if desired, before that date.


1 Theobald Mathew, member of Department of External Affairs.

2 See Document 117. Lord Gowrie's visit to the Netherlands East Indies aroused press speculation in Australia about Anglo-Dutch defence co-operation. No documentary evidence has been found, however, to suggest that defence was discussed.

3 Prime Minister Lyons made such a statement in the House of Representatives on 27 April 1938, in which he referred to Lord Gowrie's visit and emphasised that, contrary to press speculation, the visit 'had no political or military significance whatsoever' (Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates. VOL 155, P. 539).

4 Dr A. W. L. Tjarda van Starkenborgh Stachourwer.

[AA : A981, NEI 48]