A traditional naval ceremony held with the backdrop of a peaceful Timor-Leste sunset was a fitting finale to a program of cooperation, commemoration and celebration marking the 20th anniversary of the Australian-led International Force East Timor (INTERFET) deployment.
More than 400 people gathered on HMAS Choules’ expansive flight deck for an official reception jointly hosted by the Minister for Defence, Senator Linda Reynolds, and Commanding Officer HMAS Choules, Commander Scott Houlihan.
Choules was berthed in Dili Harbour, where two decades earlier a Royal Australian Navy task group had deployed to help restore peace and stability.
Two decades on, the friendship forged during that difficult time was on display as INTERFET veterans from Australia and other contributing nations mixed with elected leaders, military personnel and government officials from Timor-Leste, Australia and regional neighbours to celebrate the independent nation that emerged from the chaos.
The program included an address by Minister Reynolds, plaque presentations to distinguished guests, followed by a performance of Navy’s traditional Ceremonial Sunset and Beat to Quarters by HMAS Choules’ guard - led by Sub Lieutenant Patrick Stafford and an eight-member Royal Australian Navy Band detachment.
The ceremony concluded with a moving, unaccompanied rendition of the national anthems of Timor-Leste and Australia by Able Seaman Musician Mark Nivet.
The reception - the largest ever held on board Choules - marked the end of a busy program for the ship’s company while in Dili.
Choules served as the venue for bilateral talks and a joint press conference for the Ministers for Defence of Australia and Timor-Leste, and provided accommodation for VIPs, including the Chief of Navy, Vice-Admiral Michael Noonan, and Commander 1 Division, Major General Jake Ellwood, and around 70 serving Australian Defence Force INTERFET veterans.
Officers and sailors from Choules participated in the commemorative service and parade, a friendship lunch and sporting events, while many others worked tirelessly, preparing to host the official reception.
During her address, Minister Reynolds thanked Choules’ ship’s company on behalf of the Australian Government, for their work supporting the successful program.
It was a sentiment echoed by the ship’s Commanding Officer, Commander Scott Houlihan.
“Throughout our South West Pacific deployment, the officers and sailors of Choules have done a wonderful job representing Australia to our regional friends and neighbours, but in Dili they excelled themselves.
“Everyone aboard was honoured to help commemorate the success of INTERFET, celebrate Timor-Leste’s remarkable achievements and strengthen bonds of friendship between Australia and Timor-Leste.
“For those among our ship’s company who were children when the INTERFET operation occurred, being part of the 20th anniversary events has highlighted the lasting, positive difference we can make as members of the Australian Defence Force,” Commander Houlihan said.
Imagery is available on the Defence Image Gallery: https://images.defence.gov.au/S20192322.