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Think Piece – Every corner of the globe

Thursday 10 September, 2015

Steve Larkins HeadshotAustralian Peacekeepers Day takes place on 14 September. Australia has been a party to Peacekeeping operations since their inception in 1947, although generally on a small scale. Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Operations became a focus for Australia and its Defence Forces in the latter quarter of the 20th Century with a number of large scale deployments. This commitment reflected widespread instability in the world, short of or following on from actual conflict. While most have been under the auspices of the UN, others have been under other arrangements. Peacekeeping Operations have taken Australian personnel to every corner of the globe, where they have distinguished themselves as professional, pragmatic and culturally aware people who are able to rapidly restore confidence, trust and order in traumatised communities.

Australia ended WW2 as a medium sized power. At war’s end it had one of the largest air forces in the world, a substantial Navy and an Army that had proven to be masters of jungle warfare. Australia had developed through necessity a greatly expanded industrial and technological capability. The armed forces were quickly demobilised and Australia returned to a peace-time footing but with much greater confidence in its geopolitical surroundings.

Australia, largely through the drive and passion of its Foreign Affairs Minister Herbert ‘Doc’ Evatt, played a major role in the formation of the United Nations, which was intended to prevent a repeat of the devastating World Wars. As the Cold War and de-colonisation took hold across Australia’s sphere of influence, it was perhaps no surprise that Australia quickly found itself enmeshed in the first peacekeeping operations. On 14th September 1947 Australian peacekeepers deployed to the Dutch East Indies where Indonesian nationalists had revolted against their former Colonial masters.

Thus began a history of Australian service in the world’s trouble spots, most often under a UN ‘mandate’ but also under various other arrangements put in place to either establish, make, or keep the peace between warring parties. These early deployments tended to be of small teams of individuals in locations such as Kashmir, the Middle East and Africa (Commonwealth Monitoring Group Rhodesia /Zimbabwe).

Notably, Australian Lieutenant General Robert Nimmo who was one of the UN’s longest serving and most highly regarded Commanders, heading the United Nations Monitoring  Observer Group India/Pakistan (Kashmir) from 1950 until his death in 1966.  When he died the Indians and Pakistanis accorded him a funeral on a scale not previously seen for an Australian military leader. His was a UN record that is unlikely to be surpassed.

Police personnel have also deployed on Peacekeeping duties, notably to Cyprus in the 1960s and ‘70s and more recently in SE Asia and the SW Pacific.

It was not until the late 1980s that Australia began fielding large contingents of troops, commencing in Namibia and then in quick succession Cambodia, Somalia (Operation Restore Hope) and Rwanda, culminating in 1999 with Australia assuming responsibility for a stabilisation mission in East Timor on an unprecedented scale that finally concluded in late 2012. Operations in the South West Pacific concluded in 2013.

South Australian personnel have figured in most of these operations.

South Australians have historically made up a disproportionately large share of the military’s specialist medical personnel. There is a strong tradition of Reserve service among South Australia’s medical professionals and para-professionals. They are called on in many defence and civil emergencies from warlike deployments to emergency relief operations such as the Bali bombings, the Sumatran tsunami in 2005, Pakistan earthquake and in the wake of various extreme weather events in the South West Pacific.

South Australians have served in the Regular and Reserve Force contingents deployed to trouble spots. The Adelaide 3rd Forward General Hospital (more recently designated the 3rd Health Services Battalion) deployed to East Timor as a formed unit in 2005.  It was originally formed for service in WW1. Most recently Reserve personnel from the Adelaide based 9th Brigade made a significant contribution to operations in Timor Leste and Operation Anode in the Solomon Islands from 2008, concluding in 2013.

Two South Australians Reserve officers rendered notable service in the closing stages of Peacekeeping in Operation Anode (Solomon Islands) and in Timor Leste.  Lieutenant Colonel Brenton Gasteen was awarded a NZ Chief of Defence Force Commendation for his role as Contingent Commander in the Solomons.  Lieutenant Colonel Graham Goodwin was recently announced as having been awarded a Bravery Medal for his role in settling a Civil disturbance during his time on UN Headquarters in Timor Leste in 2012.

The SA Peacekeepers will mark Peacekeepers Day with a commemorative ceremony on Sunday 13th September at 11.00am at the Memorial precinct at the corner of North Terrace and Kintore Avenue.  All welcome.


Steve Larkins is the current Deputy State President of RSL-SA and President of the SA Peacekeepers Sub Branch. He is the CEO of the Construction Industry Training Board.  Steve served in the Regular Army for 20 years and in the Active Reserve either side of his Regular Army service for an additional 17 years, culminating with the rank of Colonel and remains on the reserve list of Officers.  Steve served as a Major with the 2nd Australian contingent of the United Nations Mission in Rwanda in 1995.  He is the originator of the RSL Virtual War Memorial (VWM) website and serves on the VWM Advisory Committee.


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