Donald Barnby: Stories of Service

Running time
7 min 40 sec
Date made
Place made
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Donald Barnby has had an exciting and varied career in the Australian Army, Special Air Service (SAS) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP). During this time, he also served in the Vietnam War. This story tells of Donald’s experience as an unarmed peacekeeper during his time with the AFP. As a peacekeeper, Donald served overseas with the United Nations in Cyprus, Bougainville and East Timor.

Student inquiry questions

  1. During his service in Cyprus, Donald refers to the 'buffer zone'. Do your own research to describe what is meant by the 'buffer zone'.
  2. Describe the conflict that brought peacekeepers to Bougainville, Papua New Guinea.
  3. Why was it so important for Donald and other members of the Truce Monitoring Group (TMG) to do cultural training before going to work in Bougainville?
  4. Donald talks of how Bougainville is a 'matriarchal' society. What does 'matriarchal' mean? What would have been the influence of the 'matriarchal' society on peacekeeping operations? How did the staffing of the peacekeeping teams take the 'matriarchal' society of Bougainville into account?
  5. Describe the role Donald trained police for in East Timor.
  6. Donald stresses the importance of work experience before joining the military or police force. He talks about how it helps people to gain maturity before carrying out complex work like peacekeeping. How would being more mature help in peacekeeping operations?


[Music plays]

Opening credits. A collage of photos arranged on an old sepia file folder shows 3 separate peacekeepers: a colour photo of a blonde-haired lady in an Army uniform, a colour photo of a young male wearing a blue beret with his police uniform, and a monochrome photo of a military officer with a hat and a moustache. A cloth badge with the blue and white logo of the United Nations lies among the photos. The title Stories of Service: Peacekeepers appears.

Photos displayed on an old file folder show a dark-haired man as a soldier and police officer throughout his career. The young soldier leans against army camp buildings and stands with his arms around colleagues' shoulders. Wearing a police uniform, the older man poses before jungle-clad mountains.

Narrator speaks: 'Donald Barnby has had an unusual career, serving both in the Army in the Vietnam War and then as an Australian Federal Police Officer who was deployed on 3 international peacekeeping missions. He was a country lad born in Brewarrina in western New South Wales. He left school early, eager to join the Army.'

Young Donald stands shirtless in an army camp. Smiling, Donald and a group of soldiers wear full army kit and hold rifles. The grey-haired Donald is interviewed sitting before a shelf of coloured glass bottles.

Donald speaks: 'When I was young, the Vietnam War was in full swing. In 1966, Long Tan had just happened, and I was always interested in a military career, school Cadets, and I didn't even wait around to do my Leaving. I left early, much to the disappointment of my parents, and waited till I was 17 and literally was at the door of the recruiting office a few days after I was 17.'

Photos show Donald as a soldier, leaning in army camps, ready for patrol, and talking on a phone. As a police officer, he poses by a car, salutes and rides a motorbike.

Narrator speaks: 'In 1973, after 6 years in the Army, 4 years of which was in the Special Air Service, SAS, Don followed his father's footsteps into the police force. He was a police officer for 25 years, retiring in July 1998.'

A map of the world shows the locations of Cyprus and Bougainville. The labels read, 'Cyprus, 1980' and 'Bougainville, 1988.'

Narrator speaks: 'While a police officer, he served in peacekeeping operations in Cyprus in 1980 and Bougainville, Papua New Guinea in 1998.'

Wearing a blue beret with his police uniform, the bearded Don stands before trees. Beard gone, he stands on a lookout to a leafy valley. A winding black band divides a map of Cyprus. A blue area is labelled 'Greek Control', a red area is labelled 'Turkish Control.'

Donald speaks: 'Cyprus came up. I always had this hankering to go to the Middle East and I did. Before Cyprus, we did about a week of orientation in Cyprus, you know, understanding the situation, the environment, the people, the cultures. Our main job was to patrol the buffer zone and liaise with the Greek Cypriot police and the Turkish Cypriot police and investigate any incidents that happened within the buffer zone, and we'd investigate, but we had no powers of arrest. We took detailed notes and gave it to the relevant authorities, either UN or either police force.'

'Police work involves dealing with the public and investigating, and not only investigating, but resolving issues and problems between people. And we were involved in dealing with the civilian population of both sides.'

'In Cyprus, the military's role was they had static positions all along the buffer zone and they patrolled the buffer zone themselves, and our position was a roving commission. We worked from the west of the island all the way to the east. Their role was to make sure that there was no military incidents happening. Our role was to make sure no civilian incidents happened, and if they did, we had to investigate them.'

A United Nations badge sits near a map of Australia and surrounding countries. Bougainville is marked. A copy of the Canberra Times from Thursday 1 June 1981 has the headline 'Problems at Bougainville'. Photos show an open-cut mine, a road between jungled mountains, and a cleared slope. Newspaper headlines include, '20 dead in PNG-rebel shootouts, govt says', 'Bougainville now ready for peace' and 'Bougainville peace talks postponed'.

Narrator speaks: 'Almost 2 decades later, Don took part in another UN peacekeeping operation, this time on the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, where a brutal civil conflict had just ended. The conflict had been sparked by an Australian-run gold and copper mine, which had catastrophic impacts on the local environment and the food sources relied on by Bougainville Islanders. The Truce Monitoring Group, TMG, started working at the end of 1997 to monitor the peace agreements between Papua New Guinea and the warring parties in Bougainville.'

Donald speaks: 'I was a member of the Truce Monitoring Group, and I worked with the New Zealand Army. They were in charge at that stage, 1998. Before Bougainville, we did about a week at DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) learning very basic Pisin. It's not Pidgin, it's Pisin language. So, we did a cultural training there and also, you know, environment and situational training. We had to have interpreters because, again, unless you know the language, a week or even 6 months training, you know, particularly with native dialects, it's almost impossible.'

In Bougainville, Don smiles with another officer and a group of local men and boys. Local men with a machine gun.

Donald speaks: 'Bougainville was informing the locals of the peace process and disarming some of the rebels if they were willing to do so.'

Fifteen men and women in various uniforms pose near a corrugated iron building. Two women and 4 men pose near vehicles with canvas roofs.

Donald speaks: 'My team consisted of a girl from AusAID (Australian Government development program), a girl from DFAT, a civilian guy from Defence. The 2 women I had were incredibly valuable because Bougainville is a matriarchal society, and the women, they talked and collaborated and discussed things with the women, whereas we couldn't. We couldn't actually do that because they have very cultural ... sort of sensitive cultural areas.'

A man and woman are dwarfed by dense jungle plants. Locals watch vehicles drive through deep water. Shirtless men sit outside a large study hut.

Donald speaks: 'Bougainville and the New Britain and New Ireland are some of the wettest places on earth, apparently. It rained every day. Our infrastructure was basic, to say the least. The vehicles we had kept breaking down. Our living conditions were really rudimentary. You'd do washing one day and, 5 days later, hanging on the line, it was still wet. The humidity was 98% most of the time, and I got quite sick. I lost 12 kilos.'

A map of Cyprus labelled '20th AUSTCIVPOL Contingent' is decorated with an Australian flag. Photos of police officers wearing blue UN berets are arranged as a border around Cyprus. A UN badge lies on the map. Photo and documents show the UN's work.

Narrator speaks: 'In April 1999, Don came out of retirement to participate as part of the Australian Federal Police contingent assigned to the United Nations effort to organise, conduct and supervise a referendum in East Timor. This was held on 30 August 1999 to choose between autonomy for East Timor within Indonesia or independence.'

East Timor is marked on a map. It is very close to Australia. On the map, Indonesia turns red and then becomes green again. The East Timor flag is shown.

Narrator speaks: 'A vote for autonomy would have seen East Timor remain part of Indonesia, but with certain powers of self-governance. However, the vote of the people was overwhelmingly to be recognised as a separate and independent country.'

In police uniform, Don poses with officers and officials. Near buildings, crowds wait behind ropes. Headlines read, 'The text of Prime Minister John Howard's address to the nation on East Timor, and 'Chemical warfare in Timor'.

Donald speaks: 'I'd just come back from a European trip, and a friend of mine who was the Assistant Commissioner of Personnel rang me up, and he said, 'Do you know what's happening in Timor?' and I said, 'Oh, yeah, I've read a bit,' and he said, ‘How would you like to come back into the AFP with your old badge number back and head up the training? We're sending a contingent up there.'

'Our main role was to protect the electoral offices and set up a registration and electoral scenario so that they could hold a popular consultation, and also, as a secondary role, investigate incidents of atrocities that they came to us with.'

Donald and another officer talk with a local man.

Donald speaks: 'Police bring a different skill set to the situation. You know, our main role is to deal with people, and we dovetailed into the UN organisation quite well.'

Don and a colleague stand before a backdrop of buildings and jungle-clad mountains. A local man wearing a helmet and holding a large gun has an ammunition belt draped over his shoulder. Officers in various uniforms pose with officials.

Narrator speaks: 'Don recalled the difficulty and stress of working as an unarmed peacekeeper in contexts where opposing parties were heavily armed. It wasn't always easy, and it took a toll on his health. He has this advice for anyone thinking of a career like his.'

In his police uniform, Don smiles with a crowd of locals. Don sitting in a UN Jeep watches officers in different uniforms shake hands. Don sits in a wood shelter with two locals. Under a marquee, police and locals pose for a photo.'

Donald speaks: 'One thing I would say would be, before you join either the military or the police, get some work experience in anything. It doesn't matter what it is, but get work experience before you join either of those organisations because you need to be able to deal with people and you need to ... It develops maturity when you have to work with other people. The first job you get probably won't be the last job you get. Just consider it as a stepping stone to something better and different, but it all ... It's like a coat of many colours. You know, it's layers. So, get out there and experience life.'

[Music plays]

Photos show Don throughout his life as a soldier and police officer.

The logo for the Australian Government Department of Veterans' Affairs in white appears on a black screen.

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