Don Barnby's veteran story

Don Barnby grew up in Wellington, New South Wales, an idyllic rural town. His parents were loving, but his police officer father expected a strong work ethic from his son. Don recalled a strict routine of household chores before and after school.

When Don was 17, he joined the Australian Army to escape the rigours of home life.

Don's initial assignment was to ordnance, where he became a forklift driver. It was not a role he had wanted or enjoyed. In 1970, he seized an opportunity to join the SAS. He managed to pass the notoriously difficult Cadre entry selection course. Of the 75 who began the course, only 4 were selected.

The following year, Don was sent to Vietnam with 2nd Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment (SASR). The unit was based at the 1st Australian Task Force Base in Nui Dat. Don participated in covert reconnaissance and offensive operations against the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong.

Don celebrated his 21st birthday as a Special Air Service (SAS) trooper on patrol in Vietnam's Phuoc Tuy province in 1971. However, it was special day. Thinking no one knew, he was surprised by the thoughtful gifts and good wishes from his comrades. His mum sent a fruit too, although it arrived mouldy and 4 months late.

Like many service personnel, Don found the rapid transition from the battlefield back to Australia a difficult adjustment. With no formal debriefs, life was expected to go back to normal.

After leaving the Army in 1973, Don joined the Australian Capital Territory Police Force – later the Australian Federal Police (AFP). He served in many roles, including community policing, special operations, witness protection, police rescue, Interpol, and as part of the protection teams for Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Governor-General Sir Bill Hayden.

With the AFP, Don deployed several times as part of peace operations, serving with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) and multi-national operations in Bougainville and East Timor.

The United Nations Assistance Mission to East Timor (UNAMET) was formed to organise, conduct and supervise a referendum to allow the East Timorese to choose either autonomy within Indonesia or independence. Following the overwhelming vote for independence on 30 August 1999, the pro-Indonesian militia launched a campaign of destruction, arson and murder, killing approximately 1,500 people and forcing 300,000 others into West Timor as refugees. The unarmed AFP personnel witnessed the worst of the killings during their deployment, but there was nothing they could do.

"That literally broke me," said Don. "Timor was pretty tragic, and I got horribly sick – typhoid, dengue and all that sort of stuff – but mentally that was it … That was my last one, and that was by far the worst. I hit the wall after that … never to go again."

Vietnam and AFP veteran, Cyprus and Bougainville


Upbringing and desire to join the Army

In 1967, I was seventeen. I was born in 1950. So 1967, Dad was a local copper in Wellington, New South Wales and Long Tan had happened in '66 and I was the last lot before the high school certificate, that lot. So, I think that had just come in. So I was in fifth year. And I just wanted to get out, basically.

I wanted to join the Army, get away, see a bit of adventure. So I left school early. I didn't do year 12. What did they call it? The sixth year. So I left, but that was at the end of the school year, '66. I wasn't 17 until April in '67. So Dad said, he was a bit of a hard bastard, a hard bloke, he said, "If you want to stay at home, you got to pay rent."

This was in a police house. So I said, "Okay." So I went down the street and got a job at a merchant thing in Wellington for three months. And then I was begging mum to let me travel to Sydney to join up. So I actually joined the Army. I got my call-up papers on the 17th of May 1967 and, yeah, never went back to Wellington, apart from about 10 years ago.

In those days, it was a gorgeous little town. It's in a beautiful little valley. It's a beautiful little place. And it hasn't got the problems some people might have heard. It's got a few problems these days with some of the generations there and also drugs. But in the day, back in the sixties, it was just beautiful. We used to play football at Dubbo and Mudgee and Orange, Bathurst. And it was just a really nice, good town for a kid to grow up in. Nice school. It was great. It was a public school, Wellington High School. It was lovely, just a really nice town.

A disappointing first posting

Dad was pretty hard. He was a 42-year New South Wales police guy. Grew up during the depression. He was really hard. So when a lot of my mates would be out hitting the cricket ball around and doing this, I'd be chopping wood, mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, polishing his car, lighting the fire, helping mum in the kitchen. So, I didn't have a lot of free time.

They were good parents, lovely. Mum, particularly. But Dad was hard, and I just wanted to get out. And my sister, she'd already left to go to Teachers College at Wollongong. So it was a hard environment to live. Loving, yes. But just hard. Out of bed, six o'clock, he'd come in and kick you out of bed, "Get wood for the fire and do this. Help Mum in the kitchen." And this was all before school. And I'd be chopping wood and bloody doing things eight o'clock, 10 o'clock at night, before I did my homework.

So I just wanted to go. And the Army. My uncle was in the Second World War, so the Army was it. That's where I wanted to go. As a 17-year-old kid, you don't think. I don't think males grow brains until they're in their mid-20s. But I just wanted to go. And I wanted to do something Army, one of the combat corps, infantry, armour, artillery. So I joined at 17 in York Street, Sydney. Went to Eastern Command Personnel Depot at Watson's Bay. And that draft, about 40 of us I think, caught a rickety old bus all the way down to Wagga, Kapooka, middle of winter, May.

And I remember going into this massive food hall at Kapooka. And I think we got there at two o'clock in the morning and Scott McKenzie's 'San Francisco' was playing. I thought, "Oh, wow. Welcome." And anyway, we were straight into it. But I found, because I was in the school cadets, I was sergeant in charge of the rifle team, all that sort of stuff, I loved the Army stuff. And because of dad's upbringing, discipline, getting up early wasn't a problem.

So I think I almost breezed through recruit training. But then came, and it was a contradiction in terms, corps selection. And I wanted infantry, armour, artillery. So what do they put me in? Ordinance. I got none of those. And so square peg, round hole. I was put into ordinance. So finished that, very disappointed. Marched out, took the train up to Sydney. I was posted. My first posting was 2BOD at Moorebank and I became a forklift driver. So if you picture it, Vietnam was in full swing. This is '67 just before Tet.

It was all kicking off and here I am driving a forklift in a big warehouse in charge of ... Civvies were in charge. You'd spot the one or two soldiers around the place. I was a very unhappy boy, very unhappy clam. And meanwhile, Dad had been posted all over the place, and he ended up ... He lived in Eastwood, then he was inspector in charge of Hornsby Police Station. So, not a happy gent. And I got into a bit of trouble because I actually wanted to get kicked out. I thought, "I'll try the Navy, maybe," not thinking that if you got disciplined out of the Army, you're not going to get in the Navy.

A lucky break

I got into a little bit of trouble. Ended up at MCE at Holsworthy for a seven-day stint for racing a forklift, crashed through a wall. And then we were doing Vic Barracks Guard in Victoria Barracks in Sydney. We do the Cenotaph and I did about seven of those. And while I was there on one guard, I collapsed on the front gate of Vic Barracks and I had glandular fever and hepatitis.

So while I was in hospital recovering at Tumil Hospital, Ingleburn, I was recovering from that. And the old sergeant in charge of the ambulances, he came up to me one day and he said, "Mate, I know you're in the shit back there. Yeah, you're in a bit of poo. I've looked at your file." And he said, "We just lost one of our guys to Vietnam." He said, "How would you like to drive? I can get you temporarily posted to Tumil Hospital, ambulance." So did that for a while and loved that.

Joining the S.A.S.

A very good friend that I joined with in the Army, and he was at Kapooka with me. He wanted infantry, infantry, infantry and he got RAEME and he was in the warehouse next to me at RAEME workshops. So he was a year older than me. So you had to be 19 to go to Vietnam, which I didn't think about. So he put in, when the SAS selection committee came round, he put in for it and he got it. And he went to Vietnam in 3 Squadron in 1968, 69.

So he said, "Mate, when it comes around again and you're old enough," I was still a kid. "Put in for it, and I'll give you your first beret." So anyway, duly came around again and I was just short of my 19th birthday and put in. For some reason, they selected me. Must have been hard up for applicants or something, I don't know. And so then I went over to Perth. And I always remember my last shift at Moorebank, walking out in my overalls. I used to wear overalls. I was in the army, I wear overalls and I drove a bloody forklift, not a truck.

Anyway, I walked out, and all the civvies lined up and said, "Yeah, farewell." They said, "You won't even make it on the train trip to Perth. We'll see you back here in a week." And I said, "Right. I will never, ever come back to this place again. I will never see you people again." I never did. They put down the challenge, and I took it up.

The Cadre course

in those days during Vietnam, they put selection committees around. They travelled all around Australia to all the different units. And then they had a little panel and I don't know where it was held, I think it would've been held at Inf Centre at Ingleburn or something in those days. So I just went up and did the interview. But they asked you lots of various questions. And again, I don't know why they picked me because there wasn't many. But they saw something in me, I guess, and they saw the desire to get out of where I was, because I was going to get into a bit of trouble.

I starting to pinch guns and everything, bits of ammo and guns. I was going to assemble me own armoury. So I went over to Perth. And when I started, there was 74 of us on the, we used to call it Cadre, now it's selection. 74 on the Cadre. When we finished, six or eight weeks later, there was four of us. Four out of selection. People had just disappeared during the night. Never knew why.

And I found it very difficult because a lot of the guys on the Cadre were from battalions, artillery, armour, sigs. And my weapon-handling skills were pretty crap. Navigation was crap. Fitness wasn't all that good. I was nine stone, wringing wet. And I'd do the runs, 20-mile runs and my boots would be full of blood and I'd have blisters bursting everywhere. And I'd just throw up, get on with it. And I think that, and a really weird sense of humour, got me through.

Return to Australia

I came back on a Yank R&R flight on a Pan Am flight. And there was about 10 Aussies. Anyway, we left Tan Son Nhat, Saigon, and we drank the plane dry of all their booze before Singapore. Then we all had bottles of bourbon, big litre bottles of beer, we drank all that. It was almost out of Coke. So I think they replenished the Coke in Singapore. And then we were halfway across Australia in the middle of the night and one of the Aussies said, "We're out of booze."

And one of the Aussies said, "This Chanel No. 5, it's got alcohol base in it." And we all had Chanel number five for our wife, girl, sweetheart, mums, and Mikimoto pearls, right? So we started, we got these hostesses down, these Yanks, couldn't believe it. And the other Yank soldiers were going, "Who are these guys?"

And we are drinking, putting Chanel No. 5 in a glass, fill up with Coke, drink it. Burping everywhere. You have the beautiful fragrance of Chanel No. 5. And then we were flicking Mikimoto pearls all around the aircraft. Ping. Take the thing off. Boom. So my last scene as we staggered off the plane at Sydney at three o'clock in the morning, was these Yank air hostesses on their knees picking up these Mikimoto pearls. Unbelievable.

Lack of debriefing on return

I just got off patrol two days before. I still had cam cream in the ears … Mum and Dad didn't recognize me. I was nine stone, very sick, yellow, malaria, dysentery. And anyway, I went home. Normal thing. Couldn't stand it. So I went early back to Perth, caught the train back early, just didn't fit in. People were talking about football and this, and I'd just come from a war they paid lip service to.

So went back. The Nashos, however, they were literally demobbed, I don't know, I think they might have gone to ECPD if they lived in Sydney, ECPD, Watson's Bay. Literally the next morning they would've got up, done their pay, da da da, da. "See you." Because I've talked to a few Nashos since. We had about 50 per cent of our squadron was national servicemen, which was unusual. But they were really good. And their transition back to Australia was absolute zero, no debriefing, no medicals. You did a medical in Nui Dat before we left. Nothing. It was just pathetic.

Anyway, so I was still in the army. So I went back and I thought I'd be on in the barracks on my own. Anyway, ones and twos, they all started coming back. Same experience, couldn't fit in. Nobody was interested, blah blah, blah. "Oh, you were in Vietnam?” Moving on. “Who won the football?" “Really?” And so we were there, then I did quite a few courses. I was in for another, that was '71. I got out May '73. Six years. But we didn't have any formal debriefs, we didn't have any psyche, nothing. We didn't have anything. There was nothing. It was straight back into it.

I think the first week that I was actually off leave and working, I was on a demolition course over at Rottnest Island. Like nothing. Nobody talked about it. You know, that was just the way it was. And I don't think it was much different from any other reg. And I'm sure if you talk to Nashos, their return, I think Mitch might be a Nasho, might have been a Nasho. Terrible. No formal debriefs or anything. Nothing. No decompression, nothing.

Decision to leave the Army

I got out in '73 because Labor, Geoff Whitlam disbanded, they wanted to cut down special forces. So 2 Squadron was disbanded. I was offered a Halo course in San Diego with the Seals. I wanted to get married. I'd met this girl when I was in ordinance in Sydney and, stupidly, I got married and got out of the army. So I thought, "Geez, what am I going to do now?"

So Dad was in the police and I thought, "Well, I don't think I'll end up being a bank Johnny. I think sitting behind a counter is going to be a bit rough after that." I was living adrenaline all the time. Fast car, an MGB and bloody, on the booze all the time. And so I thought the police force. So while I was still in the regiment, I applied for the ACT Police. So I joined the ACT Police. Came over to Sydney and did the interview for the ACT Police in Sydney at Phillip Stroke.

And I remember I was in full uniform battle dress with wings and metals and everything. And this old guy pulled up at a next to me at a pedestrian crossing. And he looked across at me and he saw the SAS wings, which is quite distinct. And he said, "You in SAS?" And all it had on our shoulder face was Special Air Service Regiment, not Australia. And he said, "Are you from England?" And I said, "No mate, we're Australia."

He said, "Oh." He was in Second World War, Royal Marine commando. Didn't realise Australians had SAS. And anyway, did the thing and obviously passed and then joined the police in June '73, 2 days after I got married. Got married at Granville, stayed overnight at the Collector Pub. Bride and I drove down the MGB. And then I took the oath on Monday morning. Quick transition, no honeymoon.

Joining the ACT Police

Dad, because he was in New South Wales, you might remember there was a Springbok tour in 1971/2 in Canberra, all around Australia, but before apartheid. But there was a lot of demos here. And New South Wales police were brought down to help pad out the local plods. And he knew the inspector in charge of recruiting here, unbelievably.

He was ex New South Wales police. And he said, "Oh, the young fella's in the Army thinking might get out, join the police." So he said, "I can tell you about New South Wales. Tell me about the ACT." Well, the ACT police had better salaries in those days. More equipment, better equipment. New South Wales police was on the bones of its bum, quite frankly. And you don't get travel there because I went to four or five different schools.

And the bonus was that if we have kids, Canberra, that's it because in those days it was the ACT, not AFP. And I said, "Oh, okay." So I wrote away to him, got the thing. Yeah, did the interview, came back, "Yeah, we'll have you." So I came over, and in my course of about 30, there was about seven ex-Vietnam veterans. Yeah. So, rest is history. Joined that in '73, got out in '98, went back to Timor in '99.

Career in the ACT police and AFP

My Dad applied to go to Cyprus in New South Wales police in 1965 or something. And I remember he and mum having a bit of a discussion, brackets, in the kitchen about she didn't want him to go. And she won. He didn't go. Anyway, up until 76, the Commonwealth Police sent troops, police to Cyprus. Then it went over to the states. So the state police forces had it and the AFP had it. ACT police went over. And then we morphed into the AFP in '79.

And then I was on the first AFP contingent in 1980. So half our contingent was Commonwealth Police and ACT Police and we were the first AFP contingent in 1980 and I just applied for that. I was on the bikes, then I was on motorbikes. I did 13, 14 years on motorbikes, pursuit cars, all that. Rescue squad, I went to Darwin in '74, Cyclone Tracey. I just wanted to go. Marriage wasn't going really well. So she, I think, willingly let me go, gladly let me go. And in those days, the tour was about 18 months.

That was later cut down to 12 months since six months and then back to 12 months. So I went over there, 18 months, came back in 1981, end of it. Got divorced, went back to traffic, couple of guys got sent home for some reason. They asked me to go back again. So I went back and I did three years full up in Cyprus. Loved it.

Witness security, VIP protection and Interpol

I did wit sec, witness security. That was pretty exciting. Travelled all over Australia with some very interesting criminals. Did five years there. Then got promoted sergeant in the AFP and then transferred over to VIP protection. I did five years there and I was in charge of the Turkish protection team for a while. Then the first Gulf War in '91, I was hived off that and given to Bob Hawke. With him for about six months. Loved it.

That's another story … And then while I was there, there was a vacancy came up on the Governor General's team, which was deemed to be the creme de la creme of jobs in VIP protection, close personal protection because you travelled on your own with the P. And the risk factor with the Governor General is a lot less than the PM or anybody. So anyway, my name was put forward to do the replacement.

So I went in and then worked out at government house with Bill Hayden, Bill and Dallas and I was with him. We flew up to Ipswich on the day that he was finished in the job and the clock went tick, tick. He was no longer the Governor General and Zelman... Ah, no, William Dean took over So I was with him for two years and then somebody in personnel decided that. “Don Barnby's had a bloody good career. He's had a lot of fun.

So I think, we'll”, there's that word again. See? “I think we'll redevelop this guy and on, he needs to sit behind a desk for a while to calm down”. So I ceased, in my mind, being a policeman, I was offered the fourth or fifth floor in headquarters here in Canberra. So I just said "Eenie, meenie, miney, yeah, I'll take the fourth." And I think it was Interpol. So I handed in my gun. I used to take police cars home and police bikes, travel. No more uniform. I packed my little lunch, I caught the bus to work.

I became a public servant. And all the guys in the office, they all knew me. And I walked in and they'd always say, "And how are we this morning, Barney?" And I'd say, "Just peachy." They'd get me a coffee, sit me down, "It's all right, calm down." I did two years there. I was told to do two years and I did two years. But I travelled thousands of miles a day on the computer talking to Paris, bloody New York and Washington and all over the place. But it just killed me. I was like a caged tiger. And while I was there, Bougainville kicked off.

Cyprus: Patrolling the buffer zone

Our role was to patrol the buffer zone, which went from east to west of the island. And when I was there in 1980, '81, and came back '82, went back '83, '84, the Danes were in the west of the island. Then the next ones were the Brits, then the Canadians were in Nicosia, they were on the buffer zone, Nicosia. Then the Swedes were down near Larnaca. And then the Austrians were over near Famagusta. So our job is, and we were based at a place called Kokkinotrimithia, just outside Nicosia.

Our base, our job was to patrol the buffer zone. Checking on, well, going out and investigating any incursions by either Greeks or to. They weren't allowed in the buffer zone, but they did because the buffer zone cut through farming land. And as usual, they wanted to plough as much as they could. So they'd make incursions into the buffer zone. So we'd go out and, yeah, naughty. Yeah, we'd take them, the Greeks, to the local police station, Turks, there too.

And we'd tell the local coppers, "This guy has started to plough a hundred metres in the buffer zone and he can't do that." So they'd blah, blah, blah. And then we'd take him back on his tractor and say, "Have a good day." And off we go. We also did a lot of liaison with all the different contingents. And that usually involved a lot of booze because particularly the Danes with the gameldanssche and the Brits with the booze, beer. And anyway, we investigated any incidents that happened within the buffer zone.

One of our investigations was a British nurse was raped by some Turk soldiers. A Greek was yelling obscenities to a Turk soldier in Nicosia - buffer zone was a street wide, most of the areas, in that area - and yelling obscenities. So this Turk shot him. That was a murder. Other ones were starting a fire in the buffer zone to clear land, which they weren't allowed to do. Mine incidents, somebody had fired a mine on the edge of their thing. So we'd go out and then we'd call the army, they patrolled the buffer zone.

But the Brits had a scout car squadron, little ferret scout car and their roving commission was from the west of the island where the Danes were all the way down to Famagusta as ours was. But we used to butt up on sector five or sector four where the Swedish police were. The other contingent of police there was Swedish police. So the Aussie police and Swedish police and we'd go down and then they say, "Oh," we'd ask them, "Have you guys done a patrol through to Famagusta or Varosha recently?" "No, no. Haven't been down there." So we'd go down there because a good swimming place, beautiful old Roman ruins under the sea and, oh, just gorgeous. So we go down there, do a patrol there, and then come all the way back.

And our base was generally at KT, Kokkinotrimithia but we also had a little section down at Ledra Palace Hotel right inside Nicosia with the Canadian army, they were at a big, totally wrecked hotel, but that was their base. So the ones that were down there usually did the patrols within Nicosia, doing what you had to do, all the way down to Famagusta. And then the ones at Kokkino, KT, we did from sector two, all the way back up to the Danes, right up the top.

Yeah, beautiful scenery going through Turkish enclaves and all this sort of stuff, Maronite enclaves. I mean the scenery was beautiful. Back in the eighties it was very un-touristy. Now the little tracks that we used to drive on are now three lane highways, four lane highways. The little fishing village called Pathos down south along the east coast, a little fishing village with a little lighthouse and a Maronite castle or something. It was beautiful. Now it's apparently high-rise hotels. It had beautiful rock cut tombs and mosaics and the Greeks just bulldozed a lot of this stuff. Unbelievable.

A pleasant life in Cyprus

When we first got there, we got there on the 23rd of April 1980, two days before Anzac Day. So we had a two-week changeover with the Commonwealth Police that had previously been there and one of the questions we asked was, "Where's a good restaurant? What's the food like here?" It was really funny flying into, I'd never been to the Middle East, but I'd been to Europe at that stage and flying into Larnaca from Athens, middle of summer, or hot, everything was dry. I felt at home. I had this deja vu, I'd been here before.

I was a crusader's saddle or something but I didn't feel out of place. I knew how it was all going to work. Other guys had never been anywhere like that and they were going, "Wow, there's ruins everywhere and this and that." And the way of life, siga siga, slowly, slowly … And I took all that for, didn't phase me at all, because I can be a bit impatient with fools or people that don't know what they're doing. But the Greek way of life and the Turkish way of life, very slow, but I fitted in straight away.

And we asked some of the guys in the ComPo, "Where's a good restaurant?" So we went there and we went there normal time, seven o'clock, right? So we all rock up for a meso and nobody in the restaurant. Oh yeah. They're having us on, right? Having us on. No, no, no. People start coming to the restaurant at 10 o'clock at night. We'd eaten, gone, and then they came in. So that was our first lesson in siesta. Everything shuts down from 12:30. You can't do any business in Cyprus after 12:30, 1:00 o'clock until about 3:00, 3:30, particularly in summer. Everything shuts down. It was that way of life.

The social life was incredibly social. The Australians at KT, Kokkinotrimithia, we were just over from the British base at St. David's camp. We had the best bar in the UN in the Cyprus. The beer was cold. We had Carlsburg, Keo or Efes, Turkish beer. The beer was cold but we also froze, chilled the glasses, right, because you'd go to the Poms and you had drinks. I was a brevet rank inspector on my first 18 months and then they changed it slightly and I went back as a senior sergeant. And the actual force commander, the Canadian force commander, he said, "Barney," he said... He was there on my first one as the force commander, and he was still there. He said, "Hit a hurdle, mate?" And I said, "No." I said, "They've just changed the brevet."

He knew that we weren't inspectors. I was only a senior Connie on my first one, and I was still a senior connie. So it was just brevet ranks. Because you had to have that rank to deal with the sip pole of the Greeks and the Turks. They respected rank. It was very sociable. So we had cocktail, all the contingents, it's just like the DFAT round of drinks in Canberra, all the embassies go to everybody else to celebrate whatever day. And they all used to love coming to ours but we had a very hectic social schedule and we were taught as part of the protocols, and I ended up buddying up with a British officer.

And they're very good at that M and M-ing, mix and mingling. You talk to each group. If they're at your venue, you have to entertain them. So I became very good at. And I don't like that. I'm out of my depth there. I used to work behind the bar or do the barbecue so I didn't have to talk to people all the time because they talk rubbish all the time. So I'd talk over one group, five minutes. The Brits, they had it down to a tee because their officer commanding would be watching all the young subbies entertaining the guests when it was over at St. David's camp.

So they'd almost time them. "Yeah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." Move on. "No, nice to meet you." And off they'd go. So I started that routine. And it was very sociable to Swedes and the Danes and whatever off they'd go. So I started that routine. And it was very sociable to Swedes and the Danes and whatever, and the Danish Dan Con, it was always a drink fest. I love the Danes because they're very similar to Australians. They love life, they love drinking, and they just merry people.

Serious Swedes

The Swedes, lovely people but they took everything very seriously. Quick instance, we were sent, a bloke and I, was sent out to an incident that was happening in the buffer zone in the Swedish sector. This farmer was ploughing too far out of the buffer zone. So the Swedes had sent a platoon, 40 men, armed. They had weapons, we didn't, armed, to stop this farmer ploughing and what they were doing,

Joe and I pulled up in the Land Rover and we just watched and we go, "What are they doing?" They were running behind, in marching order, running behind the tractor, yelling out for him to stop in Greek. And we said, "Okay, well." So we waited until they came around the big circle, and we went around and we stopped them and he just kept ploughing. And we said to the young Swedish officer, "We'll handle it."

So we went up, parked right in front of his tractor in the Land Rover. Joe took the key out and I got him out of the seat. Explained to him, showed him the book in Greek, "You're not allowed to do it", we said, "Just get in. Your tractor will be fine." Put him in the Land Rover, took him down to the local Cypriot police, they read the Riot Act to him, took him back, put him on his tractor and he never did it again.

Low threat level in Cyprus

Threat level indicator out of five, it'd be a level one. Most of the time, while I was there, I can't remember whether it was first or second tour, there was a Turkish coup in Turkey. So the Turks got a bit edgy and brought some tanks over to Cyprus. So then the Greeks got a bit nervous and they brought tanks over. So there was a bit of a Mexican standoff for a while. That was a bit touchy. But the threat level towards UN personnel on Cyprus, UNFICYP, I would say one.

Occasionally it would blip up to two. And then back down. It was always, unless something untoward happened, which can always do it. But generally, it was a fairly manageable situation all the time. There was little incidents, there'd be little blips, little like when the Turk shot the Greek. There was all, yeah, everybody act up a bit. But never anything to start a full-scale conflagration again. So yeah, pretty low.

Effects of the division in Cyprus

Before the Turkish invasion in '74, Turks and Greeks used to live in the same village, parts of Nicosia, whatever. They were hand in glove. And to quote a story to illustrate that, we used to spend a lot of time in the Turkish areas because they were just fun. And you go up to Kyrenia. But I remember going across to a Turkish tailor to get, he'd measure us up for a suit or clothes. And he would then give you the name of his Greek friend on the Greek side to go and make it.

He'd get the material, cut it, and then the Greek would make it. And while I was doing that once, he, because he knew we worked both sides of the buffer zone all the time in the middle and he gave me a letter from his wife to the wife of the Greek tailor. He said, "We haven't seen each other since '74, but they still keep in touch. So, would you mind?" And if you want to be really pedantic, it was wrong of me to do that. But I said, "Yeah." So I put the letter in there, I didn't tell anybody about it at the time and then next, when I went to the Greek tailor, I said, "Oh, this is from Ishmail or something." "Oh, thank you."

So she wrote a letter and then somebody else took it back across. So, those little relationships carried on. Generally, the populace of both sides were accepting. There was atrocities that has to be said. There was atrocities and there was mass graves and bodies found and all that sort of stuff. But that mainly happened up in Enosis and all that, the separation of Greece and Turkey. Right up until the Turkish invasion in '74. And then there was a lot of stuff happening around that period.

But when I went there in 1980, it was fairly benign. There was still the standoff, they couldn't travel, the border wasn't opened. We used to do south and north wind patrols, we used to call them. And there was Maronites villages and enclaves, and particularly in the North. Greek Maronites that still live there. So we'd load up a British convoy of food trucks and we'd go through the Turkish checkpoint, which we used to go through every day, basically, we did.

But once a month, we'd go up with about a convoy of about four big trucks full of flour, eggs, veggies, rice, all that sort of stuff. And we'd go up into the mountains of Northern Cyprus and we'd do a humanitarian patrol, give them all this stuff. And then we'd take letters from them to their Maronite friends that lived in another little enclave down near Limassol on the Greek side. So then we'd just do these south and north WinPatrols. But generally, the situation was fairly ... This is me looking at it, having been in a few interesting situations elsewhere in the world. It was fairly benign.

A witch and a gorilla

There was never any danger of, say, while we are doing the buffer zone on patrol with our white Land Rover, a big red rat kangaroo on each side, UN flag flying, you didn't think you were going to get whacked by a sniper. But occasionally, we played pranks on the Turkish Greek checkpoint. I used to love going through the Greek checkpoint and say, "Good morning," in Turkish. And they'd go, "What? Oh, bloody Australian." And then the same in the Turks, I'd speak Greek to them. And I remember one day, names will go unmentioned. But you know, those masks you put on.

The bloke that was next to me put on the gorilla mask, the rubber mask. And I put on the old witch's nose, with the big nose with the wart on it. And we had our blue berets on and we were going through and we went, "Yasso, kalimera " all this. And they went, "What?" And they looked at these two UN one with the big nose and a gorilla face. So they just thought we were mad and we got on really well with both sides whereas the military component of the UN didn't mingle as much as we did. They were confined sides. Whereas the military component of the UN didn't mingle as much as we did.

They were confined mainly to their region of the buffer zone. Whereas our work, we used to go to Kyrenia to have meetings with the Turkish police commander up there on stuff that affected their side of the buffer zone. And then we'd do the same on the Greek side. So we mingled a lot more than the UN military guys did. They saw a little bit of Cyprus. We saw all of Cyprus.

Everywhere, every bit of it. So, ours was a fairly well roving commission, which was great. And they loved the Australians because I think Melbourne has the third-biggest Greek population in the world, Thessaloniki, Athens and whatever. So yeah, we got on and the Turks loved us. They saw my ribbons and they said, "Oh, army. Ah, Gallipoli, Gallipoli." We'd talk like that, have a couple of beers and whatever, so.

Formation of the Australian Federal Police

There was Commonwealth Police, they were responsible for guarding government installations. They also had guys stationed in Australian High Commissions and Embassies overseas. They also did investigations under the Commonwealth Crimes Act. The ACT police was the local village police force for Canberra in Jervis Bay, like the New South Wales police. And in 1979 under Sir Colin Woods, British ex-commissioner of police over there, he came up with the concept of amalgamating the ACT police, the Commonwealth Police, and the Narcotics Bureau all together to form a federal police with jurisdiction in Australia, in all states of Australia, and also in the embassies.

So, the federal police these days has jurisdiction in Canberra, all around Australia and all its territories, and also at all their embassies and high commissions. We have a liaison officer, two liaison officers who then deal with crime, say in Athens. We have somebody in Athens or in Washington. Any crimes pertaining to Australian citizens or that might affect drug smuggling, organized crime, South America, all this, they're our conduit or liaison officers in those areas. And we converse with them daily.

And when I was in Interpol, I used to be talking to the AFP liaison officer in Washington all the time, or London. Yeah. So now, it's a worldwide police force. Probably not the FBI. FBI's got a bit of a different role, but yeah, so we have jurisdiction everywhere. But it was amalgamation of those three agencies ComPol, ACT, and Narcotics Bureau

Selected for Bougainville

A bloke came into me one day and he said, "Barney, you know it's Bougainville? Heard about that?" And I said, "Oh yeah." And he said, "We're sending some people over." He said, "It's a pretty rough mission, are you interested?" And I said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll go." So I was put on TMG. There was two of us, and the other guy's from Interpol, too. He went to Buka and I went to Savali and Tonu, south of the island near Buin. He had the best, really, dream run, because Buka was that island off the top of bay and they did sea patrols all around the place diving and eating fish every night.

And yeah, "Wow, this is fun." I was in the jungle swamps and mountains of Bougainville down near bloody Buin where a couple of Victoria Crosses were down there, I think Frank Partridge might have got his VC down there somewhere. It was a crapper. And I was with TMG, True Monitoring Group and that was with the Kiwis. And most of the guys in my little camp were Kiwi SAS. I didn't tell them, they had heard that I was ex SAS. So I became the father of all these young Kiwi SAS guys. And we used to do...

Our main mission was to explain the Wellington agreement, I think it was, the truce. And do patrols, literally patrols. Occasionally, they dropped us off in by chopper. But the Kiwis only had two Hueys. Their military defence budget was pretty low. The Land Rovers we had kept blowing up and falling apart because they were just 1970 models and they were just crap.

But we did some really long patrols up into the mountains, spreading the word, listening to villagers. I had a twofold role of getting, if they wanted to talk to me, any atrocities that had been at because, the BIG, the Bougainville Independent Group and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, Big Bra, they were kicking off all over the place and running right through some of these villages and committing atrocities.

But mainly the atrocities that I took down details of that I don't think were ever investigated, but were by the PNG army, when they were doing stuff there. They hated, they called them Redskins, the Bougainvillians, lovely, lovely people. They hated these Redskins, the PNGs because they're black, black, purple, black. And they're really quite intelligent. I remember I was up in a little village somewhere in the middle of nowhere and the village chief, we'd pile in like three days walking up these bloody mountains and we'd get in there totally dripping wet, been through swamps and rivers and everything.

But the chief had always come up to me because I had grey hair. And the Kiwi lieutenant that I was with in charge of it, he was a young kid, 25. So they just ignored him. They'd come up to me and they'd talk to me. So he got a bit pissed off about this but I explained to him why. They respect elders. I don't know why, but they do. And I remember walking into this one village and this guy came up to him, wearing a pair of stubbies and a St. Kilda footy jumper.

We'd learned a bit of Pisin language at DFAT before we left, which is useless, because I'd learn a bit of pigeon while I was in New Guinea in the Army and then I tried to learn Pisin, no good. Anyway, this guy started, I started asking him tentatively blah, blah, blah, while in Pisin and he says, "All right mate, I'll speak English." I said, "Oh, so where do you learn that?" He said, "I did an engineering degree at Monash Uni." Really? Seriously? Unbelievable. No, they were classic. They were really lovely people. Beautiful.

The AFP role in Bougainville

My mission was called the TMG, Truce Monitoring Group, under the Kiwis. They took it off initially. That morphed when I left into the PMG, Peace Monitoring Group. And that was under the auspice of the Australian Army. But within that organization, military wise, there was Fijians, Samoans, Vanuatuans. Yeah, a couple of other regional police and military people that worked over there under the umbrella of, well, when I was there, the Kiwis. Yeah, the Kiwis ran the show for I think the first 18 months.

The Wellington or the Dunedin Agreement. And yeah, it was all about the Panguna mine. The gold and copper mines and the PNGians … There was a lot of dispute about the copper mine, the Panguna mine, which was up in the mountains of Bougainville and the Bougainvillians wanted independence. They wanted to be independent from PNG, because PNG actually had jurisdiction over Bougainville and they had military and police there.

And as I said before, a lot of the atrocities that I was informed about were perpetrated by PNG Army or police against the Bougainvillians, because they didn't want Bougainville to secede from PNG. So our job, mainly, was under the auspices of the New Zealanders at that stage, was to talk about the peace process, trying to come and get people to the table to talk about it and they did have quite a few meetings, I think, in Dunedin, in New Zealand in those days, to talk about seceding from PNG.

I don't know what role the PNG military and police have in Bougainville these days but back in '98, there was a lot of them there and they were not liked by the Bougainvillians. There was a lot of atrocities. So our role was to go to villages and try and talk to them through interpreters, we had a couple of little guys to go run around with us because yeah, they'd chat.

The excellent work of DFAT staff in Bougainville

I worked with a girl most of the time from AusAID. She was brilliant because Bougainville is a matriarchal society and the women generally wouldn't talk to me when we'd talk about other stuff. The military guy, the lieutenant and me, we'd talk for hours, and they'd go through every sentence of this Dunedin or Wellington agreement. It would take hours. Miserable. And you'd be in a grass hut. It'd be either pouring rain or humid and everything. Stinky.

There would be guys sitting up the back with machetes, digging the puss out of their tropical ulcers in their legs and they look quite mean. Some of the guerilla movement, Big Bra, they were pretty fierce. So they'd be sitting off the back sometimes. You'd know they were there because the chief would point them out. They didn't cause any trouble, at least in my experience. But then I would get Leanne to get the women aside and I'd explain through the interpreter away from the PNG.

We're often accompanied by a PNG copper or military guy who wanted to listen in. But I'd explain through the interpreter to the chief, "Leanne's here to listen to the women if they've got anything they want to talk about. Leave this meeting and go off and chat." So she'd come to me with lots of notes and then that night I'd be writing up all this. So that was good. I also had in my team a girl from DFAT and a civilian from ADF Russell.

They were really good. And it was a really hard mission. I mean, very quickly, a quick story at Savali, which was a satellite station of Tonu, which was my main base. That was in a swamp in the lowlands. But up in the mountains there was another swamp, Savali. It was a little village and we had a little grass hut. The roof was riddled with bullet holes. Rained all the time. And we had one of the Land Rovers parked outside the hut and the next morning we went out and it had been sucked into the bog and it was up to the top of the doors and we couldn't dig it out.

And we got a chopper and we tried to get, and it was just stuck. We lost two on river crossings on the Puriata River. The conditions were really bad. We had an outside drop toilet, a hole in the ground, and you'd go out there with a machete or a golf club because there was rats everywhere, mean looking, big rats and cane toads. Because I had the runs while I was there, as I said, lost 12 kilos. And you'd be sitting, hunched over this little hole in the ground trying to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, and there'd be all these little pink eyes rats and bloody canes toads jumping out.

Oh my God. It was just disgusting. It was just terrible. And, yeah, I'd, bloody hell, been through Vietnam, so it was hard. But for these poor kids, the DFAT girls, they did really well. We did our training for Bougainville in Bamaga, Cape York and they didn't even know how to use a can opener to get the tins of rations open. And they didn't know how to pitch a hoochie. So we had to teach them all. I had to teach them all that stuff. But they did really well and I was so proud of them.

They were all given a medal when we got back at DFAT. I didn't get one because the police force didn't give us one but they all got their medal and I went there and I had a little speech. And there were tears coming down because they did really, really well in incredibly trying, and they didn't complain. It was just crap. We all got a bit sick and yeah, they did really well.

Church services

They were very religious, obviously. And every Sunday, they liked members of the TMG to go to the church service. Well, the church services went from one to four to six hours. That's a lot of sitting on bamboo slats, I'll tell you. But anyway, there was a reason why we all became very religious. At the end of the church service, the local village women would make a feast.

So there was fish and rice and all these native vegetables, the food, because we had New Zealand army rations, which are absolute crap. Chlorinated water with New Zealand Army instant coffee. Oh, not good. So wed' do that. But also during the church service, the young girls had formed a choir, the village choir. And they sang these beautiful songs. Their voices were so beautiful that I took an old tape recording in my day and taped it because they'd sing all these religious songs.

And then some of them, not all, some of them would then go into this, it was like a religious frenzy. They'd go into this stupor like you'd probably see in black magic things in the West Indies. And some of them would collapse on the floor and they'd just go all over the place. It was all part of the experience. But again, the main driver to go was this beautiful food afterwards because for the next six days you'd be eating rubbish. And that was Bougainville.

Illness and 'peck peck'

I got horribly sick. I lost a lot. I lost 12 kilos. I almost had blood coming out of every orifice, my eyes, ears. I had infection, back, front, whatever, because everything was polluted. And we had to, water resups was down at the local river. And all villages in all those countries used the river as had to, water resups was down at the local river. And all villages in all those countries used the river as the sewage, rubbish, all the rubbish, all the things.

So whenever we are having a bit of a scrub up in the river, one of us would be detailed to sit up in the bank and do 'peck peck' or 'puck puck'. And I always get them all mixed up. But 'peck peck' is human poo, and 'puck puck' is crocodile. So yeah, you'd sit up there, yell at "Puck puck. Peck peck." There'd be either a turd coming down or a crocodile swimming down. Unbelievable. So, I got infected. I got ear infections and we all got, oh, really sick.

A scary latent level of threat

Because of these nuts, these guerilla groups. If they got on the jungle juice, they used to make their own booze. They could be, we often had reports, you'd go to a village, there's shots and somebody was grabbed and taken because they kidnapped the young girls sometimes. So that was a bit more tenuous. I remember I met the head of the local guerilla group in our area one day and I was taken to visit him and while I was talking to him, I was just eyeballing this guy and he was high on jungle juice.

His eyes were literally rolling around his head. And he had that stare, they were bloodshot. His breath smelled. He had a big beard. He had a gun over his shoulder. And I was just having a bit of a chat through the interpreter. And I went away and I said to the young Kiwi lieutenant, I said, "Geez, mate. He was a really scary guy” because yeah, you could go overboard.

No personal violence towards me, but the latent level of threat you could switch on a heartbeat if you said the wrong thing. So I kept it pretty businesslike. And what's a wantok? Is it wantok? They have a funny thing. He thought we were going to give them presents because that's what we're supposed, we had to do but we didn't do it. So he was a bit angry. Anyway, that all went well. Yeah. We were unarmed.

The military guys were unarmed. Nothing, didn't have anything. And the chopper, as I said, the Kiwis had about two or three hueys and they were all back at Arawa, not where we were. And we were up in the mountain somewhere, so if we got in the poo, we had it used to go with a Kiwi sig and he could get comms to Arawa. So if we really got in the, yeah, deep doo doo, you'd have to radio through.

Blowing up Second World War munitions

We didn't have any flare-ups while we were there and the peace process went on. I think the PMG, one of their main roles was to de-arm the militias and the guerillas. So, we laid the groundwork explaining the peace process, and I think the PMG... So they disarmed, sorry, disarmed a lot of the guerilla groups that were there. So I would assume that, I think the mission was, it did what we had to do. Yeah, it was quite successful.

One side story. There was a lot of munitions around from the Second World War and we had identified this area with a lot of old aerial bombs and naval shells and everything and grenades, Japanese stuff. And so we got the organizers through Arawa and Kiwis and the bomb disposal team, they sent up to us with was a PNG army one and these guys were cowboys. Anyway, we loaded a lot of this stuff on, it was all rusted, in the back of a couple of old utes.

And then we had to go and we were going to blow it up at the sea, which was a fair way, about probably 20Ks. It took us about six hours to get, the roads were terrible … And they piled all this stuff, dug a bit of a hole in the beach. I took photos of this. Dug a big hole on the beach, piled all these bloody artillery shells and naval shells, aerial bombs, big stuff. And then they wired it all up, and we went down and we were going, "Jesus." and the Kiwi guys were with me and we all knew munitions.

This stuff's going to go bang. So they went back about 600 metres. No, we went back about a kilometre and a half up the beach and then we heard through the radio where we had radio comms. "Yeah, blowing it now. Fire in the hole." Well, half of it went unexploded. It was blown out to sea, back into the jungle.

There was grenades smoking still going into the... like, seriously? Yeah, that was interesting. Then I went, I said, "Oh, well now we're down near the coast." Because I never got to swim the whole time I was there. And I thought, "We go for a swim." So we all stripped off, just about to jump in. Then we looked offshore and there's these fins circling around about hundred metres off the beach. No. So, then we all got bitten by sandflies. So was a lot of fun.

A reflection on Vietnam

I am a firm believer that when you look at history, things that have happened in history, you look at those historical happenings in the context of the geopolitical or whatever situation then. You do not look at our involvement in Vietnam. You do not look at our involvement in Vietnam in the 21st century mentality.

At the time, the domino theory and all the rest of the stuff, there was a lot of, I've read a lot about the political machinations that were going on and to and fro and the Americans and all the rest of the stuff, the Australians. But I still think that we should have gone under the ANZUS agreement. I think that we did do the right thing at that stage. We all have, at least I have, and most people I speak to, have got regrets about the way we left.

It's exactly like the way we left East Timor. It was a lot of parallels there. We thought we were going to be there and see it to its conclusion but the war went off the pallet back in America, Australia, New Zealand, whatever. That was the reason we did it. We did very well in our area of Phuoc Tuy in Vietnam. The Yanks thought we did a good job. I think we should have been there and without being too flippant, I think it was the best training an army can have is to be operationally deployed.

There's nothing worse than an army that is not operationally deployed, because when they do have to go, they've got nothing, no corporate knowledge. No, I've always said, because I spent a bit time with the Israeli army over in the Middle East and Israel. And they're the most combat ready defence force in the Middle East, and possibly parts of the world.

Because they're flying operational missions. Their air force, their military is on standby all the time, and they really know what they're doing. So you need that operational awareness and currency because a peacetime army, it's doomed a failure, even if it does UN missions like East Timor and stuff like this because that's what you do. It's like being a brain surgeon and being scared of the sight of blood. Well, if you join the military and you don't want to go operational, what the hell are you doing in the military?

Join the public service or something. What the hell are you doing there? That's your job. So, I wanted to go. I actually, when they notified us that two squadron was being withdrawn and that was the last squadron in Vietnam, quite a few of us tried to put in for the training team to stay there, because we only did nine months. A tour was 12 months. I wanted to stay.

We were doing a great job. We were well-trained, professional. We knew what our bloody operational orders and bloody SAPs were. We were doing a good job. And that was our job, because when I came back to Australia, they disbanded 2 Squadron. We did between the SAS in that period between '71 and '79 when they adopted the C2, counterterrorism role, there was that period that I know a lot of guys were in the regiment during that period.

I got out. A lot of them stayed in. They did nothing. They were never going to be sent anywhere except on courses or training exercises and it was just ... We were trained to a peak of professional. We were good, we were bloody good. It's like a boxer training, or an athlete, training never to be used and never to run a race and you think, "What the hell? Why?" That's why I got out. I couldn't see a future just doing courses.

There was no purpose to the training. And it is hard training. We've lost more people on training exercises in the regiment than we have in combat. So that just shows you how realistic the training we do. Yeah. So, no, I wanted to go, I'm glad I did, and I have no regrets. And I think we did a good job. And the Vietnamese, I've been back many times since. They love the 'Uc Da Lois'. They love the Australians. Not so much the Americans.

I went back with an American Seal years ago, back in 2005. And every time he'd open his mouth, the Vietnamese would turn away. They were very polite, but they'd turn away. Whereas I'd talk, "Ah, Uc Dai Loi." "Yeah, yeah, where's the nearest toilet or train station?" They'd talk to me and he started to get... And I said, "Mate, well, America had a different role and they've got a bit of history here. Bad history." The Australians, we respected our enemies, we treated them well. We killed a lot, but they killed some, a lot of us, but we were professional soldiers. There's no war crimes coming out of the Australian side of it, none that has been proved. There's a few allegations around, but certainly none in SAS. We had none of that.

East Timor - Australian Federal Police


Evacuation of Gleno

(Geoff Hazel) walked out in front of them, because the coppers, the Indonesian coppers … walked out in front of them and, you know, open hands, unarmed, and tried to calm them down. He got hit, I think in the shoulder or the side of the face with a bit of shrapnel from one of the rocks, bullets hitting rocks and then he came back and everybody else, all the other DEOs.

And apart from the Magnificent Seven, we called them, the Kiwis, the Yanks and the Aussies, everybody else had dived under the back of the Land Rovers in the riverbed, and they were advancing on us, and this, two or three militia advanced on me, I was standing next to Morrow and I thought, "This is his bloody shitty" and I went to pick up a piece of bamboo to whack one of these bastards and it fell apart.

It was full of white ants and I just, like you can imagine, full of adrenaline, scared, anxious, angry, frustration, I just burst into tears and Morrow was trying to throw rocks at these bastards and then, suddenly, somebody blew a whistle or something and they all packed off, but it was looking a bit hairy.

So, then Geoff negotiated that we would get, they would allow the UN Land Rovers to drive back to the police station back down the river, back to the police station and then through, then he went up to the POLRI commander's office and the TNI and negotiated the pickup of the remaining, which was most of the ballot boxes at the sportsground if it was considered safe.

So there, the Indonesians job was to allay, keep the militia back and get, secure the ballot, secure the LZ, basically, so the ballot boxes could go on. So, this took a few hours. Then we radioed Dili and told them, "Okay, you can come back now and pick up the remainder." And so, they did. They flew in and when they landed, not in the terms of agreement, the militia leader for that area with the POLRI commander, walked up to the chopper, he wanted to inspect that there was no weapons or anything on board.

And I said, "Jesus, this could be a disaster. All he's got to do is have a grenade, boom, blow the chopper. Throw it in. Boom." Unbelievable. Anyway, we finally succeeded in loading all the ballot boxes on this Puma, and then it took off, and then the militia started coming in, like, you've seen those African scenes, jackals come in and they start … so we all skivvied back to the police station and then for the next seven or 10 days, I got evacuated on the seventh, so it would be seven or eight days.

How many days in August? 31 or 30? 31? Is it 31 days in August, I can't remember. Anyway, the ballot was on the 31st. So, seven days, so we called it the siege of Gleno for seven days and then we all retreated back. Negotiations were made with the militia again. You're negotiating with thugs through the police who’s supposed to be helping us and the TNI. We had to take the, all the DEA's and the civilian staff. A lot of them came from New York, but a lot of Australian DEOs, down to Dili.

And the Kiwi police were evacuated. Their government pulled them out on the 31st or the 1st. I think 31st or whatever. So, they went down, so Geoff asked for volunteers. So, Morrow and I and Randy and another Aussie copper, Peter Watt, we decided to take all the DEOs and civilian staff that wanted to be evacuated down to Dili, not the Timorese staff, they were staying up there at this stage.

So, we loaded them all up and then there was a series of roadblocks all the way down the mountain. I think it was about two and a half hours driving over mountain roads, pretty dicey mountain roads because you'd have a mountain on one side of the road and the other side of it, then a 600-foot drop. The roads were terrible. And we had to negotiate in that trip alone a lot of militia roadblocks to get out.

We had our police escort, again, they did nothing. So we got all them down to Dili, then we came back up, then, because the situation in Gleno was getting really, really bad, against UN orders, we all decided that we would evacuate the Timorese that helped us during the whole of the period, registration, everything, if they wanted to come with their families, because we did a headcount, we've got, we had enough Land Rovers.

They wanted to be evacuated with their own, some of them had their own little tuk tuk vehicles and all that. If they wanted to be evacuated, we'd take them. The UN directive had come out a few days before. No UN personnel, locally employed UN personnel to be evacuated. It's that UN had to be bi-partisan stuff. It had happened in Croatia and Bosnia.

The UN stood by while there was slaughters going because they were betwixt in between. So, we said, "No, this is BS, if they want to come, we'll evacuate them." So, we spread the word, went all around, they brought them in and we lined up a convoy of, Land Rover at the front with Morrow and I. Land Rover at the back with Randy and Pete and all their little vehicles in the middle, and we evacuated 160 people, I think, about 160.

So, Geoff radioed Dili and said, "You're not going to like this, but we're evacuating our staff because they're going to get killed basically." And some of them already had been in the intervening period. So, we're all lined up outside the police station, that was in the morning, we decided to do it. The Militia wouldn't lift their roadblock. Geoff negotiated them to lift them. This was over a period of hours.

We had these people crammed into these vehicles. It was hot. We had bottles of water giving them out, giving them tins of food. We were a bit ragged because we’d been eating the same things as them for the last whatever month and so we finally got the green light. That was about five or six o'clock, again, two and a half hour three, depending on how many roadblocks and whatever.

So, it's got to be dark when we got there. So, we went through, got through the big, the main militia roadblock by negotiating and limited the police. Let them out. So, we went up through the mountain roads, we’re in the front and about halfway over the mountain range. It's pitch dark. We're going in and Randy in the rear vehicle, the Yank, said, "Mate, I got a tail. I got a truckload of militia."

And they’re firing over my vehicle at the back because we couldn't hear that, we're right up the front of the convoy. They're firing over back and then coming up and braking and swerving and trying to force me off the road down this valley. So, he said, "I'm gonna do something."

So, what he did do, he told us when we got down to Dili, he let them get really close and hit the brakes, because they were close, they hit the brakes. This truck load of militia swerved and about 20 militia went over the side of the cliff. So, they’re gone. He said, "All clear". So, we kept going down and unbeknownst to us, as we approached the outskirts of the Comora bridge near the airport in Dili, this truck came out of a side street with bloody, a big sort of search light and we thought it was militia because Dili was reeling with riddled with Militia.

And so, we told all the people in the back of all the vans to "Get down, get down, get down." So, they've got down, they're all huddling in, looking inwards here and this car screamed up alongside our car, which is the first in the convoy. And do you know what it was? It was a CNN film crew! I mean, really? And this woman, leaned out of the car, she said, "Oh, you're that, you're the people evacuating the locals from Ermera are you?

We’ve heard it’s really dangerous up there." Jesus Christ. I mean, yeah, like really? Anyway, said a few things and we finally got to the UN headquarters in Dili. Barrier went up, we all drove in and one of the vehicles that have done the whole trip, as soon as the guy, who's one of the private vehicles, soon as the guy turned off his motor, the whole gearbox and diff just dropped in big puddles of water. So, anyway, they knew we were coming. So, the UN people came out got all the locals and they put them in the assembly hall, because it was an old school, so high school. So, got all them.

Rest in the Hotel Turismo

There was people down in Dili, Australian police that we knew, that were on our contingent and they knew what was happening. We're sitting in the vehicle like, just a cup of coffee would have been good. I mean, we've just come through, like, a bit of hell, and we’ve got nowhere to go.

So, we thought we would stay there that night. And this UN official not an Australian and the mighty UN official came out and he said, "You can't stay here. We've got no accommodation." Like, gobsmacked and Morrow, we gave them the bird, "Stuff you" and so we got out and they said, "You can't go out there either. There's militia running everywhere."

So, we took off and Morrow, who had been in Cambodia, Mozambique, he said, "Mate, my mate Mark Dodd, who is a journo for the Australian and Hamish MacDonald and Lindsey Murdoch, "They're staying at that, I know they're here, they're staying at the Dili hotel, we'll make a beeline for there." Randy said, "No, no, mate. Guys, I'm going off to where I know some American coppers are living and Peter Watt went with him."

So, we went to the Hotel Turismo, I think it was in Dili and we went in and there's a whole heap of journos in there because this story ‘d got around, right, that we evacuated all these people. So, we went in there and we're just, yeah, like, about six days growth. muddy. All we'd had lately was few drinks of water and a can of spandex or something.

And so, we went in there and the journos, being journos obviously, wanted the story. So, this girl came, I think she was on SBS and she came up and she said, "Do you guys, want something to eat?" "Please." So, she made us, I always remember, it's a fond memory that Morrow's go too, she made us this beautiful Timorese bread and big slices of fresh cut ham, proper ham, with mustard on it.

Wolf that down with a few beers but because we were a dehydrated, hadn't eaten and slept for a while, and Mark Dodd's mate wasn't in the group of journalists. So, they're asking us questions and we're a bit drunk by this stage, two cans of beer had gone straight to our head and we're getting a bit voluble, so saying what we did, telling them what we did and Mark Dodd came in and saw us and went over and said, "Enough. No more. These guys are buggered. I'm taking them"’

So. "G’day Mark. How are you?" because I knew Mark from Canberra anyway, he was a good mate of Morrow’s. So, he took us off to get us away from that. So yeah. So, he took us up to his room and we had lots of coffee and then he, those three journos. Lindsay, Hamish and Mark were in a house right on the seafront. So, we ended up going down there and we stayed there that night and I remember we spent the night lying on the bonnet of the car listening to Country and Western music on the tape deck.

Militia were going up and down outside the street, there were houses, again exploded. They were burning Dili and we went inside and we had a bit of a war council, could have got nasty. So, we all armed ourselves, basically. I had a piece of bamboo with some nails in it and Morrow had the same. Mark Dodd had a spear gun and he wore his, had a pair of goggles on.

Another guy had a tennis racket and we rigged up on the front door that they'd have to burst into if they ever came to get us because they knew where all the journos were living. We rigged up a rock booby trap. We tied it up, so soon as they opened the door, the first guy in would get a flat head. So, we rigged all that up and we got bourbon, they had bourbon, and I don't know where they got it all but they had heaps of bourbon. We hadn't seen this stuff.

We've been drinking Bintang beer, which was not a bad beer, and so drinking bourbon and apparently I was standing up talking to Doddy and Lindsay and I just passed my glass to one of them and I just collapsed onto the bed and apparently I was laid out like this and they put my hands like I was in a coffin and apparently I was like that at seven o'clock in the morning. I didn't move and I was woken up by the smell of cooking and it was Hamish or Lindsay cooking bacon and eggs like that. Yeah, like the shark in Finding Nemo. "Blood" he can smell the blood in the water, was like, "Oh good." So, we got up and had that.

Then Morrow and I had a quick look around and we wanted to get back up the mountain. So, we walked out and had a look up and down this road that goes along the seafront and on the two big pillars outside the driveway into this house that they were staying was two big red crosses. So, we went back, then we looked at a few other houses and there was no red crosses.

There was just that, the Australians, they'd been there for about two months stay. So, the local bad guys knew exactly where these Aussies were staying. So, we went back and talked to, Mark and Lindsey and Hamish and said, "That doesn't look good" So, we had to, that’s right, Morrow and I, we teamed back up with the Yank, Randy, and Peter. We went to local police headquarters in Dili to get permission to go up and they said, "You can't go up. It's forbidden zone."

They use these stupid terms, forbidden zone. So, we weren’t getting anywhere there. So, we went back to Mark, and we said, "Looks like you got us for at least another night, mate." So, we had another big bourbon night and Hamish or Lindsey had been out and got some beautiful French pastries. So, we ate all that stuff and getting a little bit sick of Garth Brooks by this stage because they only had a few tapes and then we then we went back to thing, so they said, "Oh, yes, we will give you a police escort." But, ah, that's right, no, sorry, sorry.

In the intervening stuff, that night, sorry, before Mark, when Mark got us away from all the journalists, Tim Fischer, Marise Payne, and Mr. Simon Crean, three politicians were staying there. They were up oversighting the election on the 30th. They were doing a bit of a trip around, going to watch, all over East Timor. They were there and Tim Fischer and Marise Payne and Simon Crean were all flying back to Canberra the next day.

They heard we were in the Hotel Turismo. They heard what had happened with Gleno, evacuating all these people. They sent a message down and one of the staff came in and said, "Look, Tim Fischer, you guys want to talk to Tim? He's flying out. He wants to have a chat to you guys."

So, Tim, in his inimitable way, and I'd met him when I work with Bob Hawke, so he said, "What do you … Jesus," and I knew Marise Payne really well and I'll tell you a side story later on about Marise Payne. She saved my life, just before I flew out to Darwin.

Anyway, we went in there and had a bit of a chat and Tim, as he always did when he was, he took notes, copious notes, opened this big, like a ledger, got his pen out and he started writing. And he said, "Right, you're from Gleno, we've heard about the riverbed incident.

I've heard that the incident at Atsabe where Phil Hunter saved the guy, Phil drag the guy out away from the militia who had stabbed him and he died later on and Phil and Max Knoth had carried him up under all this gunfire into the house where he died, sadly, so they knew about that.

They knew about Gleno, they knew about Ermera. They'd heard that, so Tim's writing all these notes and Marise was saying, so we'd finished that. We had a beer and he said, "I'm going back to brief Parliament tomorrow." He did and the story that we told him is in Hansard, apparently.

Return to Gleno

Marise said to me, she said, "Don, what's happening? Are you staying in Dili now?" And I said, "No, Marise. There's four of us and we're going back to Gleno." She said, "You can't, you're mad. You can't, you can't go up there. It's too dangerous."

And I said, "Well, yeah, but that's where all our colleagues are." Anyway, she probably never thought she'd see me again but anyway. So, we did that and then after two days of negotiating with the POLRI in Dili, we secured a police escort back up the road.

So we went through all the roadblocks that we fought our way through before, got our way back and then the siege started, then the police commander, before he got evacuated, the POLRI police commander said, "If you guys want to, for safekeeping, come in and throw your sleeping bed rolls down in the police station". So, yeah, that's probably a good idea.

So, we did that and so that night all these coppers, and I think I've got a photo somewhere of us all lying around with the mozzie nets over us in this area, and we're all just sort of eating ration packs and sleeping because we're tired. But that night I wake up for a nocturnal wee and I went outside, and I said to Morrow, "Mate, do you get a funny feeling about what's happening around here? Why were we invited into here?" He said, "Yeah, I was thinking about that."

So, we didn't go back inside. We stayed outside, and we got back into our Land Rover and during the night about 3am, in the morning, there was Elvis with his Ray Bans on at 3am in the morning, I mean, cool, too cool for school and the TNI Commander, Kopassus guy, Kopassus and TNI Commander.

The police commander was nowhere to be seen, had a little house on the premises but he was nowhere to be seen and they were going around all the little hoochies around the place pointing out, and it was only the Australians sleeping under the mozzie unit.

None of the Thais, the Pakistanis. None of the Yanks, was just the Australians. So, went back in, "Woke Geoff up and said, "Mate. I think in the morning, we better go. This has just happened." And he agreed. So, we left that day the police commander was taken down to Dili because he was helping us a lot.

He was a nice guy. As I said, he was a really, so that didn't go well with the authorities. I hope he was all right back in Indonesia or whatever. So, he's probably taken back to Indonesia. It's all conjecture but, anyway, the next day we went up to where Geoff had his house.

Our bad manor, while I was down in Dili, our bad manor where Morrow and I and the Kiwis and the Spanish, that had been burnt down. So, we had nowhere to go. All our stuff had gone. So, we went up to where Geoff and three or four New York DEOs and UN people, staff had been living before they evacuated and there was just Geoff up there and he said, "Mate, there’s three houses that are vacant, come up here."

So we stayed there. We stayed there for about the next five days. Meanwhile, we barricaded the door. Morrow and I did a quick trip down to the market to see if there was anything left. We got the last remains of a carton of Bintang beer.

Threw that in the Land Rover, took it up, found a few jerry cans of fuel and we managed to fill up most of the Land Rovers. We were told by Dili to go back to the UN police station which was locked up but it was still, you know, all the windows were broken and evacuate and save it all the equipment the computers, and that was a stupid order.

So, there's a photo of me throwing about three toilet rolls, if they want everything, they can get the bog rolls, too, so we threw those in and all the pens and pencils and, like just stupid stuff and then we went back up and for the next five days.

There was militia everywhere. They’re still burning Gleno. Shootings. We were told in that period that the daughters of one of the local Timorese that had helped us were being raped about 500 metres away and I knew them. They were from the village of Ermera.

So, we told Geoff and I said, "Mate, I know it's pointless probably but we'll just …" Morrow and I stayed together the whole time, so we packed in the Land Rover, got a pickaxe each, we went down and we got broken windows in the Land Rover and we couldn't even get near these girls and they had been raped and I think they were killed later on.

So, yeah, that sort of stuff was happening all over Gleno. So, we went back, and in that period, there was mainly Australians, the Kiwis had gone. So, there was Australians, Americans. All the other UN Police they found other places because they never seem to be around when you really needed them.

So, they'd gone off and skivved and while we were still down at the UN Police station at Gleno, Geoff was doing a headcount of all the coppers and he said, "Where are the two Malaysian police?" And Morrow and I, on our one little rounds around the police station, you know, crawling through the corn pod things, cornfield, we'd seen the two Malaysian coppers over at the POLRI police station, taking off their Malaysian police shirt and putting on POLRI Indonesian police T shirts because they spoke Indonesian, they were Muslims, and they were looking after themselves. So, we told Geoff, and in time of war that's shooting by firing squad stuff.

I mean that's traitors. Anyway, so he was still, you know, his brief was still to look after all the coppers of all the Nationals, which he did really good but in these three houses there was only Australians and Yanks. And there was a few, everybody was getting a bit frayed and nervous and whatever, so we drank up our beer and the nerves were getting really sort of tight.

So, I yelled out to them, I said, "Guys, Morrow has got a book that his girlfriend has sent over." It was called Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. Have you read it? Beautiful book. I think there's a movie of it, a beautiful story and I said, "It's a love story."

So, I said, Morrow and I got the last bit of beer that was down in the marketplace that wasn't trampled or destroyed, so I said, "Grab yourself a warm beer and Morrow will read you a passage." So, I said, "Bloody find a good one, mate" So, there's a few saucy paragraphs so Randy, one of the Yank coppers, lovely bloke, he took a photo and it was, it was all these grown coppers sitting on the floor with a can of beer just listening to Morrow read and it was just beautiful.

And, anyway, then Randy, who wrote beautiful poems, he had a book of poems he read, I said to Randy, because Randy and I did a few patrols together, and he was a really, really nice guy and I said, "Mate, read them that poem, Angel's wings are fragile things." And what I was trying to do, because there's a lot of guys that hadn't been on missions.

Morrow had. Geoff Hazel had, but he was in another house, and Randy, this Randy had been in Vietnam in the US Seabees, so there was a bit of experience and some inexperience, so we're trying to calm everybody down because it was mayhem outside.

We were looking at the windows that we'd bloody boarded up with mattresses, and they were walking around throwing grenades into bloody houses and bloody shooting, and yeah, like this was going on for about five days. It was just unbelievable.

So, yeah, he read out the poem and calmed a few people down. There's a photo of Randy and I spooning in bed because we, you know, there's hardly any beds left in this place. So, we both spooned and turned over and so, then, Geoff still had a radio in his little house, which is next door. Our evacuation date was the seventh, I think seventh of September.

So, Geoff came into our house, got in by the back door, and said, "Right, I’m gonna get all the vehicles. Gonna line up outside the police station and we're all going." So, he rang around, radios, got all the remaining nationality police that were all over the place. We all got our vehicles, line up there, big convoy. There's a photo of the last convoy.

So, we lined up outside the police station. I've got a photo of me standing looking at the vehicles and it was pretty, not pretty emotional. It was really emotional. As we went out, the militia had got all the locals that lived in Gleno, lined them up because for the two and a half months that I was there anyway, these people loved us, they were waving to us.

We used to chat and have coffee with them, talk and laugh, and they'd lined them up as we drove out, and the message was very clear, there goes your, because we kept telling the villagers all the time, "We will stay even if it gets pear shaped. We will stay and help you." Well, we were ordered out, we had to get out they were evacuating UNAMET from East Timor.

We didn't realise that. We thought we'd stay on until another contingent came in and it would go on. We thought it would peak and then go back down but it didn't, it was getting worse and worse and worse. So, they'd lined them all up and they were all, they would stand, these bastards were standing behind these rows of villagers with weapons as we drove past on our last convoy, and instead of looking at us and laughing and waving like they did, they didn't dare.

They're all, they're all, just because, then they raised, almost raised Gleno to the ground and killed a lot of people they. So, we got through and we're on this convoy and we're going through the mountain near the mountain pass where Randy turfed off this truckload of militia and suddenly one of the choppers, and it was a Huey chopper, AK back to Vietnam. Wok. Wok. Wok.

It was coming in and they were radioing through, and they were on the radio saying, "Guys there's a …" That's right, they didn't tell us what it was. They said, "There's a lot of militia lining roads and hiding in the bushes in the jungle and everything all the way back. So just be really careful."

But as we got to this really dangerous stretch where the road was curving around this mountain that side, valley, the chopper came down, hovered, like on a ridge line there, hovered and then took off and then dived down into the valley, then suddenly reappear there and come in at hover, hover.

Fast forward, when we got evacuated to Darwin, the pilot of that chopper, a Lloyd’s chopper, he was having a few beers in one of the bars in Darwin, he recognized us, you know, "You guys were in Ermera." "Yeah, yeah." And he said, "You were in that convoy." We said, "Yeah, yeah. What were you doing?"

The bloody TNI and the militia had set up an ambush with a machine gun on this pass, because if they opened up and hit the lead vehicle, then the last vehicle, you had nowhere to go except over the cliff and this chopper saw it, unarmed chopper, saw this, came down, hovered over the thing, really pissed them off, and then when they tried to get the, dive just back into the valley and then come up somewhere else, and they hovered there till all the convoy went through, the 12, 14 odd Land Rovers.

Mayhem in Dili

We got down into Dili, past the big militia headquarters that was near the Comora bridge near the airport and we went to the transport compound, which was not a transport company and everybody left there and got up into headquarters in Dili. So, we stayed there and then we got radioed, come up, come up to the main headquarters.

The Force Commander wants to have a word briefing, blah, blah, blah. So, we went up there. All the locals were still there in the assembly hall. They'd been there for that seven, eight days, nine, ten days. They were all coming in from all over Dili and that's when that scene, remember where they, a lot of them are outside, the Militia started firing and the TNI started firing and there was evidence that the militia and the TNI fired at locals, killed them, and the mothers had thrown their babies over the razor wire that was on the perimeter fence around UN headquarters in Dili and a lot of them got hurt, like razor wire, and they were throwing their babies over, because we couldn't get, the staff that were there couldn't get the one door through the wall open and then finally a bloke called Dave Savage got the door open and then they were passing these kids through, and then getting their mums and dads in and then locked the door.

So, while we were there waiting for this briefing, we were watching locals running up the mountain behind the UN Headquarters at Dili and being shot at by bloody militia and TNI here and bodies. Like, they were running up the hill, over, because it was thicker jungle on the other side, and they're off there, everybody was evacuated because Dili was in flames.

Leaving Dili


Anyway, we get this, we get the briefing and because Morrow and I had been on the first lift in on the 21st of June, we were on the first lift, we were going to be on the first lift out. So, our names were first and just as they read out our names, and then Geoff, there was a single, there was lots of noise going on, rifle shots and grenades.

There was a single, sinister rifle shot and I was standing next to Geoff listening to Alan Mills giving us this briefing, telling us that we're all a bit panicky and they didn't really have proper weapons and then there'd be a burst of automatic gunfire. Anyway, and there was a single shot, and Geoff was next to me and Morrow, and Geoff just collapsed.

What would you immediately think? Hit by sniper. So, we rolled on him, and we looked around, like is anybody going to help? There was coppers from all different, from everywhere, they’d all pissed off. So, we’re looking over him, feeling for blood and he was unconscious, and he got hit in the cheek or the shoulder back in Gleno but he was, we're all dehydrated and he just collapsed from exhaustion, dehydration, you know, strain. Anyway, we found out he was alright, so he was put on the first lift out too.

So, and the story continues a little bit, sorry, it is a long story. So, our names were read out, yeah, yeah, "Grab your bags" and we had our runaway packs, but we had left them when we dumped the vehicles in the school playground next door on the other side of this wall and I said to Morrow, "Mate, we’ll be going in about two or three hours and I've got some shit in that bag that I want." He said, "Yes, so have I."

So, we bought it there was stuff going on. So, we crawled through the, through under the wall, under the wire and we crawled in amongst all these parked UN vehicles. They all had broken windows, bullet holes in them and everything. We found our vehicle.

We opened the back door, got out our little runaway packs with our personal, a little bit of personal stuff and then we crawled all the way back and when we got back in one of the Aussies looked out, said, "You bastards are mad. You nearly got killed. You might have got killed for what? A bag, a pack?" "Yeah, well, there was stuff there that I want."

A new pair of undies and stuff. So we did that, then we got in the vehicle and every convoy that had gone in the previous week to Dili airport for whatever reason, had been ambushed by militia and because of our experience up the hill, we were dealing with those bad militia all the time. I just said to the UN, I think he was an American or a Brit cop controlling the convoy movement, you know, how many vehicles, whatever.

And I say, I went up to him and he said, "Well, you guys are on the next convoy" and he said, "You'll have a hairy trip because everybody’s been shot at and chased by militia all the way through Dili." and I said, "Just a point of interest. Do you tell the POLRI that there's a convoy coming in at say two o'clock, do you do tell them?" He said, "Yeah, yeah, we have to." I said, "Big mistake, huge, you don't tell them, because you tell the POLRI they tell TNI and TNI tells the militia, and they're waiting for you. So can we just try something?"

We had a convoy of four vehicles and so we’d got the vehicles that were working, and a lot of them were ours from Gleno and Ermera and Hatulia and that, and I said, "Let's not, just one convoy. It's on our heads. We've all agreed. Don't tell them.

Don't tell anybody. We'll just go, right." So come the appointed hour, we knew about a 30-minute drive, so we all took off and we're driving through, no problems. There was stuff happening all around, driving down streets, you know, we knew Dili pretty well. We drive down the street but then there was this big camp of militia right near Comora bridge, that was their headquarters, and it was just like Keystone Cops. It was like something like, you know, the double take.

There's this convoy of four UN Land Rovers, oh, that’s right, we were driving along and the Land Rover that I was in started, like we're doing about 30, 40 ks an hour, started [car spluttering noises] and I said to Brett Swan, the Aussie that was at Hatulia, driving us, he was doing the shuttle service. I said, "mate, Jesus, what's wrong?" He said, "I don’t know."

Anyway, it's like bloody Keystone Cops, cough, farting, and the blokes up the back of the convoy, the other three vehicles, "Jesus, what are you guys doing?" We weren’t going to stop and get out and give it a service. So, we're going past and all these militia were all sitting around or lying outside their headquarters drinking beer and isn't it fun, massacring and raping and pillaging and all this. Bastards.

And as they went past because they hadn't been told. It was classic. They went, "Bloody UN.", you know, they all started trying to get back on the back of their stupid trucks and then they chased us. So, they came in behind us and meanwhile, we’re farting our way to the airport, and it was just over the bridge and down the road to the airport.

And when we got in and then they stopped because there was Australian soldiers and I know who they were, they were 2 Squadron, SAS, because I walked up to, they were all standing around the perimeter of the airfield. They had pistols, they didn't have long rifles, right, didn't have their weapons but they all had a box and that's where, the box, they weren't allowed to be obviously armed apart from personal weapons.

So went through and got out of the car and I said to Brett, "What’s the bloody problem." We never found out until we got back to Darwin. What had happened was the three other vehicles in the convoy were from Dili, the supply of vehicles in Dili. Ours was from, it was his vehicle from Hatulia. It was the dry season, where in the mountains the dust was like bull dust.

Over the whole time we were there, we got them serviced about once every month or so but over the time it was there all this bull dust got into the air filter, in the dry season it was no problem, came down to Dili, the humidity was about 90 per cent. The humidity got into the bull dust in the air filter, clogged it up. So, ripped off the air filter problem solved.

Anyway, we got through and then we had to go through customs at Dili airport. Meanwhile, Dili’s burning. It's a nightmare. We had to go through, we had a little bag, open it up, like they had to show, the press were there, had to show one handkerchief, a pair of thongs and a shaving brush. Anyway, then we got on the plane. It was a RAAF C-130, I think it was.

So, we got on, but on the way over to the rear ramp I went over to one of the soldiers and I said, "Who are you guys?" He said, "I'm just here to make sure everything's okay". I said, "You’re Regiment, aren’t you?" He said, "No, not really." I said, "Mate, I was 2 Squadron in Vietnam." And the bloke said, excuse the French, "Mate, you’re too old for this shit, I tell you." And I said, "I know, I know. I'm too old" and he tells me, he said, "You look like shit." and people kept telling me this and I'm starting to believe it.

Anyway, we got on and guess who was already on the plane. Sitting, right? Have you ever been on a C-130? There's, you come up the back ramp, I used to jump out of them in the Regiment, but you come up the back ramp and there's a row of seats outward facing in the middle and then there’s seats along each side. Right up the front, underneath, there's a little, couple of steps and you get up into the cockpit where the pilots are.

Right underneath, right at the first seats were the team of Malaysian coppers. They had found the Malaysian police shirts and put them back on again and somehow, not in our convoy, they abandoned us back at Gleno, they had found their way out by talk, talk, talking to militia and TNI, all their little buddies and they got on, first on the plane. Morrow was going to kill them. I said, "Mate, probably not a good look. There's too many witnesses. They'll get there just dessert."

So, anyway, we got on and he was seething. Then we took off because militia, this Regiment guy said, "Mate, there’s militia everywhere. They're all over the place." The airport was surrounded by grass and bushy stuff and apparently there was, when they flew in they could see the bastards hiding in whatever.

They didn't fire, as far as I know, they didn't fire because they didn't dare at these planes coming and taking off. So, when we took off, one of the final scenes was, we took off, apparently there was a Kangaroo operation, one of those Kangaroo exercises in Darwin. Nicely timed because INTERFET was going in at the end of September or something.

As we took off, two, I think they were Singaporean, fighters came each side of our, as each plane took off there was a bit of a ritual. Apparently, they were doing exercises out over the Arafura Sea or whatever it was but as each UN plane was coming in and taking off because of the threat from militia, possible, because you shoot a plane down, a lot of people die.

They’d come in and just shepherd on each of the wings and I looked at Morrow and I said, "Mate", the sounds of choppers took me back to Vietnam. When I flew into Vietnam 30 years before this, we flew into Saigon, the war was going on big time, two F-4, American F-4 Phantoms came and shepherded the Qantas 707 plane on the way in.

Now we're flying out and we're shepherded by two fighter planes. I think they were Singaporean. And I said, "The parallels between here and Vietnam are chilling, because we left Vietnam, and we left the war, and we all know what happened there. We said we'd stay in Timor and we’re leaving." Not happy, yeah, not happy. None of us were happy. We're all pissed off that we were ordered out.

Evacuation to Darwin

We got into, flew into Darwin airport, I think it was nighttime when we landed and right at the foot of the plane, when they let the ramp down was the Deputy Commissioner of the AFP, Adrian Whiddet, who knew me really quite well, and knew that I had quite a fair bit to do with the decision not to go with weapons.

And he said, "Jesus", he said it again, another person, he said, "Jesus, Barney, Morrow, you look like shit. And you smell." And I said, "Jesus, Adrian, I'm getting a complex here." And he said, "Mate, I’m flying back to Canberra tonight, before I go …" and go over there, there's like CWA ladies there like when they got evacuated at Dunkirk, there was sandwiches and a cup of tea. Go over there. "Before you go over there." he said, "I'm flying back tonight, Mick Palmer and John Howard want to know, was it a good idea?"

And I knew what he meant, was it a good idea to go without weapons? And I said, "Mate, you wouldn't be talking to us now. There were so many instances that if we had have gone armed with a pistol, the world would have known that police were armed, it was only a police operation.

Police were armed but I said, "I know my weapon handling skills and most of the police in the AFP contingent, were pretty proficient with weapons." But I said, "We’re working with the Indians, Pakis, Nigerians, all this. I don't know, a lot of them had probably never seen a gun and what? Would they give them a five-hour course or something." And I said, "If we're in a confrontational situation, and we were armed and the world knew we were armed, and somebody panicked or went for a handkerchief.

They could have shot us and said they went for their weapons. Sorry." You know, "But if the world knows we’re not, we’ll still be dead, but they aren't going to get away with that. What are you going to get out of your pocket if you’re unarmed, a handkerchief?" So, he said, "That's all I need to know." He said, "Look after yourself. I'll be flying back up to Darwin in a couple of days’ time."

So we staggered over to the gorgeous CWA ladies and they looked at us as if we were something from Mars, and wolfing sandwiches down and bloody, the, there was little things of orange juice on the C-130 coming over, and grapes or something, but we were starving. Anyway, we ate that. Then were bused to Larrakeyah Barracks in Darwin. That was our first night. We had nothing with us.

So, we had a quite a fitful night. I didn't sleep. I don’t think Morrow slept, really. So, and then the AFP gave us $200 because they knew most of us didn't have a lot of, most of our stuff had been pinched, burnt, whatever. So, they bussed us into Darwin and we're in dirty uniforms then we had a shower that night and we stood under the shower for about three, four hours, just, like, hot water.

Flush toilets, because we just had a hole in the ground up at Gleno, I mean, yeah, and cold baths with a bloody plastic jug and so went into town. Morrow and I went into Woollies or something and we had all of this money. So, I bought couple pairs of shorts. I bought a pair of boat shoes, leather boat shoes, which I've still got. But when I got back to the, we went to a hotel, then when we got back to the hotel, Morrow said, "Do you know where these beaches are made Barney?" He said, "Indonesia."

And then he threw them out the window. And we bought a couple of T shirts and whatever, but I bought some shaving gear and because my mind was like, we were just a bit out of it, I’d bought two of those aerosol things of underarm instead of one underarm and one shaving cream, and then we got back to Larrakeyah Barracks, you know, and got our stuff and I was in there and spurting the stuff.

I had another long shower. I said, "Morrow. This stuff’s crap." "Underarm, mate. You’re squirting underarm. No wonder it’s not foaming up." Anyway, one night at Larrakeyah, then they put us in the Travel Lodge. I remember, and there was a few, quite a few police there, probably 10 or 20. But they’d overbooked for the Japanese tour group. So, who'd they kick out? Us! So, we're out on the pavement again with our little packs, like, "Hello, what are we gonna do here?"

Warren Snowden, who I knew well from working for Bob Hawke, he saw Morrow and I, we went and got a coffee somewhere and sat down, and it was his electorate, and he came over, he said, "Jesus, Barney, you look like shit." I’ve had a hundred people have said that and I was really starting to get worried. Anyway, I’d shaved this stage and he said, "So we heard about it. Geez. How was it?"

Had a bit of a coffee and a bit of breakfast, he said, "Where are you staying?" We said, "Well we were staying up there but now we're out here. They kicked us out because they overbooked." So, anyway, he saw the police, they'd sent a police team up from Canberra to deal with all the admin stuff, you know, putting people here, there and everywhere, they're running out of rooms, like hotel rooms. I don't know what was on in Darwin, obviously something was on, there was no rooms.

But as luck would have it, walking down the main street of, with a pair of footy shorts and a T shirt and our pack, our little pack, full now with our police clothes all rolled up, washed at Larrakeyah but dirty, dusty boots, I ran into Ingrid Hayden. She had been evacuated out with Sergio de Mello, but they were staying at whatever the ritzy ritzy hotel in Darwin is, the Continental or something. She was in a bloody suite up the top and she said, chat chat chat, caught up and because I knew her and her sister Georgia really well, and she said, "Where are you?" and I said, "Well, nowhere at the moment. We’re waiting to get notified if we can go somewhere because all the places are all full up."

She said, "Come up and stay with me." So, I said, "Morrow?" She said, "No, no. Bring him up. I'll get two rollaways." So, we stayed in her suite, you know, it was like, it was as big as this room, like, and we just had stuff so we gave her, and as a thank you, I had nothing, I gave her my, the police shirt that I had.

I get a Christmas card from the Hayden's every year, Bill and Dallas, and they always say the kids too, and she said, years ago now, she said, "I've still got that police shirt" because then she went back to New York and I don't think she was with Sergio de Mello when he was killed in Baghdad.

But, yeah, so she's still got that police shirt. But anyway, we spent about a week or ten days in Darwin. We all got medicals. We all had, most of us had worms. I was tired. I was diagnosed with typhoid and dengue. A bloke called Max Knopf had cerebral malaria, he could have died.

There was no facility back up in East Timor when were there. The UN, you know, had a couple of dispirin. I had Dengue, like, hope you never get dengue. It's like the worst headache you can ever imagine. A migraine on steroids. We just spent a day, a whole week of drinking and carrying on. I arranged with the Chief Medical Officer, and I said, "Mate, massages." I said, "Could you get the permissions?

There's a really good massage place down around the waterfront in Darwin." I said, "All these guys and you've seen them all" because they brought a psych up and I couldn't talk to the psych. Morrow couldn't talk to the psych. We were just too wired, and she didn't push the right buttons and I knew Sonya reallywell from Whitsett days. And I said, "Sorry, Sonya, nothing against you but I just can't talk about this. It's too raw".

So, I said, "How about springing for two messages for everybody that's in Darwin?" He said, "Really good idea." So, he set up an account at this massage place. I told people, through the grapevine they got told. Went down and had two massages, you know, and we got food, we got fed, so that was pretty good but then the new contingent came in that was going to replace us and they were held back because the situation was getting worse. And then in that intervening period, then INTERFET went in, so they went in with INTERFET.

The last of our guys come about the 12th of September, I think. I think INTERFET, I don't know, you can do the, fifteenth, seventeenth of September just before we got taken to our respective Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, whatever. We had a big briefing. The purpose was, we were going to brief the new coppers going over as to what it was like and it came around to my turn, and I got up and the Commissioner was there, Mick Palmer. I got up. I started to cry, and I started talking and I just broke down.

I cried and a bloke I joined the police force with, a navy bloke during Vietnam, he was like really worried because he said, "Mate, I've seen you a lot and I've never seen you like this." I was just a mess. So, they diagnosed me with typhoid, dengue and worms, whatever, gave us all these bombs but they let me go on the plane back to Canberra and then I went to the international health people in Canberra and got all small blood tests and she said, "You've got typhoid, we're going to quarantine you."

And I’d just sort of driven in that day for a quick medical thinking I’d have a bit of a chat and she put me on quarantine, at Woden Valley Hospital. But before that, this part of the story I like front page, you know, Australian police evacuated out of Darwin, did this ,did that, and she said, "I just read the paper." She said, "I've seen what you guys did." Well, that was the button, being told what we did was good. That was the button. I just broke down. I didn't, couldn't leave her office to go to quarantine for four and a half hours, so she put me in a side office and I was just a mess. So, I had some psych stuff. It was just shit, but it was good.

Return to Timor Leste

A mate of mine from the regiment came over. He had a book fair or something. I was in Vietnam with him and I had coffee in Manuka and something happened, we talked about and I just broke down crying again. He said, "Mate," he said, "Jesus Christ."

He said, "You've been," and I always remember his words, "You've been to the well of courage too often." And he said, "Mate the effing well is dry. Don't, don’t go back, ever." Because they asked me to go back about two years after that and I said, "No." I was out there and I was out again, then I went and worked in Parliament House for a while. I couldn't go.

It was just, some of our guys did go back for a bit of closure to see how it had progressed but the best thing we did, and I don't know if you want to have this on the interview, but in 2019, five of us that were in, on that contingent, went back to Timor for the 20th anniversary of the poll, and the independence vote and we went back and we were all anxious, because again, we had told the Timorese and believed it, that we would stay even and, "We will try and help you and protect you.

Even if it goes to custard." Well, we ended up not being able to do that, we were taken out. So, we went back and we were all, I was just, we're in Sydney, we flew up from Canberra, stayed overnight Sydney at the airport and then we flew out the next morning. I saw all the guys, the five, having breakfast and I said, "Guys, I don't think I’ll go."

It cost $2,000 in airfares to fly to Timor, via Darwin. It was quite expensive. I was going to pull out. I said, "I don't think I could do this" and Dave Savage, who you've probably heard about, he said, because I didn't sleep, I was having dreams all night and he was similar, but we were talked into going by the other three and we did go. So, we, overnight and then we flew over to Timor and we're on a civvy flight.

We pulled up and the hostess got everybody else off, there was five of us, everybody else off the plane. We said, "What’s going on?" And one of us looked out the window to the terminal and there was all these Timorese schoolkids lined up and officials, and we walked off and they just, you know, they were happy to see us. Not unhappy. They were just like, you know, and we spent two weeks there.

It was just, it was just gorgeous. And I'm on tape saying, "20 years ago gunfire and screams, now music and laughter." It was just, it was just, it was really good. Went to my village, just an aside to that, there's always stories. I work at the War Memorial as you know and I got a whole heap of photos blown up to A4 size of people's faces from Ermera and Gleno, I took them over, thinking when I was going back, thinking I might be able to find out what happened.

So, we were accompanied by an SBS film crew and our story is told on Dateline or Insight, one or the other. Anyway, they stayed with us in Dili, and they knew I was going back to Gleno that day, because that was my village. So, they came with us and they were filming in the back of their vehicle going up and as we went through past where that bastard of a roadblock was and little bridge going into Gleno, the TNI barracks then is now the police station.

They had rebuilt most of Gleno, we pulled in, unannounced, didn't have an,y and I had these photos, and the film crew was following me in and I went up to the site, there was a sergeant of East Timor police, not Indonesian, East Timor and I went up and through the interpreter there, I told him the story and I said, "I'm here, because I was here 20 years ago, during the troubles and the vote."

So, he just went, blah, blah, blah and before we knew it, I was surrounded by East Timorese police, all looking at me and it’s all being filmed and then, I can't remember that guy's name, it's on the dateline show, Insight, he was asking me questions and I had all these photos laid out on the big table and one of the police women there, this amazing thing happens, one of the little police women came over, she's looking over my shoulder, I'm being filmed looking at and she's looking.

That was her as a 14-year-old girl and the young teenage boy beside her, ended up being, she ended up marrying and she's now a police officer. So, this was all on and then, I was telling, I wish I could remember, I’m having a senior moment, this SBS guy, the journo about that rape incident and some of the murders and she was just standing there crying and nodding, you know, she said, "I know. I saw it." She was there. She lived it. Her parents were killed. Unbelievable. It's unbelievable.

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Don Barnby's veteran story, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 24 July 2024,
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