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Research Guides

Near Neighbours: Records on Australia's Relations with Indonesia


The National Archives of Australia

The National Archives of Australia ensures that full and accurate records documenting Commonwealth Government activities are created and kept. From this massive body of information, the Archives selects, cares for and makes available to all those records of continuing value. This collection constitutes the archives of the Commonwealth Government – a vast and rich resource for the study of Australian history, Australian society and the Australian people.

The collection spans almost 200 years of Australian history. The main focus of the collection is material which documents Federal Government activities since Federation in 1901. There are also significant holdings of nineteenth-century records which relate to functions transferred by the colonies to the Commonwealth Government at the time of Federation and subsequently. The records described in this guide are a small but significant part of the collection.

Access to the National Archives collection is provided free of charge in public reading rooms located in each capital city. Researchers are assisted by specialist reference staff and are provided with reference tools to help them identify and use the records in the collection. These reference tools include the RecordSearch and PhotoSearch databases, guides, publications and fact sheets. Researchers unable to visit a reading room may seek information and help by telephone, mail, facsimile or email.

RecordSearch and PhotoSearch provide information about agencies, persons and series as well as descriptions of over two million individual records. They are available for online searching in reading rooms located in all offices of the National Archives, at the Australian War Memorial and on the National Archives website.

The National Archives website provides more information about the Archives, its collection and the services it offers. A visit to the site will help you determine whether the Archives holds records relevant to your research. Fact sheets on various topics are also available on the Archives website.

Using this guide

This guide provides a list of relevant record series about Australia's relations with Indonesia. It also details important records within key series, such as correspondence series, held by relevant departments. Within the scope of this guide, it is impossible to include every record held and therefore only an indicative list of items is given for most series. Minor series are listed, but without additional material. However, this should enable most researchers to find all items on important aspects of Australian-Indonesian relations.

In the context of this guide, the term 'relations' primarily concerns the functions of foreign relations, defence, Executive government, intelligence and security, and immigration. From an Australian perspective, these were, and remain, the major elements of our relationship with Indonesia.

Australia has been a close observer of events in Indonesia over the past 50 years and all government departments have kept extensive records covering a broad range of subjects. Consequently, the National Archives of Australia now holds many thousands of records on all aspects of Australia's relationship with Indonesia. It is important to note that these are Australian records, recording, by and large, Australian perceptions and views of Indonesia.

The tumultuous events leading to the end of Suharto's reign as President of the Republic of Indonesia in May 1998 reawakened for many Australians their interest in, and concerns about, events in Indonesia. The 1998 riots and destruction in Jakarta were reminiscent of Sukarno's downfall in the bloody aftermath of the abortive coup d'état of 1965. There is now renewed interest in the events leading up to the recent coup and in defining the circumstances in which Suharto assumed the mantle of supreme power in Indonesia. Recent events in East Timor have helped to sustain this interest.

The scope of this guide is generally confined to records concerning Australian-Indonesian relations between 1945 and 1970, and records related to Indonesia's incorporation of East Timor between 1974 and 1976. Some records listed in this guide predate Indonesian independence and have been included because the series to which they belong span both colonial and independence eras. Although not included in the body of the guide, the pre-independence records, such as those covering World War II and earlier, are listed in Appendix 1 for ready reference.

This guide is divided into eight chapters.

Chapter 1 (Key Events in Australian-Indonesian Relations) provides a brief historical background for the records.

Chapter 2 (External Affairs Records) describes Department of External Affairs records and some other record series concerned with foreign relations matters. As foreign relations constitute the main focus of this guide, this chapter is the largest and contains more detail on individual items than subsequent chapters.

Chapter 3 (Executive Government Records) includes those record series raised and maintained by the Prime Minister's Department, the Cabinet Office and by Federal Parliament.

Chapter 4 (Defence Records) includes the main Defence records dealing with Indonesia. It does not include the Defence intelligence and security agencies, which are covered in the following chapter.

Chapter 5 (Intelligence and Security Records) provides information on records created by intelligence and security agencies, ie the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, the Defence Signals Directorate and the Defence Intelligence Organisation. It also includes records of earlier intelligence and security agencies whose functions were assumed by one or more of the modern agencies. This chapter does not deal with the records of the Office of National Assessments or of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security as these are outside the date range of the guide.

Chapter 6 (Immigration Records) includes records concerning immigration matters including registration of aliens, passports and visas, and citizenship and deportation issues.

Chapter 7 (Miscellaneous Records) includes records that do not fit into the earlier chapters but do not warrant separate chapters.

Chapter 8 (East Timor Records) describes records from 1974 to 1976 related to Indonesia's incorporation of Portuguese East Timor, given accelerated release in 2000.

Record descriptions

Each entry in the guide describes a group of records maintained together as a series. A series consists of items, which are often individual files (sometimes volumes, sets of cards, photographs, etc), received into custody by the National Archives from a creating agency or person. Series usually consist of many items, but occasionally they may consist of just a few items or even a single item.

The description for each series gives its content and function. The entry concludes with a list of items selected from the series. In many instances, particular series have been found to contain relevant material on multiple aspects of Australian–Indonesian relations and have been referred to several times. The full description of each series is given only on its first appearance. As a general rule, this guide identifies rather than analyses the records. Researchers should make their own assessment of the value of information in an item.

How the records appear in this guide

2 Canberra

A1838 was the main correspondence file series of the Department of External Affairs from 1948 to 1970.
Series: A1838
Quantity: 3 435 metres
Recorded by:1948–70: Department of External Affairs (II), Central Office (CA 18)

4 United States of America, relations with Australia, defence, general, 1968–70 A1838, 250/9/11
5 This file includes a record of understanding concerning the applicability of the ANZUS Treaty to Konfrontasi.  


  1. This information gives the series title and the date range of the records which make up the series. The series number is shown on the right-hand side.
  2. This shows the location of the series (ie the office of the National Archives where it is held) is also shown.
  3. This gives a brief overview of the contents of the series, the series number, the total volume of records in the series (In some cases only several items within a series will relate to the topic, but in other instances the entire series will be devoted to it), the department or agency which created the series, and the period during which this department or agency was in existence. The 'CA' (Commonwealth Agency) number is a unique identifier allocated by the Archives to each agency. This number can be used to retrieve more information about the agency and the records it created from RecordSearch.
  4. This shows the title given to an item from this series by the creating agency. Sometimes additional information appears in square brackets. This indicates information that has been added by the Archives to clarify the meaning of the title. The dates of the earliest and latest document on the file are also shown. The item’s series number and identifying number appear on the right-hand side. These numbers must be quoted if a copy of the record or access to it is requested.
  5. Where included, this describes the main contents of each item. Note that it does not describe every document on the file. Because of the number of records listed in this guide, contents description has had to be limited. However, where possible, an attempt has been made to describe those items assessed as having special significance.

Access to the records

Many series described in this guide are listed in RecordSearch (the National Archives database), which is available in the reading rooms of all offices of the Archives and on the Archives website. Indexes and inventories, available in reading rooms, may also be useful. Reference staff can assist researchers to use these lists.

Access to archival records is governed by the Archives Act 1983, which gives a right of access to most Commonwealth government records that are over 30 years old. Records over 30 years old are said to be in the open period. In rare instances, the Government may release records less than 30 years old and does so under the accelerated release provisions of the Archives Act.

Some records are exempt from these access provisions (eg court records, some parliamentary records and some records of governors-general). Researchers are able to access all other open period records, including those held by agencies, unless they contain information that falls into certain categories, called exemption categories, which are defined in section 33 of the Act. There are 15 exemption categories and information that falls within them is said to be exempt information. Before the Archives releases records for public access, it examines them to ensure that they do not contain exempt information (see Fact Sheet 46).

Most records (97.5 per cent) are wholly released for public access while 2 per cent are released with some exempt information deleted. Only 0.5 per cent of records are wholly withheld because they consist entirely of exempt information. Most exempt information is withheld to protect personal privacy, but defence, security and intelligence sensitivities are the next most common reason for exemption.

Officers of the Archives are delegated under the Act to examine records and make decisions about whether they can be released. This is done in consultation with departments and agencies. Examination of records may often take a day or less, but if they require referral to agencies or overseas it may take weeks or months. The Archives informs its clients of delays in this process.

If a researcher applies to see a record that is exempt from public access, the Archives will provide a written statement of reasons identifying the exempt information, the exemption category that applies and why it applies. Details of all records containing exempt information are available on RecordSearch. The access status will show OPEN,OPEN WITH EXCEPTION, WITHHELD PENDING AGENCY ADVICE or CLOSED, while the reason for restriction will show the category or categories under which the information is exempted.

A researcher may appeal against an exemption and the Archives will review its decision, but if it is confirmed, the researcher may then appeal to the independent Administrative Appeals Tribunal (see Fact Sheet 12). There is no charge for obtaining access or for applying to the Archives to review its decision, but an application fee applies for appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Regardless of the type of research they undertake at the National Archives, researchers will only be able to examine open period records (ie 30 years of age or older) that are no longer considered to contain sensitive information or those released under the accelerated release provisions of the Archives Act.

Control records

Control records are created and maintained by a recordkeeping agency to help identify and retrieve records in a specific series. Agency control records include such registry tools as file registers, movement registers, subject indexes and name indexes. In this guide, control records are listed as the 'control series' of a series.

Citing the records

The correct citation of archival records is important both when requesting records and when referring to them in written or published works. Using proper citations will not only help Archives staff to locate records more readily, but will also help other researchers to find them.

The correct form of citation for records held by the National Archives of Australia is expressed as follows: the name National Archives of Australia followed by a colon, the series number followed by a comma, and then the item number. For example:

National Archives of Australia: A1838, 45/1/4/5/1

The name 'National Archives of Australia' may be abbreviated to 'NAA' provided the full name has been used in the first citation.

Locating additional information

More information can be located by conducting searches on RecordSearch. Appendix 2 contains a bibliography of additional primary and secondary sources of information. Please note that Appendix 3, 'Understanding filing systems', will assist researchers to understand the rationale behind the creation of records, the types of records created and why not all records survive the sentencing process.