The Embryonic Years
In the late 1970s and early 1980s the need was acknowledged for a military presence on the north west coast of Australia. The government of the time identified the requirement for an integrated air, sea and land surveillance network. The regional plan revolved around an air component at Learmonth, the development of a Naval facility at Finucane Island in Port Hedland and the raising of reserve unit by consolidating reserve soldiers living in the Pilbara.
After a detailed feasibility survey by Brigadier Taylor, the Commander of 5th Field Force Group and 5th Military District, Army Office released the Organisational Instruction 592/81 authorising the raising of the 5th Independent Rifle Company, The Pilbara Regiment in December 1981.
The Company was to be raised in order to provide a military presence leading to the development of a ground surveillance and reconnaissance capability. The initial regimental area of responsibility was the West Australian coast from 180 south (vicinity of Broome) to Geraldton. The Company was to be prepared to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance, acquire and maintain military geographic information on the assigned area, provide information for and assistance to other units deployed in the area and be prepared to act in a 'stay behind' capacity.
The initial peace time tasking was to develop capability by the conduct of patrols, developing and maintaining military skills relevant to operating in north west Australia, acquiring infrastructure and military geographic information, employing the special skills and knowledge of the local population including aborigines and provide guides and information required by visiting units.
|part of the future AO for the fledgling Pilbara Regiment|
The Company was to be raised in three phases:
Phase 1. Raise a small headquarters in Perth and a rifle platoon in both Newman and Tom Price, each with one Regular Army warrant officer cadre member.
Phase 2. Transfer the headquarters to Port Hedland and raise an administrative platoon and a support platoon in Port Hedland.
Phase 3. Raise a third rifle platoon at Karratha.
The Formative Years
A small poolside gathering at the Walkabout Hotel in Newman in December 1981 heralded the raising of the first platoon of the company and the first recruits were enlisted.
The 5th Independent Rifle Company, The Pilbara Regiment, was officially raised on 26 January 1982 with a headquarters of six staff operating out of the 5th Military District Cadet Brigade Headquarters in Nicholson Road, Subiaco in Perth.
After three months the company headquarters moved to Campbell Barracks in Swanbourne.
In early 1982 cadre warrant officers were posted to Newman and Tom Price. During March, 1 Platoon was raised at Newman and 2 Platoon was raised at Tom Price. Recruiting teams received an enthusiastic response from the local population and almost 25 special conditions members of the 28th Independent Rifle Company, The Royal Western Australia Regiment were transferred into the company. In fact these serving members were to form the backbone of the company and provide the officer and NCO structure.
The raising of the company received strong support from both the local communities and industry.
For the first six months military training for 1 Platoon was conducted at the Newman campus of the Hedland College. BHP then identified a lot of land off Newman Drive on the eastern approach to town and in short time a cyclone fence and a series of demountable buildings were positioned. These buildings were added to over the years and developed by the members of the platoon.
At Tom Price training was initially conducted from the Training Warrant Officer's residence and in scrub located near the civic centre. Premises were leased in the industrial area in 1983 and these would house the platoon for the following seven years.
The first local recruits underwent basic training at Northam Army Camp in March 1982.
|First intake for the 5th Independent Rifle Company - Northam WA|
Of concern for the initial cadre staff was that the company was raised without an equipment table. This presented significant problems for the fledgling unit, many of which were not fully resolved until the company evolved into a Regiment in 1985.
The initial major exercise conducted by the company was at Learmonth where the members were tutored by Special Air Service Regiment members and were provided access to air support.
In January 1983 the headquarters moved to Wedgefield in Port Hedland after significant discussion between Headquarters 5th Military District and both Hedland and Karratha Councils.
Support Platoon was raised in Port Hedland in 1983 and again was initially staffed by members of the 28th Independent Rifle Company (Lieutenant Wayne Edwards was the original troop commander.)
3 Platoon was raised at Karratha in mid 1983 and a cadre warrant officer was posted to the platoon. The platoon was located in a Defence purchased facility on Coolawanyah Road for only 12 months before the larger premises next door were purchased. The newly purchased facility would be the home of 3 Platoon and the venue of many regimental activities for the next decade.
Significant confusion existed in the training philosophy for the company between the need for conventional infantry skills and the need for the development of specialist surveillance and reconnaissance skills.
The highlight of 1983 was the conduct of Exercise KANGAROO 83 in the Pilbara. Members of the company were provided the opportunity to work with regular army soldiers as well as practice vehicle checkpoint, vital asset protection and observation post procedures.
On 26 January 1985, 5th Independent Rifle Company evolved into The Pilbara Regiment and was tasked as a Regional Force Surveillance Unit. The rifle platoons were redesignated as A, B and C Troop with the Support Platoon being redesignated as D Troop.
The troops received mobility in 1985 in the form of modified Toyota Landcruiser patrol vehicles. The Landcruiser was to be the workhorse of the Regiment until the introduction of the Land Rover Regional Force Surveillance Vehicle in 1991.
|The Regional Force Surveillance Vehicle (RFSV) in action|
Induction and career development training became a regimental responsibility in 1985 with courses being conducted in the region, particularly in the Pack Saddle area.
Initial training for the Regiment in its new role began in September / October 1985 with a courses camp near Wittenoom where patrolman, survival and signals courses were conducted.
Patrolling effort from 1985 centred on the development of local area knowledge, infrastructure data-bases and the conduct of observation posts.
E Troop can trace its origins to 1987 when Sergeant Bruno Bacci (another special conditions member of the 28th Independent Rifle Company) was recruited into the Regiment and who actively canvassed the local community for members. Initially the troop would parade at Training Ship Gascoyne with weapons and stores being transported from Port Hedland. Within two years of its raising E Troop was able to deploy two patrols.
On 30 August 1987 a purpose-designed depot for A Troop was constructed in Laver Street, Newman and was officially opened by Brigadier A.H. Hodges, Commander 5th Military District. This indicated the degree of commitment that Defence had in the region.
Of long term importance in the mid to late 80s was the formalisation and development of the local observer element or network. The network was to establish a web across the region capable of monitoring all activity, identifying changes in normalcy patterns and reporting of findings. The local observers were selected for their local knowledge, geographical locations and proven support of the Regiment. Local observers were enlisted into the Regiment and at times provided limited training. In addition to the local observers a complimentary network of non enlisted contacts were established throughout the region.
Exercise KANGAROO 89 highlighted the need for the Regiment to be more mobile and flexible. It was identified that support from the remainder of Army may not be rapidly forthcoming and that the Regiment may need to be capable of conducting limited offensive operations. Training was developed with emphasis on mobile patrolling and covert pursuit and observation of mobile targets. Skills practiced including sign recognition, visual tracking, observation post procedures, detailed reconnaissance procedures, troop operations, secure communications and conduct of offensive operations.
In 1989 E Troop was relocated to facilities at the Carnarvon Airport.
1990 saw a significant increase in full time staff. D Troop, which had existed for eight years without a dedicated cadre member, received a Training Warrant Officer, as did the fledgling E Troop. The impact of a resident Training Warrant Officer saw both D and E Troops reach over 35 members.
On 10 August 1990 a parade was held at Tom Price to celebrate the opening of the B Troop depot in Boonderoo Road. The depot was constructed by 22 Construction Squadron (its last task before being disbanded) and was officially opened by Brigadier R.W. Fisher, AM, ADC, Commander 5th Military District.
A water operations capability was introduced to the Regiment in 1990.
|The F470 Zodiac|
During the early 90s the Regiment conducted regular patrol concentrations in the Hedland and North West Cape areas with up to ten patrols deployed concurrently. An annual patrol by full time component members was also conducted through the western desert areas as far east as the Northern Territory border.
The regimental military skills competition in 1991 was visited by the Land Commander, Major General M. Blake. The competition was conducted at Tom Price.
With eyes forever looking forward, a site was selected for a new regimental headquarters in 1991 in Orkney Road, Karratha. The planned move from Hedland to Karratha would cause noteworthy political unrest and ill feeling in the years to follow.
The Regiment's fifth troop, F Troop was raised in late 1991 after the arrival in town of Lieutenant Bruce Tisdell who was a serving member of the Western Australian Police Force.
The Regiment was reorganised in 1992 and surveillance squadrons were raised with the 1180 meridian separating squadron areas. East Squadron comprised a headquarters in Hedland with troops in Hedland and Newman and a patrol located at Marble Bar. West Squadron comprised a headquarters in Karratha with troops in Karratha, Tom Price, Carnarvon and Pannawonica / Onslow. The squadrons were redesignated 1 and 2 Squadron later in 1992 and B Troop was allocated to 1 Squadron. Also raised in 1992 was the Operational Support Squadron that encompassed the Quartermaster Troop, Transport, Workshop and Medical Sections.
The raising of the squadron headquarters significantly changed the way business was conducted. Up until this time the troops had reported directly to Regimental Headquarters with the Training Warrant Officers in most cases performing the duties of the Troop Commander.
During F Troop's early years training was conducted by members of 2 Squadron HQ with weapons and stores transported from Karratha. A home for the troop was located in 1992 at 30 Harding Street. This venue was extensively developed by the troop. The initial intent for F Troop was to combine manpower at Pannawonica and Onslow, but the Onslow side of the troop faded away in 1993.
1993 heralded the movement of Regimental Headquarters to Karratha and D Troop to a facility in Wilson Street, Port Hedland.
In January the headquarters staff settled into Karratha and occupied temporary facilities in Anderson Street in the Karratha industrial area while the purpose designed facilities were built. The Land Commander, Major General M.C. Blake AO, MC officially opened the completed facility on 14 August 1993.
The Regiment was instrumental in the establishment of an Army Cadet Unit in Karratha in 1993 and the cadets were represented at the opening of Taylor Barracks. The cadet unit has had significant impact on the youth of Karratha by providing them with worthwhile training and activities that have resulted in significant reductions in local crime rates.
In slightly longer than a decade the Regiment had three purpose designed depots and staffing increased from six to over thirty.
The Regiment established itself at Exmouth in 1993 and G Troop was raised. Training was conducted in the old Craft and Hobby Shop at the Harold E. Holt Naval Communications Station with weapons and stores being transported to support weekly training. The old Craft and Hobby Shop was to be
G Troop's home until 1996 when it moved into larger facilities in the old Post Office with weapons being secured in the guardroom under the control of Australian Protective Services staff.
Sadly the Regiment had its first fatality in 1994 with the death of Sergeant Tony Moriarty, a local observer, in a vehicle accident in the Gibson Desert. In the same year the Squadron Sergeant Major of 2 Squadron, Warrant Officer Class Two Lumpy Leah died of cancer.
By 1995 F Troop had grown to twenty members and more suitable facilities were found in the old Mine Services building which had been abandoned two years previously. With considerable effort by the troop's members the building was rendered habitable.
Significant changes were implemented in 1997 that included the relocation of 2 Squadron Headquarters from Karratha to Exmouth. This was the first permanent regular army presence in the town.
On 19 Sep 1997 the barrack facilities at Karratha was officially named Taylor Barracks in recognition of the work of the Honorary Colonel, Major General K.J. Taylor, AO (Retd).
Since the commencement of Operation CRANBERRY in September 1997 the Regiment has executed its operational role in real time surveillance activities throughout the regimental area of responsibility.
With the restructuring of industry in the Pilbara in the 90s a significant number of Regiment members left the region. Plans were initiated for the raising of an organisation in Perth to capture members of the Regiment and other RFSUs residing in Perth and southeast Western Australia.
The Operational Deployment Squadron was raised in Perth in January 1997 with one Training Warrant Officer. Interim facilities were made available at Irwin Barracks, Karrakatta until purpose designed demountable facilities were constructed in 1998. It was envisaged that squadron would provide supplement to the northern squadrons with trained manpower employing a fly in / fly out procedure similar to that used by industry in the Pilbara. Although a sound plan with clear vision for the future it would take a number of years for approved manning and equipment and until then the squadron operated at the expense of the northern troops, particularly the Training Warrant Officer position which was not to be replaced until 2001.
In November 1998 the Regiment's Officers and Sergeants Mess amalgamated with the Soldiers Club to form The Mintu Wanta Club. The Club maintained an Officers and Sergeants Mess component.
In 1999 Headquarters 2 Squadron and G Troop relocated within the Harold E. Holt Naval Communications Station to larger, more suitable facilities.
The 90s saw the significant development of equipment and introduction of the Steyr and Minimi weapon systems, the Raven family of communications equipment, global positioning systems, night fighting equipment and computer work stations (internet and intranet continuity was not however established in all depots until 2002).
The organisation of the Regiment was re-examined in February 2000 with one outcome being the redesignation of Operational Deployment Squadron as 3 Squadron and being tasked as a surveillance squadron in its own right. The Regiment's manning and equipment was reviewed in May resulting in the loss of 100 reservist positions (that the Regiment had been unable to fill locally) with the gain of ten additional regular army positions. Equipment was also rationalised during the process.
A significant event in 2001 was the construction of a new depot for E Troop at Carnarvon. Sir Charles Court officially opened the depot on 24 August 2002.
|Sir Charles Court, Major General Taylor, Lieutenant Colonel Johnston, Warrant Officer Class Two Darryl Ruprecht and Lady Court surround the plaque to commemorate the opening of The Sir Charles Court Lines in Carnarvon.|
Notable Events Throughout History
Although the Regiment has only a short history it is dotted with moments of great achievement, some other than desirable outcomes and a few skeletons reside in cupboards. Some notable incidents and events include:
Unit vehicles being bogged from one end of the area of operations to the other, as well as being washed away, drowned, rolled, crashed and burnt to the ground.
The haunting of the F Troop depot by Patrolman Leo DagDag.
Lieutenant Jones shooting himself through the foot with a Bren Gun in 1992.
Adventure training on the Canning Stock Route.
The Shark Cat that the Regiment enjoyed in the mid to late 90s.
The outstanding efforts of Regiment during and after natural disasters.
The deployment of Regiment members to Bouganville on Operation BEL ISI. and to East Timor on Operation TANAGER.
The solid performance of the inaugural Regimental Shooting Team at AASAAM 2000.
The following members of the Regiment have had their contribution to The Pilbara Regiment formally recognised:
Warrant Officer Class Two Hewett was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the 1988 Queen's Birthday Honours List.
Warrant Officer Class One McKenzie was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the 1990 Queen's Birthday Honours List.
Lieutenant Colonel Quirk was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross in the 2000 Queens Birthday Honours List.
Warrant Officer Class One Howard was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia on Australia Day 2003.
MAJGEN Ken Taylor, AO (Retd) Honorary Colonel
The Pilbara Regiment laments the passing of our Honorary Colonel, Major General Ken Taylor, AM, RL on the 22nd of March, 2008. General Taylor, as a Brigadier in the early 1980s, lobbied the Federal Government with the concept of establishing a military force in the north-west of the country to defend the rapidly expanding resources industry. His joint efforts with the then-Premier of Western Australia, Sir Charles Court, amounted to the creation of the 5th Independent Rifle Company on Australia Day, 1982. The unit expanded to become the Pilbara Regiment in 1985, and General Taylor became the first Honorary Colonel of the Regiment in 1988. In 1997, Regimental Headquarters in Karratha were named Taylor Barracks in his honour. General Taylor was an extremely popular member of the Regiment, attending all course concentration periods and each annual Regimental Ball. He could engage with all ranks, and visibly enjoyed his time at social functions meeting the soldiers and actively listening to their ideas. The loss to the Regiment in his passing is felt by all members, past and present. The Regiment farewelled General Taylor in a 100-man honour guard at his military funeral, held at Karrakatta on April 2.
Out of respect for General Taylor, the Regiment is yet to appoint a successor as Honorary Colonel. At present it is time to reflect on General Taylor's contribution to the defence of north-western Australia, and his many other achievements in a long and distinguished military career that spans service in Korea in 1953, right up to his retirement as a Major General in 1985. His service continued until his passing, serving a further two decades as Honorary Colonel of the Regiment that he envisaged in the early 1980s.
|MAJGEN Ken Taylor, AO (Retd)|
The Pilbara Regiment Memorial was dedicated on the 11th November 2005, in honour of those who have died whilst serving with The Pilbara Regiment.
The Pilbara Regiment is a unique unit of the Australian Army; permanently deployed to the Gascoyne and Pilbara regions, and closely tied to the communities it serves. The creation of the Memorial is a lasting tribute to the commitment of members to the defence of the people and remote industries of north-western Australia.
The Memorial is in the form of a massive 'Tiger Iron' monolith from Port Hedland that was a gift from Mr John van Uden. This uncommon and beautiful material has been polished on one face, and then the names inscribed. This type of iron ore is symbolic of the Pilbara and forms the heart of the Memorial. The name 'Tiger Iron' comes from the banded appearance of the rock due to its different constituent minerals deposited in horizons resembling stripes. Sediments rich in very fine silica formed light coloured chert horizons. These are separated by black bands of semi metallic iron rich haematite and red zones of jasper. The grey and bright golden areas are of tiger-eye quartz.
The 'Tiger Iron' boulder is surrounded by the burnt orange red of Wickham aggregate and a black granite border forming a Memorial plinth. These materials represent the colours of the Regiment.
The design is an amalgamation of a number of designs submitted by the soldiers and officers serving with The Pilbara Regiment during 2004, that all chose the rocks of the Pilbara as an enduring theme.
The names of the men remembered on the Memorial
Major General Ken Taylor, AO (Retd)
Warrant Officer Class Two Ramon Leahy
Warrant Officer Class Two Peter Rokay
Sergeant Tony Moriarty
Corporal Cory Bentley
Patrolman David Clune
Patrolman David Howes
Patrolman James Regan
|The unveiling of the name of MAJGEN Ken Taylor, AO on The Memorial|
The Memorial has been completed with the patronage of Sir Charles Court, AK, KCMG, OBE, a former Premier of West Australia, who unveiled the Memorial at the Dedication Service.
Sir Charles was approached in the very early stages of the project; he has a long-standing involvement with The Pilbara Regiment and his sponsorship and patronage are greatly appreciated.
The Pilbara Regiment wishes to acknowledge the generous support of a number of other sponsors including:
Mr John van Uden, The Pilbara Development Commission, the Royal Australian Infantry Corps, current members of The Pilbara Regiment, the Department of Veterans' Affairs, Woodside Energy Ltd, the Defence Housing Authority, BHP Billiton, the Shire of Roebourne, Defcredit, House Proud Furniture, Coates Hire, TCC Group, Mitre 10 Karratha, and Sunstone Designs Karratha who have brought the project to fruition.
The Pilbara Regiment also wishes to acknowledge the professional workmanship and technical support of the Granite Construction Company, Geraldton Building Services & Cabinets (including M. Joyce Crane Hire), Northwest Landscapers, Sergeant Kevin Davison and Mrs Lee Ann Quilter in the creation of the Memorial itself.
|Sir Charles Court, Patron of The Pilbara Regiment Memorial|
Photos of the Memorial
Below are some of the photos taken of the Memorial and its dedication.
|The Memorial at night|