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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.