Reflections on Timor Leste

Published on LCDR Helen Ward (author), Jay Cronan (photographer)

Topic(s): HMAS Adelaide (L01), HMAS Toowoomba (F156), HMAS Darwin (F04), Indo-Pacific Endeavour

Sub Lieutenant Bruce Mills, Able Seaman Darren Young, Petty Officer Mark Skinner and Lieutenant Commander Hamish Frazer onboard HMAS Toowoomba off the Timor-Leste capital city Dili. (photo: Jay Cronan)
Sub Lieutenant Bruce Mills, Able Seaman Darren Young, Petty Officer Mark Skinner and Lieutenant Commander Hamish Frazer onboard HMAS Toowoomba off the Timor-Leste capital city Dili.

HMA Ships Toowoomba and Adelaide recently joined HMAS Darwin off the Timor Leste capital of Dili on the 18th anniversary of the Royal Australian Navy Task Force arrival for Operation INTERFET in 1999.

All three ships are currently deployed as part of Indo-Pacific Endeavour, an Australian Defence Force Joint Task Group focused on security cooperation and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises.

Throughout the day Toowoomba conducted routine harbour patrols in support of Adelaide while she unloaded medical stores for a Timor Leste Defence Force-hosted exercise.

Four highly experienced crew members who had previous served on operations in Timor Leste were onboard Toowoomba to share some of their experiences.

In 2006 Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Darren Young was only 19 years old and had just joined his first ship, the previous Adelaide, a guided missile frigate, three days before sailing to Dili.

“I had barely finished my training and there I was watching green tracer rounds light up the night sky over Dili,” Able Seaman Young said.  

“I couldn’t believe my training would be put to the test so quickly but I was confident I could do my part.”

Petty Officer Combat Systems Supervisor – Underwater Mark Skinner is another current shipmate in Toowoomba who was onboard the frigate Adelaide in 2006.

He also recalls watching the tracer rounds, but he was a lot closer to Dili than the ship.

“I was part of the ship’s boarding party in 2006 in a rigid hull inflatable boat collecting imagery of the wharf and surrounding areas in preparation to secure the wharf if required,” he said.

‘The three of us in the boat worked like a well-oiled machine because we had known each other and trained together for more than 18 months.”

Lieutenant Commander Hamish Frazer is currently the Executive Officer onboard Toowoomba but back in 2006 he was Adelaide’s Operations Officer controlling the ship’s movements off the coast.

“I am proud to have played a part in Australia’s historical ties with Timor-Leste and shared interest in regional stability,” he said.

“It’s great to be back and see Dili is obviously prospering.”

Sub Lieutenant Bruce Mills was also onboard Toowoomba during the recent visit but he had a much different role in Timor Leste in 2002.

“Back then I was a vessel master Corporal with the Australian Army’s 10th Force Support Battalion in Townsville,” he said.

“The roads were very poor and dangerous so it was my job to take some Japanese soldiers and their equipment, which were part of the operation, around to their outpost in an enclave on the western side of the island by boat.

“I haven’t been back since 2002 but what I can see from the deck of Toowoomba, it looks like Dili has developed into a modern city.”

Indo-Pacific Endeavour involves some of Australia’s key regional partners including Brunei, Cambodia, the Federated States of Micronesia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Timor Leste.