Recognising Peacekeeping - Marking 73 years in the Field

By Alice Evans

An ASLAV conducts a patrol through the burning streets of Dili, as part of Australia’s deployment with the International Force East Timor in 1999. Stephen Dupont, P04315.024.

On 14 September 1947, four Australian military observers entered the field as part of the United Nations Good Offices Committee to Indonesia. Since then, not a day has passed without an Australian serving in a peacekeeping operation somewhere in the world. Australia has made more than 40,000 individual deployments to more than 60 peacekeeping operations in over 30 countries and disputed zones.

Australian Medical Support Force nursing officer Captain Annette Owttrim with local Rwandan mother Kurusumu Mukanyarwaya in Kigali Central Hospital. Owttrim holds a sample of baby products donated for critically ill and injured mothers in Rwanda. Kurusumu sustained a shrapnel wound during a bomb blast at the Kigali markets whilst seven months pregnant. October 1994, Geoffrey Fox, MSU/94/0034/07.

From Somalia to Solomon Islands, Bosnia to Bougainville, Australian servicemen and servicewomen have deployed in roles as varied as election monitors, signallers, negotiators, observers, and air traffic controllers. They have carried out humanitarian demining, delivered aid, provided logistic and communications support, and been attached to medical teams. To this day, they continue to fulfil a wide variety of roles in order to help prevent conflict and human suffering.

Australian tent lines at an observation post in a palm oil plantation in the Tetere region of Solomon Islands, 2009. Glenn Campbell, P08837.099.

The diversity of the peacekeeping experience is reflected in the Australian War Memorial’s National Collection. A washing machine, ingeniously improvised by Australian personnel from spare parts in Somalia highlights the tough environment crippled by water shortages. The original red paint of a Honda All Terrain Vehicle is evident below the camouflage colour scheme spray painted by members of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment before the vehicle’s use in East Timor. The extreme conditions of the Golan Heights on the Israeli-Syrian border is reflected in the worn and weather-beaten United Nations flag flown over Observation Post 71 during Australia’s participation in the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organisation. Each object has a story.

Warrant Officer Class 1 Bill Bowyer, Counter Intelligence Detachment (1RAR Battalion Group), of the Unified Task Force in Somalia, uses the improvised washing machine, March 1993. George Gittoes, P01735.510.

Extreme conditions on the Golan Heights. Australian peacekeepers have served there as part of the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organisation since 1956. Paul Gregory Wilmot, P04382.001.

On the 73rd anniversary of Australia’s first peacekeeping deployment, it is important to reflect on the service and sacrifice of so many Australians. We encourage current and former service personnel to continue telling their stories as we expand our collection to better tell the story of Australian peacekeeping into the future.

The Australian War Memorial’s Development Project will be sharing the stories of a new generation of Australian men and women who have served our nation in recent conflicts, and on peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. To share your story email:

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