Choules INTERFET veterans reflect after 20 years

Published on LEUT Andrew Herring (author), LSIS Christopher Szumlanski (photographer)

Location(s): Dili, Timor-Leste

Topic(s): Operations, HMAS Choules (L100), Commemoration

L-R: Chief Petty Officer Marine Technician Tyrone Mason-Powell; HMAS Choules Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Arron Convery, RAN; Petty Officer Electronics Technician Steven Mackenzie; and Able Seaman Electronics Technician Darren Johnson stand on the flight deck during the official reception held onboard HMAS Choules as part of the ship’s port visit to Dili in Timor-Leste during the 20th Anniversary of  INTERFET Commemorations. (photo: LSIS Christopher Szumlanski)
L-R: Chief Petty Officer Marine Technician Tyrone Mason-Powell; HMAS Choules Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Arron Convery, RAN; Petty Officer Electronics Technician Steven Mackenzie; and Able Seaman Electronics Technician Darren Johnson stand on the flight deck during the official reception held onboard HMAS Choules as part of the ship’s port visit to Dili in Timor-Leste during the 20th Anniversary of INTERFET Commemorations.

Among the 227 crew members from HMAS Choules supporting INTERFET anniversary events in Timor-Leste were four members of the ship’s company who were INTERFET veterans themselves.

Choules’ Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Arron Convery, along with Chief Petty Officer Marine Technician Tyrone Mason-Powell, Petty Officer Electronics Technician Steven Mackenzie and Able Seaman Electronics Technician Darren Johnson all served as part of the international peacekeeping operations.

Lieutenant Commander Convery served as a Leading Seaman signalman in HMAS Melbourne, supporting peacekeeping operations ashore from the sea.

Chief Petty Officer Mason-Powell served in the former ‘battle tanker’ HMAS Success (II), providing vital supplies of diesel, aviation fuel, water and other materials to personnel ashore.

Petty Officer Mackenzie was an Electronics Technician in the former HMAS Sydney (IV), which patrolled the Oecussi enclave - an isolated region of Timor-Leste on the north shore of Indonesian West Timor - providing protection and safe respite for troops and working parties to help with rebuilding.

Able Seaman Johnson served in the former HMAS Tobruk (II), which transited between Darwin and Dili nine times ferrying loads of heavy lifting equipment, vehicles and cargo.

The four participated in various 20th anniversary events alongside fellow INTERFET veterans, including the commemoration service, the parade, sporting and cultural events and the official reception.

As the sun set on a busy day, the four reflected on their INTERFET service and its impact.

“It’s a bit surreal actually. It has clearly developed here over the 20 years. I didn’t have much time ashore while I was here as our job was support from the sea.

“Having been here for a couple of days, I’ve seen the people - they’re friendly and very sincere in their gratitude after what we did twenty years ago,” Lieutenant Commander Convery said.

Chief Petty Officer Mason-Powell is only now appreciating the impact INTERFET had.

“It’s very humbling coming back.

“It really hadn’t sunk in when I was doing what we were doing 20 years ago, but to see where they have come from - it’s fantastic to see and it has an effect on you.”

Petty Officer Mackenzie was similarly struck by the changes in Timor-Leste.

“Being an anniversary, it makes you think about how it was previously, what you were doing, now it’s good to see how it’s all changed.

“It makes you feel proud about something you’ve done throughout your career in the Navy,” he said.

Able Seaman Darren Johnson felt similar pride being back in Dili Harbour 20 years on.

“It makes you proud to have served and done what we’ve done. All these years later the place has come such a long way.

“We’ve helped to forge a new country, a new democracy. The people are happy, they’re so grateful for what we’ve done.

“It makes you feel like some sort of legend or something when you were just doing your job,” Able Seaman Johnson said.

Lieutenant Commander Convery summed up the pride felt by all INTERFET veterans.

“I think coming back and seeing the gratitude is something else and it just reinforces that pride that we have in our uniform and the job it is that we do.

“Twenty years ago and today, it hasn’t changed, the pride is still there,” he said.

Imagery is available on the Defence Image Gallery: https://images.defence.gov.au/S20192321.