Peacekeeping: In Their Own Words

The start of peacekeeping missions

Australians were the first international peacekeepers to be deployed in 1947 as part of a United Nations (UN) operation. In the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia), they were observers during a period of civil unrest. The local people were fighting for independence from Dutch colonialists.

During that first operation, the soldiers recognised peacekeeping could be as dangerous as combat. Since then, many peacekeepers have had similar experiences.

Civilian, military and police personnel often work together as peacekeepers and peacemakers. They unite to maintain or restore world peace and security.

Australian peacekeepers have served all around the globe:

  • giving humanitarian aid
  • clearing landmines
  • supporting free and fair elections
  • monitoring ceasefire agreements.

In multinational operations, Australians work alongside peacekeepers from other nations. Over 120 countries contribute to UN missions.

Peacekeeping operations are challenging and complex. Global peacekeepers must adapt to:

  • language and cultural differences
  • geographical and political influences
  • unstable or hostile regions
  • changing demands and roles.

In this series of interviews, you'll hear Australian veterans of UN missions. They share insights into their roles as peacekeepers and the personal effects of their experiences. Their oral histories present first-hand accounts of the challenges and rewards of peacekeeping.

You can use the inquiry activities beneath each video to analyse the content. They encourage a deeper understanding of Australia's history in peacekeeping operations.

Brad Dunn

Brad's first deployment on a peacekeeping operation was in 1992. He was selected to go to Cambodia because of his specialist skills as a radio instructor.

Brad was a part of the first Australian contingent of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) mission. He was assigned to help with UNTAC communications.

In Cambodia, Brad came into contact with the Khmer Rouge. This was the Communist-backed guerrilla group that had won the Cambodian Civil War in the 1970s.

Back home in Australia, Brad was selected again for a peacekeeping operation. This time he was deployed to East Timor in 1999 as part of the International Force East Timor (INTERFET). In an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) squadron, Brad started patrols as pro-Indonesian militia were clashing with East Timorese supporting independence.

Hear Brad describe the changing circumstances, the effect of local power structures and how peacekeeping operations evolve as situations develop.

Learn more about Brad Dunn's story.

Do the activities:

  1. Watch 'Rescuing reporters and old acquaintances'. Brad refers to managing risks as part of peacekeeping. How might risks have changed over the years for Australian peacekeepers? What risks might not have changed since the first operation in 1947?
  2. Watch 'A wave policy'. During their time in East Timor, Brad and his colleagues gained the trust of the local people. Why did the peacekeepers see trust as an important factor? How would you gain the trust of local peoples if you were a foreign peacekeeper?
  3. Watch 'A more natural deployment in East Timor'. In the last part of the video, Brad refers to the East Timorese militia as being 'out of a job' and that their 'Indonesian buddies had gone home'. Imagine you were in one of the militia groups. How would you have felt about the presence of Brad and the other peacekeepers? What would you think about the peacekeepers being armed? How would you have felt when the Indonesian troops went home?

Cheryl Elston

Women have had many roles in Australia's military history. They have made significant contributions to global peacekeeping operations. Cheryl's service in Rwanda is part of our rich history of peacekeeping achievements.

Cheryl was serving in the Australian Army 1st Field Hospital when she was offered the chance to go to Rwanda.

Cheryl arrived in Rwanda in late August 1994. She was part of the advanced party of the first Australian contingent in the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda II (UNAMIR II) mission.

Hear Cheryl explain how she and her colleagues coped with the confronting situation in Rwanda. She also describes cooperating with Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) nursing staff and how she came to view the Rwandans she met during her deployment.

Learn more about Cheryl Elston's story.

Do the activities:

  1. Watch 'Talking it through'. Peacekeeping might not involve combat, but it can still cause stress. Cheryl and her colleagues used dark humour to cope while in Rwanda. How else might Australian peacekeepers cope with stressful circumstances?
  2. Watch 'Rwanda changed me'. Peacekeeping is often about providing humanitarian support. Australian peacekeepers in Rwanda were helping Rwandans recover from a brutal civil war. Imagine you are the leader of a peacekeeping unit heading to a country emerging from civil war. How would you prepare your unit for its deployment? Consider the supplies you would take and the specialist roles in the unit. What risks can you identify, and how would you prepare for them?
  3. Watch 'Beautiful people'. Australian peacekeepers are often in environments where local hostile forces are active. Cheryl and her colleagues adapted to the presence of the Rwandan Patriotic Army. Their relationship with that army evolved during the operation. How can Australian peacekeepers build relationships with local armed forces during operations? What might be the consequences of poor relationships?

Danny Blomeley

Danny was offered the chance to go to Cambodia as a peacekeeper when he was 23 years old. At the time, he'd been in the Australian Army for 6 years and was working as an instructor at the School of Armour.

After years of civil war, genocide and occupation by foreign forces, Cambodia held a general election in May 1993. The Khmer Rouge, a Cambodian Communist-backed guerrilla group, had fought government forces before the elections.

Danny arrived in Cambodia just after the election. He was a part of the last Australian contingent of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) mission.

At the border of Cambodia and Vietnam, Danny carried out observation duties, went on patrols and helped at a checkpoint. He also got to know some local people and witnessed how the civil war had scarred them and their country.

Hear Danny explain how Australia's role in the Vietnam War influenced his initial training. He describes working with peacekeepers from other countries and shares his thoughts on how the effectiveness of UNTAC. He also reflects on his service in Cambodia and the difference his service might have made to the Cambodians.

Learn more about Danny Blomeley's story.

Do the activities:

  1. Watch 'Cambodia: An opportunity'. Danny was keen to go to Cambodia as part of the UN peacekeeping mission. What might have motivated him?
  2. Watch 'A typical day'. Danny worked with personnel from other countries in Cambodia. British Royal Marines were one example. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with multinational forces? How would such factors affect peacekeeping operations?
  3. Watch 'Mixed feelings'. Danny felt ambivalent about his service in Cambodia. He wasn't sure he'd made a difference by being there. What aspects of peacekeeping might have influenced his feelings? Look at other UN peacekeeping missions involving Australians. Consider the levels of success across those operations. Why have some been more successful than others?

Curriculum notes for teachers

These videos and activities align with the Australian senior secondary curriculum for Modern History - Unit 4: The Modern World since 1945:

  • The contribution of Australia as a peacekeeper since World War II, including the military, civilian police, mine-clearers, weapons inspectors and diplomats (ACHMH226)
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