440 Departmental Memorandum for Mr J. McEwen, Minister for External Affairs

26 June 1940

FOR THE MINISTER

FRENCH TERRITORIES AFFECTING AUSTRALIA

In view of the French capitulation, consideration has been given to the question of French colonial territory in the Pacific and Indian Oceans in proximity to Australia, and in Antarctica.

The following are the main ones:-

1. Kerguelen Archipelago. Approximately half-way between Australia and South Africa in the South Indian Ocean. This is a group of 200 islands sparsely populated, but with magnificent harbours, abounding in mineral and animal wealth completely undeveloped. As a fishery, meteorological and air base for a trans-Indian Ocean service they are ideal.

2. Islands of St. Paul and Amsterdam. Also in the South Indian Ocean. Sparsely populated; of value as fishery, meteorological and air base stations.

3. Adelie Land in the Antarctic Territory. A strip of territory interposed between the two Australian sectors. We had a controversy for many years with the French Government over the sovereignty of Adelie Land and in 1937 recognised their claim. The coast is accessible the whole of the summer and has the best whale fishery ground in the Antarctic.

4. New Caledonia. 400-500 miles east of Brisbane; population about 5o,000. Noted for its very valuable chrome and nickel deposits.

This group, with the Society Islands also belonging to the French, form a valuable air base and by agreement with the French is now one of the links on the American Trans-Pacific air route to New Zealand (which is due to begin operation next month).

5. Condominium of New Hebrides. A joint administration, the British share of which comes under the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific. The British interests there are, however, all Australian. The settlers are Australian nationality, practically the whole of the import trade is with Australia; the Commonwealth Government has over 50,000 acres of land there at various key points and there are strong sentimental ties in the Australian missionary field as it is the main mission field of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, which also has considerable property and land there.

6. Indo-China. The future of Indo-China is not so much of direct as of indirect interest to Australia at the present time and the action being taken by Japan in Indo-China with regard to the stoppage of the transit trade for the assistance of the Chiang Kai-shek Government is well known.

At the moment we are mainly concerned over the future of New Caledonia. In the case of the New Hebrides it can be assumed that while the British still retain their share of the administration no drastic action will be taken by another Power to alter the present position.

On 25th June, the Council of New Caledonia and the Returned Soldiers' Organisation both passed resolutions repudiating in effect the Bordeaux Government and declaring their allegiance to the De Gaulle National Committee in London. Copies of these resolutions were sent to the Commonwealth Government [1] which in turn passed them on to the United Kingdom Government. (They were also received direct by the United Kingdom Government).

It is felt that it would be unwise to assume any measure of jurisdiction over New Caledonia or, as has been suggested in some quarters, that Australia should proclaim a protectorate over New Caledonia.

The military and naval forces of the colony are negligible and from the point of view of the continuation of the war effort of the Allies they are a source of weakness.

It is suggested that the policy of the Commonwealth Government in the circumstances should be one of considerable reserve and no action should be taken which might be considered in some quarters as an attempt to disturb the status quo and so possibly provoke retaliation by another Power against other French possessions, if not New Caledonia.

Further, it is felt that from the point of view of Australia it would be really preferable for New Caledonia to proclaim its adherence to the Bordeaux Government as its eventual disposition would then be a matter for Italy and Germany. As it is, Japan might act against New Caledonia or other French possessions on the ground that she is acting on behalf of the Axis Powers in protection of their interests.

This is on the assumption that no effective continued French resistance can be organized. On the basis of Tel. No. 473 from the High Commissioner [2], however, the prospects of effective organisation seem more promising.

The wisest course at the moment would seem to be to endeavour to get the United States to take a more direct interest in the question of the disposal of New Caledonia. It will be remembered that strong attempts were made to induce Pan-American Airways to select Fiji as a landing-ground in the Trans-Pacific route rather than Noumea, but without success. Therefore New Caledonia must remain a very direct source of interest to the United States and her Trans-Pacific air route. The United States Government is not prepared to make any further declaration as to the maintenance of the status quo in the Pacific and Far East, vis-a-vis Indo-China, but it might do so as regards New Caledonia.

Accordingly the following telegram to the Australian Minister at Washington [3] is attached for consideration.

1 On file AA: A1608, A41/1/1, x. See also Document 438, note 1.

2 Document 437.

3 Printed as Document 443.

[AA: A981, NEW CALEDONIA 1, iii]