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History of the Pilbara Regiment

A Regional Force Surveillance Unit (RFSU)

The regimental crest (unit badge) depicts an emu forward of crossed .303 rifles, flanked by branches of Sturt's desert pea in flower. The title 'PILBARA REGIMENT' is displayed in a scroll at the base of the crest and the unit motto 'MINTU WANTA' is displayed in a scroll at the apex of the crest.

The emu was selected as the central theme as:

  • it is common throughout the Pilbara,
  • it has a wary yet inquisitive nature,
  • it has an ability to blend with the environment,
  • it has an ability to move swiftly over vast distances, and
  • it has an ability to survive.
The Sturt Desert Pea was selected for the wreath because of its local profusion.
The Regimental motto loosely translates to 'always alert' and is the first motto of an aboriginal language to be incorporated in a regimental crest in the Australian Defence Force. The motto is one of the Western Desert dialects and was selected after discussions with the Aboriginal Language Department of Hedland College.

Regimental collar badges. When wearing mess dress, Pilbara Regiment collar badges are worn facing out. This signifies the vigilance of the Regiment.

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Canning Stock Route

Land Rover patrol

Good highways?

Sometimes it's wet

The colour patch for The Pilbara Regiment was approved on 27 May 1986. As The Pilbara Regiment had no lineage before 5th Independent Rifle Company a new colour patch had to be designed. Approval was granted for The Pilbara Regiment colour patch design to be based on the Northern Australia Observer Unit (NAOU) colour patch, as adopted by NORFORCE.
The Pilbara Regiment colour patch comprises a horizontal double diamond but with the predominant local colours of burnt orange and black. The Pilbara Regiment colour patch does not have the battleship grey background of the NAOU colour patch as this is reserved for units decended from 2nd Australian Imperial Force units.

Need to move your car? Just put it in a Hercules and you're air-mobile.

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.

Current Role (2002) To provide the Australian Army with information by conducting surveillance operations to contribute to an effective Australian Defence Force surveillance network in the North West of Australia (Pilbara Region). 

One of three Regional Force Surveillance Units, the Pilbara Regiment is responsible for 1.3 million square kilometres of country from Port Hedland in the North, to Carnarvon in the South, from the coast in the west to the Northern Territory border in the east. An area which is larger than New South Wales and Victoria together - approximately 1/6 of Australia.

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, provided 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.
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 1993 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.

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 again 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 was 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. 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.

Growth Spurts

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.

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 regiments 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 latter 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 has 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, RL. 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 south east 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 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 vision goggles and computer work stations.

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.

In 2002 the Regiment celebrates its 20th Birthday. 2002 will see a variety of events, including the official opening and dedication of "Sir Charles Court Lines", the new depot for E Troop in Carnarvon.


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