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Broome 1942: 70th anniversary of the bombing of Broome

This temporary exhibition was officially opened by Lieutenant Colonel Herman Verhoef, Defence Attache from the Australian Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands on 28 February 2012.

The exhibition was on display in Robertson Library and open to the public from 29 February to 30 April 2012. You can view images from the exhibition launch and read the text of the Dutch Defence Attache’s opening speech.

View the online version of Broome 1942.

About the exhibition

This exhibition was developed jointly between Curtin University Library and Nonja Peters, Director of the History of Migration Experiences (HOME) Centre at Curtin as a collaborative project to commemorate the anniversary of the bombing of Broome and the relationship between the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) and the Curtin government.

In the early months of 1942 the bombing of Broome, Wyndham and Darwin formed the first ‘physical contact of war within Australia’ according to Prime Minister John Curtin. Even more poignant, the majority of casualties included widows and orphans of the Java Sea Battle, evacuees from NEI (Indonesia) to Australia on that fateful March morning as Broome was bombed.

The John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library’s collection contains a number of relevant documents about the bombing and the NEI having its government in exile based in Australia during Curtin’s prime ministership. In particular the records from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) provide a number of files relating to the NEI during this period. You are able to view secret cablegrams, minutes and letters recording negotiations between the two countries as well as personal items donated from the Dutch community in Perth.

The missing diamonds mystery

During the course of research for the exhibition a letter was found throwing further light on a little-known story of a cargo of diamonds which went missing during the bombing of Broome. One of the Dutch DC planes, flown by Ivan Smirnoff, was shot down about 100 kilometres north of Broome.

Inside the plane it was claimed there were several million dollars’ worth of diamonds which got washed away into the sea when the plane made an emergency landing on the beach.

The diamonds were supposedly found by Broome resident Jack Palmer who spent them generously around Broome before enlisting in the army and handing over a package containing the remaining diamonds, worth about A$20million. Jack died in 1958 taking the secret of the diamonds with him, but rumours continued that Diamond Jack had buried the greater part of the fortune in the Broome region.

You can learn more about this fascinating story by reading excerpts from Norman Keys’ letter or the Weekend Australian article written by Tony Barrass on the subject.

Exhibition team

Nonja Peters, History of Migration Experiences Centre &
Lesley Budrovich, Curtin University Library
Lesley Budrovich, Curtin University Library
Project Management:

Deanne Barrett, Curtin University Library
Research assistance:
David Wylie & Kate Roberton, Curtin University Library

With thanks to

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library donors
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which provided the working papers of Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-1949
Australian War Memorial
The Keys family
Arnold Drok
Tony Barrass for kind permission to reproduce his article