Archive number: 2487
Date interviewed: 12 August, 2004
Land Command Medical Services, Sydney
Commander Second Australian Contingent to Rwanda and Force Medical Officer to the UN Assistance Mission, Rwanda
You are listening to the interview audio
So if you could give us the summary as discussed…
Okay, well, I was born in Dromana on 21st of June, 1951. My family moved to Brighton in Melbourne, I went to school at Hallerby College, in Brighton; I did the whole twelve years there. I was fortunate enough to gain entry to medicine at Monash University. Halfway through there I was called up and I chose
to take an army undergraduate scholarship which helped me meet the costs and paid me through my final years of medicine. I went into the army full-time in early 1976. I had three years in Papua New Guinea, came back to Australia and I was charge of a hospital in New South Wales in Wagga for a couple of years. I went to the army's Command and Staff College, and then I secured an overseas posting with the British Army on the Rhine in West Germany for two years,
on the headquarters of an armoured division. I came back to Australia and commanded the field ambulance in Brisbane for two years. I had my first posting to Canberra as a staff officer and looked after the medical centre that looks after Australian Defence Headquarters. After that I went to the United States to do higher medical studies at the Armed Forces University in Bethesda, in Washington D.C. I came back to Australia, to Sydney,
at the Land Headquarters. I was promoted to colonel in early 1990. I was there for a couple of years, then came to Canberra to Defence Headquarters. I had a couple of staff appointments. I was appointed the commander of the Australian contingent to Rwanda, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Rwanda, where I spent most of 1995. I came back to Australia, back to Defence Headquarters, did two or three jobs,
then I retired from the regular army towards the end of 1999. I've worked as a private public health physician, principally in the Occupational Health and Safety and Injury Management Business in Deakin in Canberra ever since.
Can you tell us what type of people your mother and father are?
Right, my father, he was trained as a carpenter; he was in the Militia before World War II. He joined the army in World War II as an officer, and went overseas to Greece and the islands. He was a particularly successful infantry company commander. He was one of Australia's leading combat soldiers in that time.
Afterwards he remained in the army for some years as a trainer, then went into private business later. My mother was brought up as a bookkeeper and they were married just after the end of the war, and she basically had a more traditional role as a mother and wife looking after a house and helping us to get through school. They both died relatively young.
I was nineteen when my mother died and about twenty-three when my father died. So that's quite some time ago now. They were a traditional conservative middle class Australian family. Hard working, bringing up the kids, get a good education, that sort of focus in life.
Did they talk about their life going through World War II?
Yes they did. Life was very hard for that generation of Australians. There were not a lot of opportunities
for higher education. They were brought up through the Depression. When things were getting better, in a sense….Australia had been smashed to pieces by World War I, we lost a whole generation of people, and then the Depression and then when things were getting better World War II came along…difficult days. They didn't meet until after the war, but obviously the country was trying
to get back on its feet for a long time. My father was unsettled after the war. He tried to go back into private business after the war, as a carpenter, but he missed the military, he missed the camaraderie, and I think in retrospect he had some difficulty coming to grips with peace time life again after five or six years of war. So he was back in the military, training, mostly in Victoria where the army had a much bigger presence then than it does now.
So we didn't have the turbulence in our lives, the moving around that a lot of modern defence families have now. After the military then he had a couple of jobs, but he was never very happy about it. He had a lot of difficulty settling down. In retrospect he was drinking too much and he was probably suffering some elements of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which he would never admit to, or his whole generation wouldn't admit to at the time, but he was probably was in retrospect.
Then he actually got a job as an advisor to the Americans in South Vietnam for a couple of years. He was over there, when I was aged fourteen to sixteen, then he was back…I can't remember what he did after that. He worked for Clark Rubber or some organisation for a little while. Mother was basically at home. They weren't particularly happy together, but people stuck together for the sake of the family. That's a pretty long time ago now.
What did he tell you about his military experiences?
Like most people, he would only talk about the funny occasions. He would never really, in any detail, describe the combat, the privations, the horror of it, the loneliness or the fear. He would only talk about the funny occasions with his friends, or when they'd chase the Italians down the waddies [gullies] in Europe and capture a wine cellar.
He would describe events like that rather than the actual combat scenes. Yeah, like most people he wouldn't discuss it very much, other than the humorous incidents, or perhaps the feats that others achieved.
When you say that he probably had PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], did you see signs of that? Like jumping when cars are backfiring…
Oh yes, he had an exaggerated startle reflex.
He used to have nightmares all the time. He was frequently screaming out in the middle of the night. He was an introspective, quiet sort of a person. He refused to mix with the veterans after some time. He wouldn’t get involved in Anzac Day. He was a member of the RSL [Returned and Services League], but he wouldn't go there. He resented people talking about the war, particularly those who were talking about with bravado or inflating their own role in it. He didn't like it.
And he was a pretty blunt sort of a guy. He made it fairly clear to people if he didn't like it. He was a pretty tough guy. He used to intimidate a lot of people. I guess that's why he was a particularly successful commander.
Did he intimidate you?
No, I don't think so. We certainly respected him. We had a healthy respect for him, and he I remember him as being
a pretty tough old man. They were different days then. Parents had a lot of authority and kids used to do as they were told. I don't remember anybody discussing that we had rights in those days.
And as a child growing up, your father is having nightmares and so on, what did you think was going on at the time? Did you understand?
No, I didn't understand.
As far as we knew it was completely normal. Our life was just the same as anybody else's. We were going to school, playing football, watching TV [television], my old man was drinking beer, there's an argument, screaming in the night…I mean, there was nothing to compare it to.
That was just the life of the day?
That's right. And a lot of my friends, it was the same. Their parents were much the same age, generally married a bit late.
We were the Boomers [Baby Boomers]. Our parents had suffered the privation of the war, the old man had usually been in the service [military] and wouldn't talk about it, he was moody and drinking too much and very conservative in politics. [Prime Minister] Bob Menzies was the hero, everybody else was no good. If you drank wine, you were a wog or a wino. That was the culture of the days.
Speaking of culture, growing up in the 1960s and so on,
we see a lot of movies and books about what it was like. What was it really like in your experiences?
Well, the free-flowing 1960s, the drugs and sex and rock n' roll, it must have been happening somewhere else as far as I was concerned. The 1960s? I finished high school, there was no money, none of us had cars, there were no dances, there was six o' clock closing at the pubs,
there was nowhere to go. Occasionally dances came out to the suburbs…but no, it wasn't free reeling rock n' roll in my memory at all. We didn't have the disposable income. There weren't McDonalds for kids to get jobs, there was no way to raise money before you were eighteen and you could work in a shop. It was completely different. I might say, I think it is a lot better for kids now and I'm glad to see those improvements and that they've got the access
to a freer lifestyle and perhaps a more enjoyable lifestyle.
We've talked to others and they've said there wasn't much drugs during the 1960s. In Australia it was more of a beach culture and so on, was that your experience?
Yes, that's right. Not much drugs. The biggest drug problem then is the same now, it was alcohol. There was plenty of beer around, and there was plenty of cigarette smoking. That was it is now, associated with maturity or sophistication.
But no, there were not that I can remember, amphetamines…there was a bit of marijuana at university, but very little. I never knew anybody who took LSD [Lysergic acid, Diethylamine]. Maybe I was in a privileged circle going to a public school and going to university…Well, I was in a privileged circle in retrospect, in those days. And maybe
I was a bit confined or cloistered away, but I didn't see it. Our social group used to go to the hotel on a Saturday night, that was it.
And your school life, how did you find that?
It was pretty tough. It was a conservative Presbyterian school. At the time they were interested in the First Eighteen Football Team and how many kids could get honours
and get into university and that was it. In retrospect, I can say it now, they recognised that the world was a competitive place, and they were preparing us to take our place in it, and hopefully to lead in it. But at the time, it was pretty tough. There was a lot of work, you had to play sports, you had to join the school cadets, you had to do this, you had to do that. There was a lot of discipline, there was corporal punishment, there was Saturday detentions, they were thrown around like confetti,
chapel and all the rest of it. Yeah, they were a conservative, God fearing, rigid, authoritative group of people that ran that school, but it provided an excellent education. I know, it's an ambivalent answer, I know, but it did, it provided an excellent education in terms of a broad based education, and the technical competencies
that a person like me needed to get into university to study medicine. On the other hand, it taught us virtually nothing about our country, nothing about our culture; it excluded us from access to girls because that was considered no good and you should play football and have cold showers. So it didn't really prepare us for the day to day social interactions in our society. It also taught us everything about England and nothing about Australia.
It taught us to be grateful for what we had, rather than analysing what was going on and questioning whether there was a better way. Well, that's the way it seemed to me. Maybe it was because I was studying sciences, and there were problems and there were solutions and that was it. It was only later in day to day life that I realised that there is very little black and white, that most things are grey.
That was at Hailbury of course….
That was at Hailbury. One of the great twelve public schools. Called public schools in Victoria, though of course they were very private.
And to go there, did your parents have to sacrifice much for you?
Oh absolutely, they sacrificed everything. We didn't have a car at home until after my father had left the army. So I was about age fourteen. There were rarely holidays,
my mother hardly ever bought new clothing. They gave up an enormous amount to get us through that place. There is no question they sacrificed a lot, and probably to the detriment of their health and certainly their day to day life. Yeah, a huge sacrifice.
When you're going through that rigid community of that school, do you bond with the other guys because you're all going through the same thing?
Yeah, I guess so. We all lived pretty well in the same geographical area, we had a similar background, we used to play football together, and as we grew older we used to go down the beach together and then down the pub together. A lot of us went to university together. If I was still in Melbourne where most of them still are, we would probably be going to dinner parties and having holidays together.
It's just that I moved on with the army, moving so regularly that I don't get down there so regularly now. Although I did go to a school, a celebration of the hundredth year of the school, the centenary, and I did catch up with a lot of old school friends, and it was rather beaut. I had lost track of them but interestingly they knew where I had been going. Which had never occurred to me.
When you were fifteen, sixteen, what did you want to be when you left school?
Well, I wasn't really clear. I was studying science at school and I enjoyed it. I'd gone through one of those vocational assessments when I was about aged twelve, and I only learnt this about ten years ago, but they suggested I was suited to study medicine, but I never knew that at the time. I was thinking about engineering because it was a natural follow-on from science studies, although I didn't really understand what it was.
I was vaguely thinking about the army, because I enjoyed the school cadets and I had been exposed to the army a lot. My older brother had gone to the Royal Military College, but he had been discharged for a hearing problem during his first year. So I was thinking about it….at that stage, too, we were…My father had been to Vietnam, we were enmeshed in the Vietnam War, it was becoming increasingly unpopular.
I remember service people weren't wearing their uniforms on the street, they were getting spat at and accused of being baby killers and it didn't really seem like a good idea to moving into a crowd like that at that stage. And around about that stage, I had a girlfriend whose father was a doctor and he was talking about medicine, as a general sort of purpose skill, as a broad discipline, and the
many opportunities that it could provide and I had friends who considering studying medicine and I think I was influenced by then and I applied and I was fortunate enough to get a position at Monash.
Vietnam and so on was going on. What are your recollections of that period?
Well, I remember originally it was a great idea, it was a great adventure. Great Australian soldiers were
going to do a fantastic job and save this country from all these dreadful people. My parents were all for it. It was government policy, so therefore it was right. And then my father was over there when I was fourteen to sixteen, and it seemed like he was doing a great job and what a beaut thing it was. But then there was increasing debate. The arts students at school started arguing that this was no good, that we shouldn't be in there.
I had a feeling it was due to some international obligational pact or treaty or something that we were there, the South East Asian Treaty Organisation…and I remember all these guys studying history saying it was a lot of garbage, that it wasn’t because of that, so my reasons for thinking it was okay were smashed. As usual the public doesn't have much of a stomach for seeing soldiers being killed. And as the numbers were going up, the tide of public opinion was turning pretty quickly,
and then it was clear that we were going to be getting out of there. And the reason for getting out, in retrospect, was as pathetic as the reasons for getting in, but were largely palatable from a political and a social point of view. The Vietnamisation, let the South Vietnamese do the job. Well, if that was legitimate they should have been able to do that from the outset. Anyway, it turned right against…
And we were out of there. Of course, there is no substitute for winning. If you win it was right, if you lose it was wrong, and that will never change. So our involvement in Vietnam, from today's point of view, was a disaster. A monumental error. But the pity of it of course was that the military forces that went in there worked very well, they did a great job, to the extent of their capability
and have never really gained the recognition for it. And the loss of five hundred men was dreadful. I think they deserve at least our support for the work that they did and the sacrifice that was made, even if it was politically misguided.
And being in Hailbury in that time, this conservative school, how did they approach the Vietnam War?
It wasn't discussed. Not openly.
It may have been discussed by the arts students in their philosophy classes or their history classes or whatever, but I was studying chemistry and physics. It didn't come up. And our teachers were a similar generation to my parents. They were conservative. If the government said it was right, it was right, and that was it. You know, "The Labor Party in those days was full of communists and reds under the bed and not to be trusted, and thank God Bob Menzies saved the nation…" I mean, that was it.
It was unquestioned, as far as I recall. I know, it seems incredible now, but that's the way it was. Australia was a very small, conservative, introspective, isolated country. They thought it was the best in the world and they had no reason to believe it, but they thought it was, usually by people who had never been anywhere else. And it's largely the same now. Mind you, there are a lot of tremendous things about this country, but there's some problems, too.
And as a young man going through all this, did you realise they weren't talking about it at the time, or were you angry…
No, I wasn't. I was nowhere near politically sophisticated or culturally aware. I was just studying and playing football and drinking beer and going to the beach and that was it.
I don't think I'm criticising myself too severely, I think most of us were like that. And when I talk to my own kids now, they're not particularly concerned about us being in Iraq. They're not sure what's going on there, and they're not really interested in discussing it. It's just doesn't come up on their horizon.
It's another world away isn't it….
Yeah, it doesn't have any relevance to their day to day life. Work, studies, mobile phones, parties, boyfriends, cars…
So nothing much has changed…
No, and I guess it won't. That's not a bad thing. It means that they're free and they've got choices to pursue their own interests. They're not struggling to survive and gather food and water and looking for shelter, they're free to pursue their own interests.
A lot of people look back on the 1960s through rose-coloured glasses I guess,
and what it was all like, but is it a better time to be growing up now than then?
Oh I think so, unquestionably. Young people now have got tremendous opportunities. They've got opportunities for education, employment, travel, income, communication, much greater choices. They've got greater opportunities
to be informed. There's still newspapers and television. Is television better? I don't know. There's more choice. That just might mean there is ten times more than what there used to be. There's the internet, there's mobile phones, things have changed a lot, and I think generally for the better. But in other ways too, I think Australian society has changed for the better. It's more varied; it looks outside a lot more,
I think it is better informed, I think there is greater analysis of what is going on, there is more community involvement in where the country is going, greater analysis of day to day things. I hope better informed choices; decision making…the infrastructure of the country has quadrupled at least in my life. There are more universities, greater access to tertiary education, overseas travel, yeah…
And just on being a cadet, what was that like?
Oh, school cadets was a lot of fun. We had to join it when I was at school, but it was a lot of fun. Not the drill so much, but the outdoor skills and the outdoors life, going away on cadet camps to the bush, it was physically active.
Skills about camping and living in the bush, it was good camaraderie. Yeah, we had a lot of fun. I think it helped to develop personal skills as well. Working with others, teamwork, integrity, honesty, rudimentary leadership skills, communication skills. Yeah, it was enjoyable. Much the same as the scout movement…it was a bit more formal than that with the drill,
but the same sort of goals. Good goals, developing and helping to develop the next generation of people.
Were you shooting guns and things like that?
Yeah, we were doing some shooting at rifle ranges, and that was fun, I enjoyed shooting, target shooting, and I enjoyed hunting as well. I was actually a good shot then, I'm not now. I won some competitions at school.
That was good, because I wasn't in the First Eighteen Football side, so it was good to win something and get a bit of recognition.
There was a big emphasis on sports, was there?
Yeah, there was a huge emphasis on sport. Sport was compulsory at the school I attended. It was all Australian Rules football in winter and cricket in summer. That was good. The same thing, it was physically active, it kept people fit. Teamwork,
it helped to develop a lot of personal skills. The school there has changed a bit now. I think they can play soccer and rugby and some martial arts and a few more things, so there is a greater variety, but there is still a strong focus on sports and I think generally that is a good thing.
And how were the cadets viewed in this culture of sport and so on by the other students?
Well, virtually everyone was in cadets.
There weren't too many that were not in it. There weren't conscientious objectors around at that stage. If you expressed a dislike of it, you were considered to be a bit abnormal or a bit of a pansy or a weakling or something like that. There weren't too many who objected to it…you would attract too much adverse attention.
And you would have a separate uniform for the cadets, as opposed to school uniforms?
Yes there was a uniform, and badges of rank and things. The cadet movement in Australia was very big in those days. It was all based on ex-World War II people, Korean soldiers…it was a very large movement, and I think it still is, but it has been demilitarised quite a bit, focusing more on the individual skills
and the teamwork, rather than a strong military focus.
So the military were involved in the cadet programs?
Yeah, they were…some of the school teachers were officers of cadets. They'd had some rudimentary military training. The Australian army conducted promotion courses over the Christmas holidays, so kids from cadet units would go to Puckapunyal and places like that and undergo some more military training.
And that was a great experience, too, getting outside of your normal cultural environment. And that brought in kids from all over the state, from different backgrounds, not just from the wealthy private schools but from country towns and it was good; it was very interesting and a lot of fun. But it was the same focus, developing individual skills, sport, a bit of shooting, leadership skills.
At Puckapunyal you would all get together from other places, what was it like mixing with the other kids from other schools?
It was great. It was an opportunity to meet others and see what they were doing. Learning about different environments. There were other kids from Melbourne; there were ones from Geelong, Ballarat, other country towns, different experiences of cadets, different experiences of school. Just a total mix,
cross-section of Australian society, it was completely different and interesting, good fun. Yeah, I remember it quite happily, enjoying those camps. Yeah it was good.
So you wouldn't be stuck with just Hailbury people, you would have activities with the other groups and so on?
Yes, that's right. Once you were there the school that you came from was irrelevant, you were just Private So and So, or Corporal So and So. The school and what not, that didn't come into it.
And that was one of the things that I enjoyed about the military later, it was a good social leveller. Everybody was essentially equal, rank aside, everybody was essentially equal and that was a good thing.
And when you were going through cadets and you were enjoying it and so on, did the people involve see it as a bit of a recruiting drive and so forth?
The school didn't and I don't think the officers of cadets at the school did,
but the army obviously did. The army was making an investment in it, with an expectation of some flow on later, and undoubtedly it occurred. I remember the Royal Military College was offering…I think one kid from each school to visit once a year and it was fully paid or something. I didn't actually go on it, someone else did. But there was a recruiting angle.
But it wasn't a huge recruiting drive approach or anything like that. Just that some exposure to the military could generate some interest and there may have been a recruiting pay off downstream.
Did you yourself have a bit of interest growing in you in it, that you wanted to follow up?
Yeah, I did, because…I think it was more by default that I didn't have an interest in anything else. "Oh well, I can always join the army." That was always at the back of my mind.
And I did consider it quite seriously. But I think it was the deterioration of the status of the military as a result of the Vietnam War that slated me to go elsewhere, and also a growing interest in medicine, I think.
And at that time, when you were reaching eighteen and Vietnam was still going, was there a fear that you could be called up?
Yeah, it was happening. We could see it at university, in the years ahead of us there were kids getting called up and there was a lot of discussion and a lot of unrest about it. The unrest was based in part on the feeling that the war was unjust. But also the inequity of drawing marbles, that some people were going to cop it and others wouldn't. There was a lot of social unrest, that it was unfair.
Many people were against it and arguing that everybody should be in it, not that it should be abandoned. But that it should have been an all or none phenomena, rather than drawing out the marbles. There was a lot of unrest. I remember my year at medicine, we were surveying and when I was called up, about forty out of
a hundred and twenty were called up, and it just seemed a bit odd that one in three medical students were being called up. It seemed to be a little bit disproportionately higher than the rest of the community. I'm not suggesting that there was any underhand process under way at the time, but that was the way that it looked and there was a lot of anger. People were angry, and a lot of people were going to long lengths to avoid being called up.
At that stage, too, there were people getting killed and that was on the front page of the paper regularly. It's a bit like now; the people that were making the decisions to put Australians over there had never been in combat themselves and didn't seem to be moved by the losses that were occurring. Those of us that were eighteen and nineteen and facing the prospect of facing an unfair call-up had a totally different view
from the decision makers at the time. There was a lot of social tension. The greatest social tension during my life, at that stage.
How different was your life at school to your life at university? Was it like two different worlds?
Yes, completely different. University was a lot freer, it was a lot bigger, there was a lot more choices….
Although most of us felt pretty lonely and a bit uneasy there to begin with, because we were used to such a structured and rigid and directed day to day life that the choices and freedom at university were a bit bewildering at first, and you could find yourself a bit lost in it. I don't think that has changed much, because one of my daughters said that to me just recently. She's in her first year of science and she found the same sort of thing.
But I think everybody settled into after six months or so, a different group of people. We were treated with more respect, at least after we got through the first year and proved that we weren't just there to throw paper darts around and drink beer. And that became very pleasurable, that sort of learning environment. And there wasn't the same social restriction.
We weren't confined in the school any longer, we were allowed to talk to girls, we were allowed to do what we liked. Yeah, it was quite a refreshingly liberating experience.
When you were at Monash [University], there was a lot of protest and there was a big student movement against the war?
Yeah, there were a lot of protests. It was pretty exciting days, and I hadn't been exposed to any of that before. I was still too conservative to be involved it myself. In those early days, I think I was still probably supporting the war because it seemed to be right, and that's where I had come from, with my father and everything…
There were a lot of protests and it stimulated a lot of thinking. It certainly stimulated mine at the time and made me realise different people have got different views, for good reason, and they deserve to be listened to and have their say. My parents said, "They're rabble rousers and they're no good and they should be thrown out of university.
They don't realise they've got it privileged to be there. Throw them out, they're ratbags." It wasn't just my parents, it was that whole generation. The interesting thing was that they were overlooking the fact…It was the very fact that they were free enough at university to discus these things which was so tremendous. Rather than it being something to be deplored. And I guess that movement,
it did sway public opinion, eventually. The university based part of the movement had a large part to play in swaying public opinion and saying, "Look, we don't agree with it, there is a different way of looking at this. What about this? What about that?" And now of course, looking back, for those in public life it is very hard to find anybody who supported the war.
They don't say they supported the war anymore, but that is in part related to the fact that we lost. If you lose, it was no good.
A bit of a criticism they have of the protests was that they were directed at the soldiers themselves, rather than the people who sent them off to war. Is that what you experienced?
Yes, I did. And I think that criticism is legitimate. The soldiers didn't develop a policy
to go into Vietnam. Undoubtedly a lot of the military was keen to do so. "Let's go and do the job." But they didn't create the circumstances for the war; they didn't make the political decision to engage with the Americans in the war. They didn't decide which units would go. And later those who were conscripted had even less decision making in the whole process. So to direct the
the protests towards the soldiers, I think, was unfair and wrong, but understandable. I mean the uniform and the military focus was so easy to see and so easy to attack and probably was effective in terms of swaying public opinion that it was probably a legitimate approach for those people. Although
misguided in the sense that the soldiers hadn't made the decision.
Interviewee: Peter Warfe Archive ID 2487 Tape 02
Can you tell us when you first decided to get involved in the army, after cadet school?
Right, I was a third year medical student and there wasn't any money around in those days, and there was little part-time work available. I was working one afternoon a week, and Saturday mornings in a grog [alcohol] shop,
and working over Christmas holidays demolishing houses and working in warehouses and things like that, trying to get some money to live on. I had been called up, I was called up when I turned twenty, halfway through my third year of medicine and I knew I was going into the army anyway. The army had an undergraduate scholarship available, which paid your tuition, although I had no tuition, I had a Commonwealth scholarship, but it paid
you a living allowance, and it was considerable. I can't remember what it was now, but it was a lot of money for a student who had no income. It could have been as much as fifty or a hundred dollars a week. In 1970, that was quite a bit of money. So I applied for that scholarship and there were
entry things, psychological and medical entry tests, interviews, and I was successful in those and I was awarded an army scholarship. That allowed me to continue my medical studies for the next three years, but then after the compulsory residency training, I had to come into the army for four years. So that was the deal. And there were others, quite a few others at university,
took the same thing, army, navy and air force scholarships. Much the same as the cadetships, the BHP [Broken Hill Proprietary] cadetships that were offered to the engineering students. It was a way of getting through your undergraduate training, but there was a return of service obligation with the employer later.
Now you were telling us about the controversy surrounding Vietnam at the time, and even after the war was over, the stigma attached to military service.
Did you find it was difficult to make the decision to into the army and did you find it was difficult to tell people this?
Yes, it was a difficult decision, it was one that took a while to make, but I guess I was a bit of an economic conscript and I had been conscripted into the military. They were two compelling reason to take it on. And yeah, I was criticised by a lot of people for doing it, for selling my soul…
And for joining the military. And a lot of those were living in forty square houses down by the bay with extremely wealthy parents who were rolling them through and giving them sports cars for their eighteenth birthday. Their circumstances were slightly different. So yeah, I pretty well kept it to myself rather than getting the criticism. But the dynamics were like that. I didn't tell people I was a medical student.
We rarely did, we were criticised too much for being silver tails and privileged and ridiculed socially, so we used to not tell people we were medical students for the same reason. And I didn't tell people I was in the army. I got tired of justifying it and the arguments and the criticisms. I just kept it myself.
Can you describe your initial recruit training for us?
Yes, after I finished my residency training. There used to be a direct entry officers’ course, and it was for people like me and lawyers and teachers. People who were going straight into the army as officers. It was run by the School of Army Health
in Hillsville in Victoria at the time, and it was six weeks long. And it was designed to help people like feel comfortable in the uniform, to feel comfortable in the army, so we wouldn't embarrass ourselves when we moved into the military culture. So that we knew how to do some basic drill, that we would recognise badges of rank, that we had an understanding of
how the health services in the army worked. We did some medical administration, the way the paperwork in the military worked, had an understanding of the repatriation hospitals which existed at that time and the relationships between the army medical services and the civilian medical services, the repat [repatriation] services. And that was about six weeks and it was a lot of fun. It was a good crowd of people,
varying backgrounds, intelligent, well educated, articulate, we played a lot of sports, it was good teamwork, it was informative, good fun, good fun in the officers’ mess. We had the formal dinners and things, the military dinners and learned about mess etiquette and football and games. It was a good system. In fact, I think it was better then than it is now.
More of the direct entry officers' training is conducted at the Royal Military College now, and it's conducted by people largely who resent the direct entry officers, they resent them their rank and the privilege that they've had. They treat them poorly, they abuse them, they don't understand that they're there to try and learn and feel comfortable about the military. The last couple of years that I was in the regular army, I was particularly irritated by the approach that was being taken because
it was causing doctors to resign from the army when we had a tremendous shortage, a terrible shortage, and these people were being treated badly by people who didn't understand them, and were there to be helping them, and in fact were persuading them from pursuing a military career or for staying. In my day it was good, they made us feel comfortable, they treated us well, they welcomed us, and it was a great start for me. Because in my first posting, I went alone to Papua New Guinea, to Lae,
and I was the only doctor there with a number of….there was only about forty or fifty Australian service people there and I was expected to perform as an individual from day one, on arrival. And that course did equip me very well to do that and I was always grateful for it.
So you had considerable responsibilities on your first posting?
Yeah, I was the only Australian military medical officer in Lae.
I was posted to…Ingham Barracks. It was sort of the officer production factory for the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, and there were about twenty or thirty Australian Army and Air Force and Navy instructors there, helping to develop the Papua New Guinea Defence Force. I was the only doctor there and in charge of the regimental aid post that had ten soldiers there. So I went in and I was not only looking after the sick people,
the soldiers, but also the Australian families and I had ten soldiers under my command that I had to look after. I was responsible for them, and their performance and for all the billing and equipment and the drugs and the support in the field and the bush and the training and the preventative medicine aspects on base, and the water supply, the food supply, the food preparation, the waste disposal, the control of the (vectors?-UNCLEAR) the mosquitoes, the environmental health. But it was quite a change for a guy
who had been a doctor in a trauma hospital in Melbourne, working with a lot of specialists, a lot of consultative support, a lot of registrar support, a lot of peer support, to being on your own in a base on the edge of the jungle in Lae, it was a big change. So that course at Hillsville did provide me with a lot of skills, particularly the skills to communicate I think, to communicate with the leadership in the place, from the outset, and to win
their support, to be able to engage with them, to be able to work with them to achieve the common goals, but to also achieve the health goals that I needed to.
Did you have any choice in the matter of being posted to Lae?
Yes, there was a fair bit of discussion about where we would want to go, and where we would not want to go.
I had been in Melbourne all of my life, studying. My parents had died and I wanted to get out and do some general living, and I particularly wanted to go overseas and see something different. There were not too many opportunities where I could see service other than Papua New Guinea, at that stage. The Vietnam War had finished…
And I don't recall any other opportunities in Southeast Asia, although the air force was at Butterworth, so some of their young doctors were going there. I asked about a posting to Townsville, because that was a big military base. And then there was a possibility of Darwin that came up, and it kept changing. This is what happened for the next thirty years. The postings and the opportunities
and what was going to happen next kept changing. I was asked about Lae and I thought it would be a tremendous opportunity and I was delighted. I was married about that stage, and my wife and I went there for eighteen months and it was tremendous, I loved it.
Did your father have Service in Papua New Guinea in the Second World War?
Yes he did. He commanded the 2/3rd Independent Company, which operated around the Lae/Salamaua region,
not all that far from Lae, which was interesting. I went to Salamaua and I was scuba diving off Salamaua, and I always thought it was a little bit ironic that my experiences of Salamaua were considerably different. I think mine were probably a lot better than his. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to discuss it with him, but he would have enjoyed the irony of it as well.
Was that one of the reasons you were interested in Papua New Guinea?
I guess so.
I remembered, we lived in Surfers Paradise just before I went to school, my father was the chief instructor at Canungra, the Jungle Training Centre, and I can still remember, this is forty eight years ago now, I can still remember the Papua New Guinea soldiers coming to Surfers Paradise and training at Canungra. So I was sort of intrigued about it and I was aware of my father's service there. But more than anything else it was the opportunity to get away, to get overseas and do something different that I was really interested in.
How did you find your experiences at Lae?
It was great, it was a beautiful place. We were on a well developed base, built by Australians, we had a great house. A modern, typical jungle house built up on stilts and tended to live under the house rather than in it.
It was very humid, very wet. It was completely different. We had a house-boy; we had to have a house boy, who did a lot of the chores and the washing and ironing and things. There was a great crowd of people there. A lot of the people I met there are our best friends today. A varied crowd, a lot of infantrymen, who I've always liked. I've always liked their good camaraderie and their great sense of humour
and their enjoyment of the outdoors and enjoyment of good fun. It was good medical work, I learnt a lot. It was good military work; it was good to be in a training environment. It was very exciting to be a part of a team that was doing good work in that country, because that was about the time that Papua New Guinea became independent. And I might add prematurely. The infrastructure
and the workforce and the leadership of the country was ill-equipped to take over at that stage. And the military as well, they hadn't had the training experience, the knowledge. It was beyond anybody, really, to undertake a role like that. I remember I was doing some locum work at the local university of technology, just after the localisation process occurred. The first vice chancellor had
to be a local boy. He was only twenty-six years of age, he had only graduated himself about three years before and he was in charge of this huge place, with all this staff and all these resources. To his credit he tried to do his best, but it would be beyond anybody. That is just one example of what happened throughout the fabric of New Guinea, whether it was government, business, the judiciary, the military. It was just too tall an order for them.
I think the social unrest and the very poor economic performance of the country now is still in part related to that, it was just too tall an order. It was pushed upon them too rapidly. But having said that, that was just something to observe at the time, it wasn't our major concern. We were there helping
and enjoying it. It was great. There was good sporting facilities, good sporting occasions. I brought a motorbike, and a lot of us had motorbikes, and we enjoyed riding through the bush. Our first daughter was born there. Yeah, it was a good time, I enjoyed it very much.
Can you tell us a little bit about your wife and your marriage in 1976?
Yeah, sure. My wife Pat. We met in…
We met in my fifth year of medicine, around March or April, I was twenty one. I was working at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. She was there; she was studying cardio-thoracic nursing. We met there.
Then we went out together for a couple of years, then we lived together for a year, when I was doing my residency, before we were married. We've been married ever since, twenty eight years. She originally came from England, from a poor family with eight kids.
Her father was an electrician in Colchester. Very bravely he migrated to Australia when he was in his forties, with the whole family. Quite a big step when you think about it, leaving your own country and taking your kids halfway around the world. They settled in Perth, where they've all done well. She left home relatively early, around the age of seventeen. She wanted to travel. I think she went to Townsville and did some nursing there.
It was about the time that coronary care were developing throughout Australia, and she was interested in that work and then went to Melbourne to study that sort of work, then was employed in the coronary care unit there, and that is when we met. So she had been interested in travelling, and had travelled independently, quite young, and she was quite happy about travelling as well.
New places, new things, which is just as well, we did an awful lot of travel. We must have moved house twenty, twenty five times in as many years, and we always enjoyed it, although it became a bit problematic as the kids grew older and they resisted…not so much the travelling, but saying goodbye to friends and being the new kid at the new school. Of interest, they are twenty one to twenty six, they all say it was fantastic, looking back, it never bothered them at all, it was really great and it enhanced their confidence and everything else.
But at the time there were a few bumps here and there. But my wife always enjoyed the travel, other then when it was occasionally a bit rough for the kiddies. But we haven't travelled for a long time now. We came to Canberra, the first time, in 1987/1988, and this time 1993, we've been here eleven years now, and I don't think we will be leaving either.
The living is too good in Canberra, it's too easy.
After Lae, can you tell us what your next posting was like in Papua New Guinea?
Yeah, I was posted on promotion, as the officer commanding the Papua New Guinea Defence Force hospital in Taurama Barracks in Port Moresby. And that was great. That was an early posting, that was an accelerated posting, and I was pretty excited about that.
The hospital was great, there was a staff of about fifty, it was tremendous medically, it was great militarily to have a command, and it was a lot of work, because we looked after soldiers in that hospital and their dependants. And it was flat out. We were seeing a hundred patients a day. We had fifty inpatients, two operating theatres,
we were doing general surgery, orthopaedic surgery, we developed our own maternity ward, we were delivering babies. It was a lot of work, a huge amount of work. A lot of night work, a lot of weekend work, a lot of call-out work. It was an interesting variety of medicine though, trauma, broken bones, motor vehicle accidents, football injuries, a lot of tropical disease, a lot of malaria, denghi fever, a lot of chest disease,
parasitic disease, skin disease….Yeah, a tremendous variety of medicine, very stimulating, very exciting. I really enjoyed tropical medicine very much. There was a lot of psychological, psychiatric disease. The Papuan New Guineas believed in black magic, in sorcerers, witches, there was a lot of spells being cast on people.
It was called 'purri-purri'. It was quite a challenge when a soldier thought he had had a spell put on him, because he would down and literally die, and I saw people die. They would just lay down and stop living and die, and it scared the hell out of me. So I got a witch doctor to come and do ward rounds with us to help lift the spells, which sounds unbelievable now, but I had seen people die from having a spell put on them, or what they called a spell. So that was interesting, having a witch doctor. It was a good start of multi-disciplinary teams, I guess.
It was, it was very, very interesting indeed. I think it probably taught me a bit of…cultural sensitivity, that things aren't seen the same by everybody. And just be aware that different people have different ideas and that needs to be accommodated, rather
than just repudiated or ridiculed.
How did you see this sort of witchcraft and superstition? Even though you got a witch doctor to come in and get rid of the spells if you could…how logical was it?
As a scientist it is totally illogical. It has got no foundation in known scientific fact, there is
no hard evidence to support it all. But my view in that sense was irrelevant, they believed it. And that is what was significant, and it was working. They believed it, so it was working. Their view of things was different. They believed there were women with severe skin diseases; it's called Pitoriasis Vacicala now,
a sort of scaly sort of excemetis rash, they called it 'grilly.' And they thought that there were grilly women walking around at night, with this skin disease. And if they looked at you, you died. So, nobody actually seen one, because if you had you were dead, but everybody knew they were there. So you just had to respect this view. So when you were in the field with the soldiers, they used to build their 'hootchies,' their stretchers,
right up in the air, ten or twelve feet in the air, so the grilly women couldn't come and see them at night, or they would die. And it was because they believed it, that it had to be accommodated, whereas there was no foundation for it at all.
What were the other types of superstition that you came across?
Well, the Papuan New Guineas had a more of a view of the environment like the Australian Aborigines.
That they were an integral part of it, it wasn't something separate, it was a part of them and there were spirits everywhere. The wind was a spirit and the trees had spirits and there were ghosts everywhere, and the snakes had certain spirits, and the pigs were very important, very significant. Perhaps the way the Indians look at cows.
They were such an important part of life and survival; they were given a very significant station in the environment. I remember I was called into a village because a pig was having an epileptic fit and the villagers were going crazy. They thought that either someone had put a spell on the pig, or it had been infected by an evil spirit. And they were very agitated.
You could never be certain where this agitation would stop. They could allocate or blame to anybody for something going wrong. So I in fact gave the pig an injection of Valium and stopped the epileptic fit and they thought it was fantastic. When I left they gave me a wooden bowl that had been blessed by their witch doctors, which was quite touching at the time.
A different culture, quite fascinating. A lovely people, a very gentle people, a different outlook on life.
The mosaic of cultures there is extraordinary. What were the difficulties you had in dealing with different tribes and languages and cultures within that spectrum?
I think that the biggest problem that we had was a system called payback. It was entrenched that if anybody wronged you or if anything went wrong, that you got even.
And everybody got even with everybody else all of the time and it was unending. Tribal fights, violence, rape, theft, just totally unending. There was always payback. So that if you wronged anybody, you could expect them to get even with you. Now that was if the wrong whether it was real or apparent. We went away once and the house boy ate all the food in the fridge, so we sacked him,
and he had been wrong so he was going to get even with us. We had a real fear that this guy and perhaps his friends may rob the house or smash the car to bits or attack one of us. So that was just a personal example, but this was throughout the fabric of everywhere. Throughout the government, the military, the health system, village life. Payback was an integral part of day to day life.
And it's one of the problems that they've got now, it's just never ending. I guess it grew up in free societies without any judicial system, but it hasn't been replaced or abolished by the institutions of any police or the judicial system as far as I can see anyway. And even in the military, when people would be charged for doing the wrong things and they would be punished, there would be payback for the person that charged you
or for the person that dobbed you in [informed on you], or for the officer who had charged or awarded the fine. It was extraordinary. I remember somebody robbed one of the shops in the barracks at Lae and the military police put him in a paddy wagon to take him to the police in town, and he leapt from the moving vehicle and he hit his head and was brought back to the barracks unconscious and he died. I only got to see him for about a minute and a half,
and he died. And for at least two and a half years later, the people of his village were paying back on the people at the barracks about this guy's death. Despite the fact that he had been caught in the middle of robbing a store and was being escorted to the police and jumped out of a moving vehicle. It was everybody else's fault, not his, and everybody was trying to get even, for a couple of years.
I'm just reporting the way it was, I don't have any magic solution for that problem, but it was extraordinarily difficult, if you can imagine. This was involved in all daily transactions. It was a problem. The other thing that was interesting there, our view of history…well, everybody has got their own view of history, I guess. But the people I was working with in Lae, the Papuan New Guineas,
they had a feeling that in World War II the Japanese soldiers came to kick the Australians out, who had been doing so much damage in the country. And they had been brought up with that view, whereas our view was diametrically opposed to it. Now that made for some interesting discussions. They would largely not wish to talk about it, but clearly they viewed Australians as a colonial overseer,
and not a very good one. And in retrospect, I'm not sure that we were as culturally sensitive, or as culturally well equipped as we could be. We probably behaved there the way we see Americans behaving elsewhere. Exporting their own value system and trying to impose it on a group of people, rather than attempting to understand their culture and try to synthesise some sort of a way forward together.
I'm not really referring to the military, perhaps more commercially and politically. A lot of the commercial activity in those days…I mean, there were a lot of losers in Papua New Guinea. It was the end of the road. There were a lot of alcoholics; a lot of bigoted people, there were a lot of head crackers, tough guys, carpet baggers, a lot of people exploiting the community, exploiting the labour force.
Are you talking about Australians?
Yeah, yeah. Companies like Burns Philp was founded on a work force that was almost treated like an underclass. They were given very rudimentary work conditions and wages and things, and the company made a lot of money based on that.
Do you think that situation has changed?
Yeah, I think it has changed enormously. It's changed in part through independence and the authority of the PNG [Papua and New Guinea] Government. It's changed in part because of the better education of the society there, and greater involvement of local culture and local decision making in those processes. And it has changed in part because a lot of the processes that went on there then, you can't do anymore. The environmental degradation and destruction.
How important was this PNG trip in retrospect when you look at it now? As a learning experience?
I haven't really thought of it in those terms. I guess it was tremendously important to be working in a different culture, with different value systems,
different people, completely different backgrounds, experiences, expectations, methods of operating, levels of extreme poverty, privation, primitive life, superstition, premature death, it had a big influence on me. I had had a privileged upbringing in Australia, at home and at school and at university.
I had never seen poverty and privation on that level. So I think that it was pivotal in forming a social conscience, and probably important in the role of international health, and extending the health support to underprivileged groups, and also
I think it formed a strong social conscience and the idea of doing what is right medically, doing what is right militarily and also understanding that there are bounds, there are things that you can't change, there are things that you can't influence or that can't be altered, based on different cultural belief or practice, and respect for that. A respect that other people's way of living and views
and practices are their way of doing things, and they are not necessarily wrong, and that a lot of the things that we do are not necessarily right. It was about this stage that I realised that there didn't seem to be the same level of crime in the traditional PNG society. There certainly was in the PNG society that was becoming urbanised and westernised. But there didn't seem to be the same level or crime,
there wasn't the same level of drug abuse or alcoholism that existed in our society. So just because it was primitive, didn't mean that it was worse or that it was wrong, and there were a lot of things about it that were better. Yes, so I think I gained a greater insight into not just their society and the way they operate and how we should operate with different societies, but I gained a greater understanding in our societies and some of its strengths and weaknesses as well.
They say travel broadens your view, it's a cliché, but it certainly broadened my view of a lot of things.
Did you meet with people from PNG who had actually studied in Australia and lived in Australia and had come back? Or expats [expatriates] in that sense?
Some, some of the senior military had studied in Australia. The first commander of the Papuan New Guinea defences, Ted Diro [?], had been trained in Portsea,
the Officer Cadet School, Portsea. He was an interesting guy, in that he had grown up in the traditional Papua New Guinean village and here he was quite a young man as a commander of the defence force, as a brigadier. He was walking a fine line between the old army and the new army, the old PNG and the new PNG. And he got caught in it.
Overall, he did a good job I think, but he had his weaknesses. He liked his rank, he enjoyed being flattered, he had his mess bill cancelled, things like that. There were allegations of corruption in his private business. I don't know whether they had any foundation, but there were problems. It was a period of huge social change to that country. The social change was enormously, hugely faster than any cultural change could occur.
Cultural change can't occur faster than generational change. The social change was enormous; it was like a tidal wave. So I'm not surprised there were casualties like that, like him, they just couldn't adjust. It was too tall an order. I think to Australia's credit, I think the….you'd have to ask an historian I guess. But I think it was the
independence of PNG, and the localisation project was accelerated at UN [United Nations]direction rather than by Australian choice. And I think it was even pointed out that this was a pretty tall order, but it was conducted anyway. And the country still hasn't achieved its potential, and it won't for some time, because that amount of change is so huge.
It's belatedly been recognised now, with the Australian initiative with police and expertise going back into the fabric of government assist with the process that we understand, but it's going to take them quite some time to come to grips with.
Did you find that the expats that did have some sort of training in Australia, were they more open-minded towards change?
The indigenous Papuan New Guineas who studied in Australia for a time…
Sure, they were open-minded towards change, but they were very cautious, because it was too easy for them to be accused of acting like the white man, or forgetting their roots, or not being part of
the PNG society any longer. It was very difficult for them. They were the sort of forward scouts in this process and they were at great risk of being targets. They had to take it very carefully. With that amount of change, there were protagonists and antagonists. Whichever side they found themselves with in an argument, it was easy to dispute their comments or denigrate their comments
as having been biased, or they had been injected with these views by another culture. That is not an unusual thing. I think this interim government that we are seeing in Iraq at the moment is being blamed by its own people as being pro-American. If you were a villager in Iraq, how else would you see them?
So I think those initial leaders in Papua New Guinea, it was an enormous challenge for them. It was almost an impossible task to be able to go forward. To their credit a lot of them did really well, really well. But there were some casualties.
The Germans colonised PNG a long time ago. Did you see any vestiges of that Germanic influence?
Yes. The Germans had colonised Papua New Guinea
before World War I, and it became an Australian protectorate after Germany's defeat. There were still a lot of places that had German names, like Finschhafen and things like that. But there was no recognisable infrastructure left from that period. Some of the original layouts of the roads and things went back to a European influence,
but there was largely nothing recognisable as having come from German development, I think. Although some of the very older people, they respected the Germans because…I think they respected the Germans because they were firm but fair. If they said they would do something, they would do it. If they said they wouldn't do something,
they wouldn't do it, and I think they respected that sort of relationship, but it was so long ago it was largely forgotten.
How would you best describe the Australian experience of this quasi-colonial type fusion between the indigenous people of PNG and Australia? How did they see this?
How did they see it? That's a good question. That is not a discussion that
that I had frequently with Papuan New Guineans. A Papuan New Guinea infantryman once told me he was the only Australian that he ever respected, but he couldn't describe why. I think they resented being told what to do all the time. I think they saw us quite simply as colonial masters
who were not interested in them.
And this was an infantryman in the PNG army?
He was an infantry officer, yeah, he was a next door neighbour. We were just good friends, we'd have a drink at the mess on a Friday night. He was an interesting guy. I used to ask his opinion about things. I think they were just tired of being told what to do. They didn't like the house boy system, but we were told that we had to do that. That we had to have house boys and employ local people….
Interviewee: Peter Warfe Archive ID 2487 Tape 03
You were just finishing off talking about the servants and not having any of your own and adapting to that culture?
That's right. We were directed to have house boys to do the domestic work, and a lot of us were uncomfortable about it, because we had never had servants or lived in that sort of environment. I don't think the Papua New Guineans liked it much either. The house boys were happy to have some work and some income of course,
but I don't think they liked it. It reinforced the view that we were colonials, that we had a sort of a superior attitude, in their minds. I don't think it was helpful at all. And a lot of the advisors that were there, I mean advisers go to advise, but often people don't want to be advised all the time, they don't want to be told what to do all the time. I've got no magic solution for it,
but there are traps for going and helping different cultures. There needs to be a lot of cultural awareness and preparation before people go and do it, rather than taking over…doing a good job, you've got to be careful that you are not do-gooders and dominating people. It's like fussing over children too much, they resent it. You just need to create the circumstances to foster people and to help them develop,
rather than pushing them around.
How difficult is that though?
It's very difficult. It's very difficult. I'm not sure that…at least, the military in our times the time in PNG, there was not much cultural awareness training beforehand. In fact, we had to do some psychological test to see if you had any racialist tendencies at the time, but it was just silly. I remember somebody completing the tests saying,
he hated black cars, he hated people who wore black clothing, he'd never paint his house black, because he was trying to avoid his posting to Papua New Guinea. It was a childish sort of thing; I couldn't understand the purpose of the testing or people's attitudes towards it. It would have been more effective to give people a bit more cultural awareness training. In fact, we did do some Pidgin English language training.
That was a couple of weeks at the School of Languages at Kapooka in Wagga, and that training was conducted by people who had served in Papua New Guinea and they were able to impart a lot of their experience and knowledge of the country, its geography, its history, the attitudes of the people, and that was most beneficial. It probably could have focused a bit more on the cultural sensitivities rather than just the language.
How would you describe your personal benefit from that experience?
And your time there?
I think it was terrific. Personally I developed a greater appreciation of other cultures and societies, but also a greater insight into our own culture and society, its strengths and weaknesses. It formed the foundation of my marriage, and my first child was born there,
which was tremendous. It expanded my knowledge and views of medicine into tropical medicine and also psychological medicine, psychiatry. It formed a very good foundation for my future medical career, both as a medical officer and as an army officer, having a position of command. And it also reinforced independence and self-confidence, living away from home, living
away from family, being totally responsible for our own lives. It was a very important two or three years, and a very enjoyable one as well. And I consider it, and view it and think of it very fondly. I still have very strong friendships with the people that I worked there with at the time, the Australian people. Unfortunately I lost track of the Papua New Guinean people, I've never been back there. Which is a shame, but it has been circumstances rather than
deliberately not wishing to go back there, and I will go back at some stage, I just don't know when.
Are you proud of the work that you did there?
Yeah, it was good. It was important. The health work was good; the military work was good, raising a generation of leaders for the Papua New Guinea Defence Force. I think the PNGDF [Papua New Guinea Defence Force] has been a stabilising and a socially useful
part of Papua New Guinea. It has been an important instrument of national development, national stability, and creating national leaders. So yeah, I think our involvement there has created a good sustainable outcome.
How did you balance the health care side and the military side?
From a personal point of view? Yeah, sometimes
people think that there is….perhaps a conflict between the provision of health support and prosecuting military operations perhaps. In Papua New Guinea, we were providing military training support for the Papua New Guinea Defence Force. We weren't involved in military operations, although there was some activities on the border with the emerging rebel force
in Irawenjio at the time. In my view we were just providing health support to a small society, which happened to be in uniform. Later on, with military operations…people have a slightly different view of it, but it is still the same thing. You are providing the health support which is preventive and therapeutic and rehabilitative to a certain group
of people who are conducting certain activities. So I don't have any difficulties with reconciling the provision of health support to military Services, I don't have any difficulties at all. Where I do have difficulties is the concept of provision of health support along the lines of the Japanese doctors who conducted biological warfare experiments
in World War II, or doctors like Joseph Mengele, who conducted experiments on prisoners in World War II. Now I can't contemplate how they could conduct those activities, and I would never allow that myself, I would never conduct it myself, and I would never have allowed it to be conducted by anybody under my command. So there were quite distinctly
different concepts of provision of health support to military forces versus experimentation and war crimes. I couldn't support war crimes or the mistreatment of soldiers or detainees. Along the lines of what we're seeing in Iraq at the moment. It is totally unacceptable and symptomatic of a total breakdown of command and leadership.
And after New Guinea, where did you move to from there?
We then went to Wagga, Wagga Wagga in New South Wales, to the recruit training battalion at Kapooka. I was in command there again, of the 7 Camp Hospital at Kapooka, I had a staff of about forty or fifty people, and it was tremendous, I loved it. We lived in a married quarter on the base, there was a huge staff of four or five hundred, all dedicated towards training recruit soldiers into the Australian Army. It was a great crowd of people, everybody worked hard.
It was an important job; it was important developing all those young people. Not just to be soldiers, but to be good citizens and to be good Australians. It was great from a health point of view. It was interesting. We saw a lot of interesting medical conditions related to military training, training injuries, muscular skeletal injuries,
a lot of the psychological aspects of training, because recruit training was demanding and challenging. I saw interesting patterns of behaviour of people, put under pressure, both the trainers and those being trained. militarily it was very good, the leadership of the place was excellent. A great crowd of people,
it was a great crowd to be operating with. I learnt a lot about the army then. I learnt a lot about leadership, I learnt about command, command is very humbling. We moved into the Wagga civilian society more there than we were able to in Papua New Guinea and that was interesting, being involved in a thriving, well developing regional centre.
Our second daughter was born there, that was good. We had a lot of fun. It was about that stage that I decided I was in the right place, that I was a military physician and I was there to stay. I felt quite dedicated to the army, I felt privileged to be an officer and to be involved with an organisation that had, I felt, good decent goals, developing the youth of the country,
leadership, working hard, good honest hard work. And it worked out well. I had a couple of successful years there. I was identified as a guy who might be able to contribute in the future and selected as the first doctor to go to the Australian Command and Army Staff College at Queenscliff. So I enjoyed it, I made good progress there.
So before Wagga, you weren't quite sure if you were in the right spot,
and doing the right thing, and then Wagga reaffirmed it?
Yes, that's right. In Papua New Guinea I was working very much as a doctor in a military environment. In Wagga I was working the same way, but also as a military officer and comfortable in that environment, someone who was contributing to it, not just operating in it, but somebody who was contributing actively with it.
I felt like I was part of the team and that I belonged there.
Earlier you touched on the psychological impacts of training and so on that you dealt with, can you just go through those?
Well, yeah….recruit training is challenging and demanding. It is physically demanding, it is psychologically demanding. It is deliberately done that way. People come to the military from different backgrounds, different cultures, different expectations,
different levels of physical fitness, education, maturity, mental ability, things like that. Recruit training is basically designed to homogenise those people. To get them to behave in a manner that is militarily acceptable, to work as teams, to do as they're told. They are deliberately and
forcibly, I don't mean physically, but forcibly socialised in the military. They come to see themselves as part of the military, rather than individuals in a society. But they are part of the group and that they have obligations as part of that group. The take of normal life, that is now over. You are part of this group, you will give, you will assist, you are part of the team, you were expected to perform. So yeah, it is a challenging time, a challenging period of a young person's life
to be going through that, and different people react to it differently. Some love it and thrive on it and enjoy it and excel at it. Some cope, and some don't cope and have a lot of trouble. I think most people in their first week or two of recruit life, if they were allowed to walk out the door, most of them would. And clearly that is not what the military has got in mind, so an easy exit is not available to begin with. It is later.
The view is to get people over that hump and start to become comfortable and working in teams, but that takes some time. And a lot of people have difficulty adjusting to that, so there is infringement of rules and people get jailed and there is punishment. There are rewards and punishment that seem harsh, but there are good reasons for it, from a military point of view. There are necessary restrictions in personal liberty in a military force,
particularly on operations and people have got to be trained to understand how to work together in a difficult environment, and that means constraints, during training. Not everybody likes it. People go on hunger strikes when they're in jail, and I had to deal with things like that. Sadly, some people self harm. While I was there a recruit did commit suicide, which was a terrible tragedy.
It was a tragedy for him and his family, primarily. It was a tragedy for the system, in clearly that it was preventable and I had to examine what we had done there to see why it hadn't been prevented. I think the young man in retrospect, I think he had had some previous mental illness that hadn't come to light through the military screening process, and I think he had been searching for…he was a bit older than the average recruit,
I think he was about thirty at the time, and I think he was searching for himself in life and he hadn't really found it and he was disappointed in what he had found in himself. When you are pushing fifty or a hundred people through a week, sometimes an individual will be overlooked. So that was a very sad, regrettable event. I can still remember that quite clearly. I think
the military at the time and the health services and everybody reacted to it, and tried to put in place greater safe guards to prevent that sort of thing in future. But with large numbers, unfortunately it will happen from time to time. And you've probably seen that movie Full Metal Jacket, when one of the recruits commits suicide. Very sad, it's a similar sort of process.
That movie concentrated on the harsh and perhaps negative aspects of recruit training, more than perhaps the positive ones, that people do get benefits from it. A lot of people gain a tremendous amount, an unbelievable amount in such a short time, in terms of physical and emotional strength, self-confidence, team work, communication skills, happiness in where they're going. By far and away the
majority of people have those sort of outcomes, but sadly there are some negative ones occasionally. But for me overall it was a very positive experience. I enjoyed it very much. If I had the opportunity, I would do it again.
So there are similarities between Full Metal Jacket and recruit training?
Oh yeah, perhaps superficially at least, yes. About bringing people in with different backgrounds and trying to get them…
restricting their autonomy, restricting their freedom, getting them to behave as a group, rapidly socialising them into a different organisation. Full Metal Jacket was very harsh. Part of the reality I'm sure, but the message was one of forced, harsh socialisation. I mean,
hard behaviour in a hard environment.
When you have someone who goes to that length of suicide and so on, is that an extremely rare case, or what percentage of…
Yes, it is. Later on when I was at Australian Defence Headquarters, the suicide question would come up regularly. The suicide rate in the Australian Defence Force is far lower than the Australian community.
I think it was about ten percent of the normal Australian rate. There'd be good reasons for that; it is largely due to the healthy worker effect. That people are selected who are medically and physically and psychologically fit. So one would expect a lower rate. And of those who had committed suicide, the analysis … these figures are out of date,
but five to ten years ago, the suicides were related to mental illness, indigenous mental illness. Mental illness which had occurred from within the person, rather than as a result of military abuse, bastardisation, external pressure, physical abuse, torture, anything like that. Not as a result of that, no. Often
depression, severe depression, sometimes related to psychiatric illness, frank psychosis, occasionally drug induced. But not due to military brutality.
Was there bastardisation around at that time?
Not that I was aware of. I've never received it, I've never handed it out, I've never witnessed it. The term is an emotional one.
And I think it is largely meant to mean extreme physical, emotional or personal humiliation. If that is what it means, no, I've never been aware of it, or seen it practised. I have however seen and been involved with recruit training which does involve shouting at people, and challenging them
physically and emotionally and mentally, with a view to strengthening them, to helping their self-confidence, to understand their own abilities and their limitations so they can perform at optimal level on a bad day, and look after themselves safely, and look after their mates, when they have to and their survival may depend on it.
I suppose sometimes there is a thin line between helping and…it depends on the character of the person, does it?
Yes, a lot depends on the character of the person, and that is why there is quite an in-depth screening process in selecting members of the Australian Defence Force. And that is all members. Potential leaders and…
soldiers and sailors and airmen. They are screened medically, physically, psychologically. The leaders are interviewed at length before acceptance, and then go through very long periods of training in the officer training facilities at Royal Military College and Service. And those that are detected with perhaps anti-social problems or whatever,
they are discharged, they go. Julian Knight, the guy who was accepted into the Royal Military College at Duntroon, he was discharged from the army because of his problems before he committed the Hoddle Street massacre. He was detected and discharged from the military, because of his underlying problems.
Would drill sergeants use a technique of picking on the weakest guy and making an example of him?
Look, I've never been a drill sergeant and I've never seen any of them do that. There's no picking on any guys, there is no trying to select the weakest guy. There is an attitude of trying to bring a whole group forward and some people may need more attention and assistance in going forward, which may cause greater interaction with that individual, but I couldn't call it picking on them. It is trying to get everybody through.
It is challenging, and it's hard, and it might involve shouting at people and different people interpret different things in different ways, but the purpose is to assist that person to meet their goals, and to help them achieve the outcomes that they have volunteered to achieve.
In your time there, how do you see a recruit straight off the bus as it were, and at the end of training?
How do you see them change over that time?
Well, they change enormously. They get off the buses and they're a bit lost and a bit tired and a bit bewildered and pretty nervous. There is usually a sergeant there who greets them and lines them up and says, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your left foot and this is your right. Put your left one forward, now your right, now your left, now your right. Left, right, left, right." About twelve weeks later at the parade, their proud parents
are usually there with a tear in their eye, and I wish I had a cent for every time I heard it said, "It's a bloody miracle." Parents very proud, tremendously proud of their young ones and the kids themselves are very proud of their achievement as well. It really is a remarkable change in such a short period of time.
Just on your own education in the military,
was your schooling similar to the military life? Did it prepare you at all?
I think it was in the sense that it was conservative, and it was authoritarian and we had constraints on our liberty and we were expected to do the right thing, and we were expected to achieve the utmost, get optimal results, mentally and physically and to be a member of the team and to work for a common good,
and to have the personal qualities of honesty and justice…yeah, a lot of similarities.
You just said how these guys came off the buses and would change drastically, do you think that people from that type of school background change as much?
Yeah, I think so. There is very much a subordination of your personal goals and activities to the goals and activities of the group. It's a big change for everybody. Maybe less for those who haven't had constraints on their freedoms and privilege, but when I was a boy, the state school systems were pretty tough, too.
I don't recall the sort of freedoms in the schools that perhaps exists today. So, I think there was…more similarities than differences I suspect then, maybe not now.
And it sounds like that time at Wagga was a very rewarding experience?
Yeah, it was great. I've been back to Wagga since and I still have friends there.
So where did you move onto from there?
I went from there for a year to Queenscliff, to the army's Command and Staff College, as a student. The role of the staff college is to prepare officers of major rank for command, unit command, and for staff appointments within the military. That's a year's full time study in military strategy, tactics, international affairs, communication logistics, management….
That's the stated goal of it. The real goal is to form a group. A group of people who can work together and go forward for those years together. And also to improve your communication skills, your verbal and written skills and presentation skills, to get ready for the environment to achieve your goals, it's done through negotiation and debate. There is no black and white, it's all grey, and everybody is fighting for resources
and arguing for their point and it tries to enhance your skills, to get into that environment, to be able to achieve the outcomes that the military requires, or that you require in your part in the military or your section or branch or unit or whatever. So that was a valuable year, it was good. It did equip me with those skills. My predecessors in command of medical units
and hospitals, I don't know how they did that job without that military training that I had. I suspect in retrospect that in a lot of cases they didn't do it, that their military second in command officers exercised that command in practice, but not in name. I found it terribly important for all of my later jobs. It was very, very valuable training. It wasn't all that enjoyable at the time.
It wasn't like tertiary education, it wasn't like a university, an enlightened atmosphere for bright young minds to open up and examine different things. It was constrained and directive and didactic and heavily assessed. And not terribly enjoyable, although there was a great social life and the student body was excellent. But in retrospect it was very, very valuable training.
It was fantastic, it helped me a lot. It gave me a lot of credibility in the army. Because as a doctor…in most of the services, the doctors aren't…they're regarded well in military operations, but not in peace time. They're not liked in peace time, because they're seen to be the ones that could threaten your career. If you've got a health problem, you could be medically discharged. The doctors would be the people who stopped the pilots flying.
They could threaten your command; it might be the end of your career. So they were not generally liked, from that point of view. From my experience in the military, the doctors, the rank was usually not highly regarded. The doctors, no matter how much military training they had done, their rank was not respected, particularly by the fighting corps officers,
and yet it was the same thing. The rank, all it did was give you the ability to talk with people, after all, that is what is was for. So that was resented. They thought we were making too much money, doctors were making a bit more money than the others, and they all resented that. Of course what they didn’t realise was that we were all being paid too little. It's kind of ridiculous that they thought it was a lot of money. I mean I had more money in the last four years than I did in the previous twenty seven years in the army. But that was their view.
But it did give me a lot of military credibility. Staff College was important for army officers; if you didn't go there you were gone. You weren't going to make it. If you did go there, that was great, and it bonded people together, and you were part of the crowd. That was useful, that was valuable, that opened a lot of doors for me, always, afterwards, in the army, the navy and the air force, and with other armies and people that I worked with internationally.
What's so important about it?
It's a career breaking step, a major step. You've got virtually no chance of being promoted past major unless you've been to Staff College.
So is it more about actually finishing there than what they teach you there?
Well, it was both. Particularly for me, I hadn't gone through the Royal Military College and had the lengthy military training and education that the armoured corps officers had had, so I gave it an enormous amount, probably got more from it than they did.
There was a lot of subject matter and the communication skills in the group, and the class of…we were the class of 1982, and we still are.
And you chose to go there?
I was asked if I would be willing to go there and I agreed, yes. Mind you, when it was put to me, it was put to me by a great Australian, a great doctor, a great army officer,
Digger Jones, General Bill Jones. Digger put it; it was a sort of package of two. If you go to Staff College we will send you on exchange with the British Army in Germany for two years. And that was a very exciting prospect that I wanted to undertake. So yep, I could see the benefit of going to staff college and I was very keen on the exchange posting in Germany, so I was pleased to go.
But I gained an enormous amount from it, and even more than I realised at the time. I think it was later when I was bumping into old colleagues from the medical school days, colleagues who were practising medicine back in the suburbs where they were born, a couple of blocks from where they were born, where they went to school. I found that they had done extraordinarily well medically,
and financially, but perhaps their understanding of life and our society and what not…I think I've been privileged to have had more exposure and more understanding than they've had. In a sense, they've had a much more narrower life, so it's been a privilege for me to have had those broader opportunities.
So once you finished staff college, you got your second part of the deal?
That's right, yeah, I went to West Germany. That was my first job as a staff officer, working only as a military officer; I didn't do any practical medicine there for two years. I was working as the staff officer, grade two medical on the headquarters of the 3rd British Armoured Division in West Germany. And that was in Zoss, about a hundred kilometres east of Dortmund, in West Germany, just north of the Mohne Dam, of Dambusters fame.
It was a beautiful area, and it was a great posting. It was very hard work, extremely difficult, very demanding work, because in 1983, in Europe, World War II was yesterday, and World War III was tomorrow. So we were flat out on war planning the whole time. My division, at that stage, was the reserve division for the 1st British Armoured Corps, and formed one of the reserves for the northern army group,
so it was a serious business. We had our own tactical nuclear weapons and we were preparing for war. We knew what the Russians were doing every day. We were having intelligence briefs on exactly what our enemy across the border was doing the day before. It was a very serious business. But very enjoyable. The British Army was very professional, hard working. My boss was
a good guy, he was an ex-South African, he was a dedicated man, a hard working man, a loyal guy, he was a bon vivant, he loved his food and wine and Belgian cigars. And he was replaced by a great guy, too. He was a great soldier. He had been a regimental medical officer on the parachute battalion, he had climbed Mount Everest, he was a good guy. Unfortunately, he was lazy.
He didn't do anything, he wouldn't even sign the ward documents that he had had to sign by law, he just wouldn't sign them. But Germany was fantastic. Our twin daughters were born. It was a bit hard going to Germany with three month old twins, particularly getting there. I was on an exercise about sixteen hours after arriving. In the field for about a week, with my wife setting up a new house, that was a bit of a challenge.
But it was tremendous. We travelled through Europe. The opportunity for travel…we got all around Europe, we got to everywhere. Europe was just so immensely culturally wealthy; you could just never see enough of it. We loved it, it was wonderful. When I give away my private business, we'll go back there and live for a couple of years.
It was just fantastic.
The dealing with nuclear weapons, that is something Australians don't have to normally worry about. What's the protocol there?
It's fairly complex, and I'm not sure of what we're allowed to say about it these days, but the weapons and things were there, that was the reality of the Cold War. There was a lot of munitions and equipment that was
forward stored in the middle of Europe, a lot of American weaponry and equipment, a lot of British…there were other things around there. All of these things were subject to security caveats that I had to be briefed about it, because our division, because of its operational role. Yeah, it was a serious business.
Nobody ever knew what was going to be happening. It is hard to understand these days, the Cold War is over, but it was extremely serious.
So you wouldn't have been surprised if within twenty-four hours the Soviets invaded or anything like that?
There was always different levels of security alert, different threat warnings….
You sort of got used to it after a while. When it wasn't happening, you noticed it. There were jets flying over all the time, there were active air defence missile stations everywhere. You don't see it here in Australia, but if you went to Israel or Iraq where it is there all the time, you notice it immediately, but after a year or two you take it for granted, it's part of the environment.
So when you first get there, there is a constant pressure but then it slowly relaxes?
Yeah, it slowly relaxes. But it was hard work. It was tiring. I was sad to leave there for a lot of reasons, you can never see enough of Europe, but I made a lot of friends and I pretty well knew that I would never see them again. And we'd been through a lot together, a lot of exercises, a lot of time in the field, working together.
It's hard leaving people like that. Really good people from different armies. A lot of British Army, but there were Canadians and Americans on exchange there as well. It was an interesting multi-cultural environment. We lived in a German town, which was great. We enjoyed that, and we liked interacting with the Germans. My wife had had the time to study a bit of basic German, so she was happy enough to go into a shop and speak in German. Whereas the British who we were working with, they wouldn't do that, and they would go into the hotels and speak in German
because we won the war. So they were missing out on all of that culture. As soon as they had more than a day off, they'd go to England for the weekend, which staggered me, I couldn't believe it. We started inviting some of the British to come into the hotels and guest houses with us, and they found it quite surprising. Many of them, the average British Army officer in those days could expect to serve ten years in Germany, and about six years in Northern Ireland. Many of them were on their third or fourth posting to Germany,
they couldn't speak German and they had never been in a German restaurant. It was quite extraordinary, but I guess they had won the war. I can see from your face that you can hardly believe it, but it is absolutely true.
You would think that integrating with the local people would be pretty important?
No, a lot of people that I was with there, during the weekend, they would sit down and watch Grandstand, the British sports show on television that was broadcast on
the British Armed Forces TV or something they would sit there and drink beer all Saturday arvo and that was it. That was culture for a lot of people in the British army.
And the US were there as well?
Yes, but we didn't have a lot to do with them. They were in the southern sector, much further south. It was perhaps a good nine hours drive away. But you knew when you were there, because it was that sort of Jack Daniels bar, and 'You're Now In Hog Country' sign and stuff like that.
They imported their own little bit of culture into Southern Germany.
Interviewee: Peter Warfe Archive ID 2487 Tape 04
Can you tell us what subsequent missions you had?
In 1985/1986, I was promoted lieutenant colonel, as the commanding officer of 11 Field Ambulance, a medical unit in Enoggera, Brisbane, the medical unit that supports the Sixth Brigade.
It's a unit of about a hundred and twenty people. A lot of vehicles, its role is to support a fighting brigade, collecting the casualties, immediate first aid, prevention, treatment, evacuation of casualties to hospitals. And that was a good posting. In the army, unit command is what it is all about. People aspire to unit command, it is a privilege to be in a command position, and that was a great job, there was a lot of work.
It was a good military job; it was a good medical job. It was a good field job, a lot of exercises, a lot of time in the field, Shoalwater Bay and working with two infantry battalions, the Calvary Regiment and Artillery Regiment. I enjoyed it, it was beaut. It was just another step along the way. Brisbane was good, I liked living in Brisbane. We bought our first house there,
we didn't make much money on it, we bought it anyway. Our kids started school. Yeah, it was one of the high points of my military career. I got a lot more exposure to the broader army there. It strengthened my career; it set me up well for further jobs. And about that stage,
from a medical point of view, I was working in the discipline of occupational medicine, and more preventive medicine, getting towards the public health area. That was a couple of years, and then my first posting to Canberra, in a clinical job, running the medical centre at Russell [Defence HQ] and as a staff officer in the Army Health Directorate, which is the first time that I had done that sort of job,
and I didn't like it much. It was sort of shuffling papers, and writing letters that other people say, "You should have written them another way." Policy documents, it was my initial introduction to that policy formulating level of the army. Not much time in the field, not much contact with soldiers, not much medicine, lots of paper shuffling…it's an important function, the management
of the army and the health service, but it is frustratingly slow, different goals, different timelines, different processes, interfaced with the civilian part of Defence [the Australian Defence Force], which I didn't like much. I didn't see myself as a public servant, and I didn't like working as a public service. There is a lot of tension between the uniform and the civilian part of the higher echelons in Defence.
There is a mutual lack of respect for each other. The civilians reckon that they know all about everything of Defence, because they've been there for years and years, and the uniform people think they know nothing about the war fighting function and the real issues of Defence. So there is a lot of tension and antipathy and back-stabbing and innuendo and mumbling. It is just not cohesive; it is not a pleasant working environment.
So I was glad to get out of there.
Even being in the medical field, you found that that was the case?
Oh yeah, not so much at that stage, but when I got back there later, very political. But at least there I was looked after well by the leadership in army health. General Bill Rogers was the boss at that stage, he's still a personal friend of mine, and he took me under his wing
and worked up an opportunity for post-graduate study in the United States. So I went to the Uniform Services University of Health Sciences, Defence at Maryland, and took a masters degree in tropical medicine, in 1988/89. And that was nice. It was nice to be back in a uni. It was interesting, a military university, I hadn't been to one before, but it was good work, a lot of good study, public health statistics,
environmental health, parasites, vector biology, a lot of hardcore computer studies, which were good. Late 1980s, computers were getting around…not like personal computers now and laptops, but more and more so it was a great opportunity to be formally trained about computers. And it was nice to be living in Washington D.C….Well, on the edge of Washington, D.C. We travelled around North America and Canada. It was great, I enjoyed it very much.
Did it expand your view of the Americans?
Yeah, it did. It did. I found the stereotype American tourist or the Americans on television, to be quite different in reality. Where I was living, Washington was actually a sort of a south of the United States; I found them to be a very courteous, God fearing, polite and friendly people. Very generous of spirit, great hospitality,
but unfortunately pig ignorant about anything that exists outside of America. A great knowledge of their own country, although half of them wouldn't know where Texas is, but none of them would know where Italy is. One guy asked me if Australia was competing in the Olympic Games. They'd ask you questions like, "Is it cold in Australia in winter, or is it hot?" And they couldn't understand the Southern Hemisphere.
It was just a different internal focus, not much understanding of anything outside their own country. But very honest and hard working. The university studies were really demanding, very hard. Harder than our university studies. We were starting most days at seven a.m. There were exams every week. I must have had eighty exams in a year. At least eighty. We had to do ten hour epidemiology study periods a week.
Yeah, it was hard work. But it was enjoyable and useful. It was a good time of my career to get some retraining and further education. The masters degree set me up for getting specialist registration back in Australia when I came back.
So you were getting specially qualified in tropical medicine and public health?
Yes. Public health, looking after the health of the populations, preventive medicine.
So that was the right sort of training for the next step of the military and for outside, preventive programs, immunisation, health surveillance, vector biology surveillance, field preventive programs, health policy formulation, the medical planning for war, medical planning for military operations, health preparation of forces, it was good.
It's a very vast scope of….
Yes, it was a big area.
How did you get involved in the Humanitarian Health Support Services, Land Command?
Well, after the United States I was promoted colonel and I went to Land Headquarters, it was then the senior operational headquarters of the Australian army, where the planning for war, military operations and humanitarian operations occurred.
So that is where they fixed plans for the defence of Australia, the fixed plans for…say, the evacuation of Australian expatriates from another country if something goes wrong, the fixed plans for disaster relief. All of that was occurring at that stage, the operational planning. Not the strategic planning, not the big picture, how does Defence work with Foreign Affairs or police, but if there was
a tidal wave that knocked over Townsville, how would we go in there, where would we set up, how would this be done? Those sort of things. And it was about that stage that I think Australia and Defence and the army was coming out of the post-Vietnam slump. There had been virtually nothing for us for years, but it was about then that there was a bit more interest in us contributing to overseas activities,
and a few interesting little things came up. There was the support to the UN [United Nations] group in Southern Africa…I can't remember the name of the country now. There was a group of engineers there, and there was some health support to that activity. And then there was a humanitarian relief operation in Kurdistan, and we contributed a large medical mission to that.
There was a lot of medical planning for support for any operations that may occur in Bougainville, even then, going back then to 1991. It was another six years before we actually went in there, but the planning was being done then. And then there was more UN activity and then the deployment of an infantry battalion to Somalia, in support of the famine relief there. That had a large medical support contingent; we did the planning for that.
So that was an exciting period, that was good. That was at a high and exciting dynamic level of operational command in the Australian Army. It was a senior level of health planning. I was working with a lot of good people. Unit commanders and brigade commanders, brigadiers, generals, colonels. People I had known for a couple of decades by that stage. People that I had worked together with elsewhere,
been to staff college. We were living in Sydney, we were in a married quarter overlooking Middle Harbour at Mosman, nice. It was the only way I was ever able to do that. Did a lot of travel then, a lot of travel, in Australia and overseas. Yeah, it was a very exciting time. A lot of work, it was busy, it was very busy. Yeah, I would typically work
three weekends a month, couple of nights a week, but enjoyable.
You actually weren't deployed on any of these missions, were you?
No, I was doing the planning for them.
The operational planning aspect…
Yes. And the headquarters was commanding a lot of the mission, so I had some technical control of some people who were overseas.
How did you gather the intelligence?
How was that presented to you? The political and the ground situation of the nations affected?
It was largely strategic intelligence. It was gathered in Canberra by the intelligence gathering agencies, and that is done through a variety of sources. That is done in conjunction with the major allies, particularly the Americans. A lot of information is shared. Information comes from various sources,
paper, electronic, human intelligence. It is collated, analysed, pictures are built up. We had our own intelligence cell at the Land Headquarters, but it looked at more of the operational intelligence, rather than what is the geo-political structure of a place like Iraq, but actually how much water is there and what is the airfield like in Baghdad, that sort of thing. If you are going to put forces in, exactly how you would be able to do it. From a health point of view, there is a health intelligence office in the surgeon general's office of the Australian Defence Force.
They worked closely with the Americans and others, gathering information on health threats. They have information on health threats; they've got access to health surveillance data, disease trends, epidemic data, information about health infrastructure, hospitals, water, garbage disposal, things like that. So you can get a picture of what sort of health support a deployed force may require, in terms of prevention, getting it ready, immunisation, perhaps medications to be taking,
the provision of safe water, the provision of safe food, disposable hazards, having some idea about treatment facilities on the ground, evacuationary sources, ground, surface, air, where is the closest surgical facilities, how to get people back to Australia if necessary or an allied force hospital, the provision of drugs, blood, diagnostic services,
x-ray, laboratory, therapeutic services, medical, dental, nursing, physiotherapy, things like that….
It is extremely extensive. So you were only involved with Australia's segment of that? The operational assistance, Australia's segment?
So this naturally moved on well for your next appointment as Director of Defence Force and Occupational Health…
The difference there was it was going from the operational headquarters, into…there were two different things, it was from an operational to the strategic headquarters, so nation to nation, and also into a joint headquarters, army, navy and air force, and also Defence civilians. So while it wasn't a change in rank, and a lot of the work sounds the same, it was an entirely different environment. And an important one.
The work I enjoyed, but I didn't enjoy the environment much. I didn't much enjoy the political interface, writing countless, endless briefs about issues and relatively trivial issues, in case a minister or somebody happened to be asked a question in the house. Endless briefs about possible things, press releases, media questions, going on and on and on, and endless reviews.
Review after review after reviews, restructure, restructure…but not really improving defence health strategic capability. It was supporting the apparatus of government and just constant review and change.
Why do you think that these reviews didn't lead to more effective changes?
Well, I think a lot of the reviews…
A lot of reviews are put into place for different reasons. It's because there it’s a new minister or a new government or it’s a new defence strategic initiative, so there is a review for a certain reason rather than improving the health services. It's to prove that this is a better government,
or to cut costs, or redirect resources from one area to another. It is not necessarily to improve things. Now that might sound a bit cynical or a little bit obscure, but a lot of the reviewing, it's as though it is a substitute for working. "We don't have anything to do so we will have a review."
Or, like the huge strategic operational staff, they're planning all the time, and when there's an operation they run the operation, and the rest of the time, they're doing other things. We were trying to improve health policy in terms of prevention, treatment, things like that, improving the hospitals, improving the training, but the reviewing was always about cutting back.
Less people, cut back the ranks. You see, when I first joined the army, there were…in the Army Health Services, there was a major general, a brigadier and a dozen colonels. When I left, there was one dedicated colonel's position; the rest of it was sort of joint. So they've all been very severely cut back, and that was as a result of the reviews. Different reviews in different places resulted, eventually, in a significant
reduction in the capacity of the health services to support the army, the air force and the navy. Fortunately to date there have been no problems, because the operations are relatively limited in scope. But if they've an operation of higher intensity, with much higher casualties, there could be problems. During that time, it probably sounds a bit negative, but there were a number of
good policies put into place, we analysed what we had been doing, we looked at the costs of health services, we looked at ways of improving it, and largely the health support supplied to the army, navy and air force, on a day to day basis is good. It's low level, it's sort of general practice level, a high preventive practice level, but of course in military operations the level of health support required is that of a higher level.
And during that time, I guess I came to realise that this was not the sort of work that I had joined the army before, I enjoyed the provision of health support in the field and in military operations. But with all the cutbacks, there were just not the opportunities there for people to go one.
The focus was more on resources and cutting back and saving money, those who were good at saving money and cutting back and closing hospitals and reducing costs were being rewarded and getting the promotions. I had no interest in that, I was only interested in improving systems and building it up and getting more doctors and trying to improve…to fight for more resources and build it up.
In Occupational Health and Safety…as a director on that branch, how had occupational health and safety impacted on the army during your period as director, and not just that, but even before that, how has it changed?
The army always had a very strong focus on safety, always. Both in peace-time training and also in military operations. There's a whole hierarchy of controls
in military operations to make the activities as safe as possible. Now, that sounds a little odd I know when you think about what armies do in war. But in prosecuting a war, an army projects its firepower and combat power in a very deliberate, very controlled and effective manner to guarantee outcomes. Whether it is the destruction of the enemy or whatever it is, with minimal loss and damage to your own forces. So there is a central backbone
of safety that has always run through the army. In recent years of course, there has been a stronger focus on occupational health and safety throughout the fabric of the nation, not just this one, and a lot of that has flowed through to the armed forces as well. So I think, if there were shortcomings in safety practices, it has been addressed much more aggressively in the past five to ten years,
with things like noise exposure, perhaps attitudes towards physical loads carried and physical activity, micro environments, hot and noisy environments inside tanks and warships, fighters, things like that. There has been a stronger focus on environmental health and occupational health and safety in those environments than did exist before.
Although I think the army, navy and air force always helped people conduct those sort of health and safety environment audits in the past. With all these reduction in the past few years, and with more civilian doctors on bases, there has been much less of it. There has been this feeling…there has been a misunderstanding that military health staff just provide clinical services, whereas they provide a lot more. They provide preventive services, health surveillance,
planning functions, which civilian doctors have no interest in at all.
How did you get selected from this point to your first advance mission to Rwanda?
Well, the United Nations had been involved in Rwanda, before the genocide of 1994, and they'd had a small presence there,
and they could see a genocide was going to occur, but there was resistance from the UN to reinforce the UN group there, and I think it was largely….undoubtedly there was American ambivalence, they were stunned at what had happened to them in Somalia and they were loathe to get involved in another African adventure. At that stage, if the UN said, "No," it was hard to get much UN action up.
That has changed a bit recently, hasn't it? But at that stage, that was the case. So, there were about two hundred and fifty United Nations people there when the genocide occurred in April, 1994, wasn't it? When up to about a million people were killed, and about half a million to a million went over the border into refugee camps, or stayed in Rwanda, or stayed within Rwanda in internally displaced people camps. So after the genocide….
It seems a bit late, doesn't it? But afterwards, the former Rwandan Patriotic Front, which had been refugees in Uganda swept from the north down through Rwanda and captured the country and took it over. And of course, the place had just been wrecked, it was absolutely destroyed. There was no power, there was no food supply, there was no police, no transport, no fuel. It was just wrecked. So the United Nations decided to assist Rwanda in rebuilding,
and to establish a peace presence in which the country would have a chance to rebuild. So that was the central thrust of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda, UNAMIR. And our role in it, it was about three and a half thousand soldiers, mostly African infantry battalions, but our role in that was to provide the level two and level three, the evacuation
and hospital support to the UN force. And from within spare capacity to provide humanitarian relief to the Rwandan people.
And this was for the second mission?
This was for both missions.
Both missions, okay. When you specifically went for the one week reconnaissance mission, can you tell us firstly how you got there, and then when you got off at Rwanda what the actual situation was in that week that you went there?
There had been a contingent of about three hundred Australians there for about four months. I'd been told I’d be commanding the second contingent, so I went for a reconnaissance in late 1994, October or November. Flew in, there was a C130, an air force flight, going to carry a lot of equipment….
to where we had another UN deployment in the north east of the country. And I went with that plane, we landed at Kigali, I was met, Wayne Ramsey, who was my predecessor in Rwanda, stayed with him for three or four days, visited the UN headquarters, visited the Australian hospital in Kigali, visited one of the refugee camps at Karballah, and had a good look around there. It was interesting.
The place was wrecked, and I had never really seen anything like that before and there was still a lot of violence. In fact, we stopped at a town called Butari, near Karballah, and I checked with the guard about taking a photo of a destroyed building and he agreed. I took the photo, but his mate didn't like it, and tried to take the camera, and there was a bit of trouble and they shot up our car. It was a bit of a difficult day, actually.
Yeah, I had no doubt about the place and what was going on there…I knew it was going to be quite a challenge to come back, but we had a couple of weeks training in Townsville in January/February 1995, then I went there for about six or seven months throughout 1995.
As the operational commander of that contingent….You'd understand the strategic problems of Rwanda, I trust.
Firstly, what were the main factions involved to your knowledge at the time?
The situation in Rwanda was that the government and the army, the Rwandan Patriotic Army had been refugees in Uganda until about a year before, so they had come in and now they were the legitimate army and government of the country of Rwanda. There were still a lot of the former government people
and the perpetrators of the genocide were still largely inside Rwanda, and they were still fighting each other. There was lawlessness, there was no police force, there was a lot of random killing, a lot of hijacking of vehicles, a lot of assault. The jails were chock-a-block with supposed criminals. There was a lot of violence in the refugee camps
and it was difficult…on top of that, the UN was there trying to provide a security presence, and then there was about three thousand non-government organisations that were helping people, largely in the internally displaced peoples' camps. And the problem here was there was tension between all the different players. The government didn't want the UN there, because they couldn't assert their authority and reassure the population that they were
in charge of the country, because if that were the case, why would you need the UN? The UN was there, the UN military was there with a view that the RPA [Rwandan Patriotic Army], the army of the legitimate government was the enemy, the United Nations civilians that were there didn't give a damn about anything except for their income because they were on UN tax-free dollars, and they certainly weren't interested in the United Nations Force at all. They were only interested in themselves. The non-government organisations were looking after
the people in the internally displaced peoples camps, who the government regarded as the perpetrators of the genocide. So nobody trusted each other and everybody else was a bad guy. It's a fundamental paradox of humanitarian operations that this is what happens. That the non-government organisation ends up propping up people that the rest of the population hates
and would like to kill. So the non-government organisation and the UN are hated by the legitimate government of the country.
All the non-government organisations pretty much…
Pretty much. So you've got…there's this incredible tension. And Fiona Terry, I met her there, she was the president of Medicine Sans Frontieres, she wrote a book recently explaining this central paradox of humanitarian operations.
That those who are providing the support are paradoxically seen as prolonging the heartache and trouble, and supporting the wrong side.
It is an extremely complex situation…
Yeah, it's complicated. So there was this seething tension all the time. Most of the government of Rwanda, half of their people had been killed in the genocide.
The same with the Rwandan Patriotic Army, so they hated all the people in the refugee camps, they thought they were criminals and they deserved the most severe punishments. They said they weren't bloodthirsty; they only wanted to execute six or eight hundred criminals that had perpetrated the genocide. That was their view, that wasn't many people, that wasn't my view. They were trying to create an atmosphere of reconciliation,
but in doing it the RPA was virtually lawless. I mean, they were killing all over the place.
So the RPA was the Tutsi faction, is that correct?
Yes, that was the army.
The RPF was the Hutu?
No, the Rwandan Patriotic Front was when they were based in Uganda. It became the Rwandan Patriotic Army after they won the civil war and knocked out most of the previous governing people. And the Tutsi-Hutu mix wasn't quite
as separate as one might think. It wasn't just on cultural grounds, it was also based on wealth and tradition and things. The distinction was blurred. But the previous Hutu dominated government had been involved with the militias largely attempted to exterminate the Tutsi based population. And the army which came in and fought the civil war and won was largely Tutsi dominated.
From what I gather from media reports, this was an extremely organised and methodical campaign to exterminate the Tutsi…
Yeah, it was, there is no doubt about it, there is hard evidence to indicate that it was well planned, it was well orchestrated, the media were used extensively in spreading the message and to incite violence and to encourage the killing to occur.
Can you give us the chief examples of this orchestration of violence?
Well, I wasn't there at the time, but the evidence that has come out later was that there was a radio station in Kigali, the capital city, Radio Television Libre de Mille Collines that was the French word, the city of a thousand hills. And the radio was broadcasting the message to ‘crush the cockroaches, fill the graves’. And some of those broadcasts were by the mayors…
or the prefects of the districts, junior to middle level political figures, and those broadcasts have been recorded and have been part of the ongoing war trials which have been occurring in the last ten years. There is no doubt that it was orchestrated, that it was well planned. It had to have been. You couldn't kill that many people that quickly unless it was well planned, and well controlled. It just can't physically be done.
They weren't using bombs and flame throwers or biological weapons or anything like that, or chemical weapons. They were using clubs and spears and machetes. You can't kill half a million people in a couple of months unless it is well controlled and well orchestrated. So there is no doubt that that was the case. And the United Nations knew it and did nothing about it. They knew it for a fact.
Why was that? Why was there such global inaction on this?
I think there were probably a number of reasons. Firstly, there had been a long history of problems in getting involved in troubles in Africa. And it went back to the Mau Mau in Kenya, there had been troubles in Somalia with the Americans, the ‘Black Hawk down’ incident and having soldiers dragged through the streets behind vehicles.
Like in the siege of Troy, and like we have recently seen in Iraq again. It paralyses the population back home when they see that sort of stuff. So the Americans were most reluctant to get involved in another African adventure, I know that. Africa itself is internally divided between East and West Africa, and South and North Africa, and that is largely based on historical grounds.
Colonial activity and the spread of resources, the wealth and riches. So the East Africans seemed to hate the West Africans as much as the Arabs and the Jews. So the Organisation of African States…either they didn't have the will nor probably the wherewithal to be able to mount any effective intervention to prevent any action in Rwanda. The African view about European involvement was that there was no oil in Rwanda.
That there was no interest for Americans and Europeans being involved in Rwanda. There were no riches to be gained from it. I'm not saying that was the case, but that was the Rwandan view. The other view of Africa was, at this stage, all the fighting and the huge UN Force build up in Yugoslavia had occurred, so the Africans had a strongly racist view that the Americans and the Europeans were only interested in white man's wars, and didn't care about blacks killing each other,
and they used to state that frequently, the Africans. I don't think that’s true either, but that was their perception. The next thing was when the images, the stark images of the genocide actually came to air, I think there was disbelief. It is just hard to understand when you're sitting in your lounge room that tens of thousands of people are being killed everyday,
by people who know each other. I think they were just stunned, I mean, "What can you do about this?" I think there was a reluctance of UN member states to, one, believe it, two, they had already talked themselves out of any effective intervention for what they considered to be effective reasons and, three, now it was getting worse. "What can we do about it? Um, um, um."
So sadly, I think, once again we see this genocide on a huge scale, like Cambodia, or Europe in World War II and nobody does anything. And that was certainly the view of the Rwandan Government afterwards. You can imagine their view, the United Nations stood by while all this killing occurred. And then UN goes in to build up the force
and support the NGOs [Non government Organisations] largely looking after the people that the Rwandan government had thought had committed the genocide. A lot of tension. A lot of tension. And so it was in that, that sort of seething background that the seeds for the Kibeho massacre were sown. There was a lot of displaced peoples camps, all around Rwanda, that were being supported by UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] , Oxfam [British relief agency],
other non-government organisations, and it had been going on and on for ages, and the government was furious that these camps were still in existence, they wanted to get the people home, and try to get normality back to the country. The trouble is when the people left the camps and went home, there were property disputes. There were disputes because of the people who had lived in the houses in the villages immediately before the genocide, and then these refugees from Uganda had come back in…
They had been in Uganda for a generation, for twenty years. So they came back in and said, "My family used to live there twenty years ago, that is my house." So there was killing and dispute and there was no legal system to resolve it. There was talk about getting ID [identification] cards, but that didn't help, because of the original split of the nation's population into Hutus and Tutsis had been done by taking photographs of people. And a lot of people thought that those photographs had caused the unequal division and the selection
of people for extermination later. So it was really hard to get the people out of those camps where they were being fed and watered better than the basic population.
Now in regard to this sort of retribution that was going on in Rwanda, how different was it to your previous experience in Papua New Guinea, in terms of the cultural and political differences?
Papua New Guinea, it had a popularly elected government, it was at peace. It had enormous tribal variations
and language difficulties, but its tribal warfare was very stylised, very ritualised, quite sophisticated actually, in that they used to put on more of a show. A hundred men from one side would gather on a hill, and a hundred men on the other side would gather on the hill, and they would have an orator and a witch doctor and they would shout abuse at each other for a day or two, usually throw some ceremonial spears and a couple of people might get hurt, but then they would go home.
That was quite a sophisticated, stylised thing. But the Africans, there was generations of inbred hatred of each other, with no problem about killing people. That sort of payback that I had seen in New Guinea, where if somebody wronged you, you had to get even, well that existed exactly in Africa, but getting even included killing people, killing, rape, murder, the whole lot.
That was the difference in Africa?
And also to be fair to a lot of the people, I'm sure they were told, "There is going to be this killing, and you're going to be doing the killing, otherwise we'll kill you." And a lot of people used that as a defence. Now whether that would be a justifiable defence in a court of law is one thing, but under those circumstances I think it's understandable.
Interviewee: Peter Warfe Archive ID 2487 Tape 05
Can you tell us the Australian involvement….what they saw the day of the massacre and so on?
Sure, what had been happening is the Rwandan government and the Rwandan Patriotic Army were sick and tired of the internally displaced peoples camps, where they thought the perpetrators of the genocide and perhaps former government forces were hiding.
They were forcibly closing the camps. The people weren't going back to their homes themselves because of the killing that was occurring when they went home. So they were generally closing the camp by blocking the access of the NGOs so they couldn't take food and water in, and then they'd surround the camp and fire a few shots in the air to dispel the people. And at a few of the camps it worked, the people went home. But also when other ones closed, they went to the bigger camps. So Kibeho was actually getting bigger.
There were attempts to move it out and we were organising transport to move the people out, to encourage them to leave. We were going to provide things like trucks with food on them, and say, "Get in the truck and have something to eat." But the Rwandan Patriotic Army wanted to move it along faster. In April, 1995, they put two battalions, about six hundred soldiers around Kibeho, and started firing in the air.
And they got a bit carried away and they fired into the crowd a bit, and there were some people killed, and there was a stampede and about ten people were killed. I visited then and I remember the ten bodies were laying out there, and I said to the Rwandan battalion commander to bury the bodies because they posed a disease threat…I don't think they really did, but it was…everybody was so agitated. So this went on over two or three days,
this sporadic shooting and firing at night, and there would have been some firing from the crowd at the soldiers as well. And machete attacks, and the next day there was a stampede and about another fifty people were killed, and there was more firing, and then they just went berserk and opened up and fired into the crowd for about an hour, with rifles and machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. And it had been difficult. There had been no food, no water for a few days,
people hadn't been sleeping, there was a rainstorm, people panicked, the Rwandan soldiers saw it as a breakout attempt. So they fired into the crowd and they killed another couple of hundred people. And it went on like that, all afternoon, backwards and forwards. They wouldn't let any UN people in to control it. There were some UN people there at the time, there was a Zambian company of soldiers, and we had about thirty people
providing medical support to the Zambians, but also the Rwandan group. The shooting and firing went on all day. At the end of it, there was a dispute about how many people had been killed, but we counted, one of my warrant officers counted, physically, with a counter, over four thousand bodies. And we evacuated three hundred people that day to a hospital near by. About a third with gunshot wounds, a third with machete wounds,
a third with gunshot and machete wounds. And as you can imagine, there was a fair bit of emotion around at the time, because as soon as the killing started, the NGOs left, all the United Nations civilian groups left there, largely because they had been told by their bosses in Geneva not to get involved in a forcible camp closure.
So at the very time the people actually needed the external support, everyone was leaving, other than the military. So that was difficult. And there was a lot of accusation and counter accusation and blaming later. The RPA tried to say that there had only been a couple of hundred killed, but in fact they had buried a lot of the bodies and they organised some contract transport to cart all the bodies out to a nearby town where they cremated by another contractor.
Which puts another light on contract services to the military, doesn't it? There was a UN investigation into the whole business, and that went on for weeks and weeks and they took plenty of evidence. And like a lot of these things they found that everybody was accountable but nobody was responsible. There were no charges, or anybody…I think the RPA battalion commander was probably relieved of command, but there was no investigation into it
in the sense that we would understand it. No proper legal process. And the camp sort of closed about a week later. And I remember speaking to the Minister of Health, he had been a doctor in Uganda, and the principal medical officer during the civil war, then became the Minister of Health…I said, "This business in Kibeho was pretty grim." He said, "Oh look, beforehand so many people were dying of starvation and disease,
there was about twenty dying a day, so we had to do something about it." So he sort of saw this intervention as a sort of a public health measure, which was putting an interesting spin on it. And the Rwandan Government never really understood what the to do was about. To them it was a drop in the bucket, and I guess…that photograph that I showed you when I was talking to the soldiers after the massacre, was to try and explain to them, to try and put this awful thing
into perspective. That whereas the killing in the camp had been shocking, you had to look at it in the context of Rwanda, within the last year or so half a million had been killed, a million refugees, half a million internally displaced people. That this was a terrible thing, but it was just another mark in a long and tragic story. They were horrified by what they had seen, and I guess devastated,
and we all felt guilty, that it should have been preventable, that we should have been able to do something about it. They were pretty angry. And I was trying to calm them down because I was afraid that people would start taking the law into their own hands, as it were, and might try to beat up a couple of Rwandan soldiers, which would have created…we would have had a lot of trouble. We had had confrontation with them, with soldiers cocking rifles and things before.
These people had done an awful lot of killing, and a few more wasn't going to bother them at all. And I didn't think it was worth spilling any Australian blood having a dispute with these guys. I tried to stress to them, that I think their very presence at Kibeho had actually diverted a disaster. As bad as it was, I think it was well within the capacity of the RPA to kill the whole hundred and twenty thousand people that were there.
Now that might sound a bit like an exaggeration, but don't forget it was only a year ago that they had been involved with killing more than a million of each other, and they thought that these people were the ones that had killed and murdered and raped their relatives and mothers and children, and they were going to give them a fair whack. And if the UN hadn't been there, I think they would have exterminated the whole camp. And certainly they weren't able to do that. They didn't try anymore forcible camp closures like that in the future.
A lot of their foreign aid was suspended immediately, which hurt them like hell, and that was largely due to the presence of the free international press that reported it, and a lot of very brave journalists who filmed this stuff and wrote it down and got the information out. And that hit them hard. That hit them in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars of US aid. And there was no more of that heavy handed tactic again. So that was the message that I had for our troops. In fact, I tried to change the focus and put it within the context
of the overall horror of the country, and in fact that their presence had done a lot of good, rather than the awful results that they had seen.
And the Australians having to watch this happening, do you know how they felt and did you see these things yourself?
Well, yeah. They were horrified, they were appalled. This was beyond the basic life experience of all of us.
And it was a matter of, as I said, trying to put it into the context of the whole long sad history of Africa and that part of Africa, and the recently very sad history, and that in a sense the people there take it in turns being refugees. There are all these refugees now in the Congo, and Tanzania and perhaps Burundi, and
in another ten or fifteen years, what is going to happen again? It's a cyclical type of thing. Unfortunately, a lot of our people who were involved there, and it wasn't just for the massacre, we had a hundred people working around Kibeho over two or three months and they saw a lot of death and a lot of sadness in that time. Unfortunately a lot of them have had trouble coming to grips with it. I know we've had a lot of people suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. A lot of them have left the military.
I believe about seventy or eighty of the six or seven hundred people who served there in a year are receiving Department of Veterans’ Affairs pensions for stress related problems now. That's a fair bit, that is ten percent. It is nearly ten years, but it is still increasing. The US Army experience in Vietnam of PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] was ten to twenty percent
maybe twenty years later, so it is getting up there. There is a price to pay for all of this, these peacekeeping operations…
The soldier having to watch and not being able to do anything about it, that adds to the PTSD, does it?
Yeah, the thought is that the peacekeeping…and there is a certain paradox about it, that
soldiers are no good for peacekeeping, but there is no-one else who can do it. The people who were trained to get involved in the action when it becomes very hectic and busy, are actually expected to act with restraint, and to stand back and not get involved. Which is counter-intuitive and it is against the way that they have been trained. So there is enormous frustration of seeing these things and not being able to do anything about it.
And with it goes a lot of guilt, didn't do anything, could have done something…."Should I have done something? I was ordered not to? My boss was no good; we should have been able to do this." A lot of internal tension.
Were they the kind of things that you were hearing from the troops themselves?
Oh yeah, sure. And today, we still talk about it when we get together. These people are never going to forget something like that.
Why couldn’t they get involved?
For a number of reasons. The United Nations peacekeeping mandate, the rules of why they are in there expressly prohibited intervening in these sort of activities. Our force commander at the time was directly ordered by New York not to get involved if there was a forcible camp closure. He was directly and clearly ordered not to be involved.
And there were even questions why there were Zambians and Australians there at the time that it occurred. Well, in fact the Zambian company was there to provide security within the camp, because the people inside the camp were fighting with each other, and we were there to supply health support because the place was falling apart. There was a lot of illness and there were a lot of people dying regularly, because of the conditions in the camp.
But we were expressly forbidden to be involved. And I'd say that…a lot of people would say, "Well, there was an infantry company of Zambians, why didn't they do anything about it?" Well, there were two infantry battalions. There were a hundred Zambians, and six hundred RPA. If they intervened, I think the RPA would have killed them all.
And they had a track record for doing that. Don't forget that just before the genocide started, the former government captured twelve Belgium soldiers and they were ordered by New York to hand over their weapons. And the head of peacekeeping in New York at the time was a man called Kofi Annan. [I was told] he gave the order for the Belgians to hand over their weapons and all twelve of them were killed within a minute. So there was no doubt about what these people would do to UN Forces if they retaliated.
Quite simply, they were outgunned.
Were there Australians who questioned the orders at the time that this was happening?
Oh well…not questioned in a sense that they argued the point, they accepted…There are formal rules of engagement. There is the political rule, the mandate of the UN Force, there are formal rules of engagement agreed both from New York
and the Australian rules of engagement. They are converted into orders for opening fire which provided the legal authority for people firing or not. And our people had been well briefed on the rules of engagement, and the legal authority for the force, and the legal authority for them to open fire or not. And they knew they could be prosecuted if they fired, if people were killed or injured
as a result of a breach of those orders for opening fire, they knew they could be prosecuted. They had no doubts about the limit of their authority and the limits of the action that they could take and I had no doubt about the limits that I had as a commander. It didn't mean we liked it, but we had no doubts about what our orders were and what we could do and what we couldn't do. And I had no doubt about what he risks were either.
These were dangerous and unpredictable people that were quite used to killing and did it without blinking, without a moment's hesitation, and often enjoying it. [The Australians] saw a soldier kill a woman and he smiled. He was smiling because he demonstrated his power to just kill somebody else, and that was all that was in it. Like [President of the US] Bill Clinton, he did it because he could. Same thing, he just came out with that recently.
The ultimate abuse of authority, doing something because you can.
So you saw these events for yourself, how did they affect you?
The same as everybody else. Horror, disgust, revulsion, lack of understanding, disbelief. But once again, within the context, it was consistent with the very
sad long history of that part of the world, and the way that they treated each other. And in my, I suppose, relatively long life now, we've seen a lot of pockets of mass murder and genocide around the world. Whereas we don't like it, and we have trouble understanding, we know that it does occur. We wonder about the reasons as preventative medicine physicians; I like to think how we can
stop this sort of thing in the future, and I'm sure like all like-minded people. But these are extraordinarily complicated issues. Generations old. Hate, prejudice, get even, payback, resources, wealth, power, authority, blame, superstition. Very, very complicated.
There is not a really humane way to kill people,
but the way they were going through in this massacre, was it particularly gruesome?
Well, it was just repeated and random shooting. Some of it was directly targeted. Some people were arrested by the RPA and marched off as though they were going to be incarcerated, but they were taken around the side of the hill and shot. There were an awful lot of children killed, which was very, very,
particularly upsetting to our soldiers. And the women in the camp were heard to be saying to the children, "When the shooting starts, run to the white men." And the kids did, and they hid in the wheel arches of the United Nations vehicles, and a number of them survived that way. But I've got photos of the Zambian soldiers carrying dead children out of the place, and that was very upsetting for a lot of people. Particularly those of us who had children ourselves.
Yeah, it was difficult.
At that time do you feel more like you are in a war zone rather than in a humanitarian operation?
Yes, that’s right. There was plenty of lead in the air to make it seem like it wasn't peace keeping, to me. But there is a hierarchy of the way people look at things. Like the World War II veterans thought Korea was a joke, Korea thought Vietnam was a joke. The Vietnam veterans think peacekeeping isn't real military operations.
And that might be right, but I tell you what, when you're actually there it can be pretty startling stuff. And it doesn't matter how an operation has been categorised in New York or Canberra, killing is killing.
And with the Australians there, did you feel like you would be under attack at any point yourselves?
Yeah, at one stage…I wasn't there during the massacre. At one stage, a Rwandan platoon, about thirty soldiers,
came out of a church mission on a hill, and they marched down the hill singing, and everybody used to like their singing, and they used to go running around the streets in Kigali singing, but they didn’t know that they were singing, "We kill the Hutu, who will we kill next?" And this platoon marched down the hill and stopped at an Australian bunker and they turned towards it and cocked their weapons and there were about ten Australian soldiers in it, and the young section commander, a nineteen year old Australian, he ordered his section
to fix bayonets. In fact, they didn't fire at the Australians; they started firing into the crowd. But it was interesting, I was lecturing at a Law of Armed Conflict meeting some years later, and a lawyer said that the legal procession can't wait for the first poor bastard that gets his soldiers to fire when they shouldn't. And I explained this incident to them.
I said, "This nineteen year old man had thirty soldiers in front of him, cocking their weapons and pointing them at him. He had the presence and the control and the intelligence to get his soldiers to fix bayonets, that is to make an aggressive action, but not to cock their weapons." I'm not sure that fixing the bayonets stopped them firing, but he maintained the discipline and cohesion of his group by putting the bayonets on and they felt that they were doing something threatening
and they deterred that from going further. Now in that half a second that he had to make that decision, he could have easily told them to load their weapons, and if one rifle had gone off accidentally, as they do, those ten guys would have been dead in fifteen seconds. So I pointed this out to this lawyer who was looking for some poor bastard who had fired at the wrong time, and he had the grace to apologise actually, and felt that he had been misquoted
and it wasn't that sort of incident that he had been referring to. It is an awful lot of responsibility to put on the soldiers of a young man, in a situation like that. And he acted brilliantly. And it is at a time exactly like that, that the military training and their experience and skills and their knowledge and their working together, allows a person like that to make the right decision at the right time, the critical decision.
Do you know that if in those seconds of his decision
he had to weigh up the political ramifications and the wider impact of what he was…
He didn't have the time to look at all that. He knew what the extent of his authority was, what the orders for opening fire were, and what the risks were and he made the right decision.
Was that a one off circumstance? Were there many times when…
I'm sure there were a number of circumstances like that. Where a person was in an isolated situation,
he's in that position of command, he is in that position, or she, because of their training, their intelligence and their ability to motivate and lead others and they have to assess the situation rapidly and make a decision. And it comes back to our training. The military training of our commanders, our junior commanders in particular, is outstanding. Their selection and their training are outstanding. And it is for that very reason, so that those people do the right thing
during an extraordinarily difficult time.
And the Rwandan soldiers who were involved in the massacre, would there be communication between UN operations and those soldiers beforehand? Or was there talking between groups?
There was talking, but it was limited. And in the days before the massacre,
there was talking with the battalion commander there, and they were bragging that Kibeho had been going on for a year, and they'd closed it in three days, that they were closing it. And they were…I mean, they were tough guys. They were really strong, tough guys. They had been refugees for twenty years, treated very badly for twenty years; they had fought a civil war really hard. They were tough and strong men.
And where it sounds cowardly, and it is cowardly, this killing of the civilians in the camp, in the military operations in their civil war, they were brave and tough soldiers and they fought very hard. And they stood up to the UN very hard, and the NGOs. They said, "We closed the camps. You didn't do anything about it. You've been feeding these criminals. We closed the camp; now get these people out of here."
They regarded them as criminals?
They regarded them as criminals. They regarded them as a mix of the former government forces and the perpetrators of the genocide and that was it. And that they had been protected by the French when they came in, at the end of the civil war, and now they were being supported, fed and watered by the United Nations, and they felt that they should all be punished. They should be in jail or killed. They couldn’t jail them, and
there was no judiciary and no police force, so they were happy to kill them.
So there was a lot about retribution?
Oh yeah, absolutely. There was tremendous hatred, and it is still there. It is still there. The people that won the civil war are still the authority, the government and the army of Rwanda. Those who perpetrated the genocide and fled,
who are in the Congo, in Tanzania, and there is a lot of trouble in those refugee camps in the Congo, in particular now, and you hear of sporadic refugee camp exterminations occurring now. Oddly enough, Rwanda is more stable. They're even talking about providing a peacekeeping troop to the Sudan.
What was the initial aftermath of the massacre and what happened?
What happened…the Rwandan government, they downplayed it, they disputed…it became very silly; it became a concentration on body counts. How many people were killed, how many were not. And that became an argument. The Rwandans very effectively diverted the argument from
whether this was a legal or illegal activity, to whether three hundred of three thousand people had been killed. And of course whereas that is said, that wasn't the point. The point was whether it was legal or illegal. And if it were illegal, what action would be taken. The United Nations point of view was, of course,
the same thing. "Here we go again, there's been this massive disaster, we couldn't prevent it and we couldn't stop it." So they wanted the discussion about the matter over as soon as possible. But there was an external commission that came and reviewed everything, and found everybody accountable and nobody responsible.
And on the ground, as soon as it happened, were people coming to the hospitals and so on?
The bodies were cleared up very quickly. In a day and a half nearly all the bodies were gone. A lot were buried in the sewers around there, or were very quickly buried. A lot were transported out and burned in a nearby town. Those who were still alive, many dispersed the camp very rapidly. And a lot concentrated
in an area in the centre of Kibeho Camp, where the old Catholic mission station had been, and there were about five hundred there for another week or so, surrounded by the RPA. We went down there trying to get the people out on several occasions, and we did get some people out. And it was a disgusting scene because there were five hundred people in there and it was a cross between a garbage dump
and a mortuary and sewer, because there was nothing, there was just all these people living in an area half as big as a football field. And they still had some weapons in there, and they were firing occasionally, and the RPA were still killing them. And it was getting international attention. There had been this massacre. There was a lot more international press there,
and we took them down in the helicopters to film all this, because the RPA were going to violently terminate the incident, they were going to blow the place to bits. They were setting up anti-armour weapons and they were just going to smash down the buildings and slaughter the whole crowd. There was talk about an armed intervention, about attacking the RPA with infantry forces, and it was planned
about how it could be done, but it was realised that the RPA would have reinforced it and that the UN would have all been killed, and there would have been retaliation against all the UN throughout the country, and therefore a total disruption of any sort of security force being present. So in fact, what we did was we took about thirty members of the media with all their TV [television] cameras down there and filmed the whole thing. And the RPA couldn't afford to smash the place to bits, under those circumstances,
so then they organised some transport and got the people out and took the credit for a peaceful settlement of the whole issue. So they weren't primitive people, they knew how to play their PR [public relations] game quite effectively. But at least the final sad chapter was resolved peacefully. I thought they were all going to be killed. It was going on too long; there was too much violence, too much hatred. Too much room for a mistake.
People were tired, accidental discharge of a weapon, somebody doing the wrong thing, just complete mayhem. But it didn't end that way, I was wrong on that count, fortunately.
And how long after the incident did Australian soldiers start looking for counselling and so on?
The first thing was people…would normally get their buddy aid
to look after each other for the first twenty four hours after a stressful incident. And to try to digest it a bit. At twenty four hours afterwards, the commanders, the padres, the doctors and psychologists were offering individual and group counselling. I personally spoke to all the people involved, in groups, tried to set up that contextual framework once again,
of not trying to focus on the body count, but on the overall horror of Rwanda and the fact that presence of the people there had saved a lot more people from being killed. I tried to give them a more acceptable framework upon which to organise their memories and understand the event. But the counselling was made available to everybody then. They weren't forced to undertake it…as groups, we did it. We made everybody attend in groups.
It was offered to people as individuals, many of them attended as individuals. Before we went home there was group debriefing and opportunities for individual counselling again. There were follow up letters on return to Australia, at the six, twelve month mark. There have been highly publicised Defence initiatives, and Veterans’ Affairs initiatives of providing counselling service and opportunities for people to seek help. Those that were still in the military, either within the military or confidential support arrangements
outside of the military if they feel that it is going to jeopardise their career. So overall I think a good responsive, supportive framework was put into place, in the short and medium and long term. The problem of course is that after something like that, a lot of people leave the military, either because they feel that that was the only likely deployment
that they were going to have, or they didn't like it and they wanted to get out, or it was time to move on anyway. More people get positive outcomes, I think, from serving on peacekeeping missions than negative outcomes, but they start leaving quickly. And it is very hard to trace them afterwards, to keep in contact with them. That has been one of the problems, tracing people and trying to extend that support to them effectively.
But Defence and DVA [Department of Veterans’ Affairs], to their credit, have tried to do that.
Probably the ones that you can't contact are the ones that you are most worried about…
Well, that's right. The ones that left first of all might have been the ones that had the biggest problems. So that is a worry, yeah. Certainly some of those suffering…I know that some of those who were involved in the massacre and were having difficulties in the immediate aftermath have gone on to suffer quite badly,
and they're on full permanently incapacitated pensions now, unable to work again.
And the soldiers, when you explained that a lot more could have died, does that help?
Well, I think so. Some of them said to me at the time, "Well, I haven't thought about it in those terms." So it must have sunk in, to a number. How many? I don’t know.
Nobody expressed to me that that was the wrong way of looking at it. Well, I was the colonel, so maybe they didn't want to express that, who knows? But a number of people thought that it made sense putting it in that framework, and have told me later that it helped them to come to grips with it, that it helped them to understand that this was a bigger, in a sense, uncontrollable event in a long saga of sad events,
rather than one particular thing that they could have prevented.
And when the counselling is going on, are you one of those being counselled? Were you a counsellor? What was your position?
Well, both I guess. Immediately afterwards I wanted to get around and talk to people about the events and share the events with them, and congratulate them for their work and
to put it into context, as I mentioned. But yeah, there were a number of us who really had nowhere to go. The chief padre had nowhere really to go and I really didn't have anybody to go and…although we discussed it and things. I'm not suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, but I will never forget the events at all either.
And sometimes, even in an interview like this, I think, 'Well, why won't these people let me forget about it? Rather than have to?' Because as you can imagine coming back from that peacekeeping mission, I was virtually on the lecture circuit for two years, describing these events to people, and quite commonly it becomes upsetting, recounting those events and…but it's important to share those experiences with people.
To assist those who went through it at the time, to inform others who don't understand it and hopefully shape thinking so that steps can be taken to prevent those sort of awful incidents again in the future.
And in a way, doing interviews like this and doing lectures and so on, does it help you to get through it, and to talk about it?
Yeah, I guess so. That is the fundamental basic of psychoanalysis, talking about things,
and remembering issues and helping you to confront them, not forget them, but to confront them, to understand them, to put them into context, to cope with them. It's the shaping of those memories that forms resilience and helps people to move forward. That's the central nervous system; it's all about learning, and to help future performance.
And I guess the padre would have heard a few stories himself and what was going on, how did he cope with it all?
Yeah, there were a few padres there. One of them felt that he could have done more. He felt that one of the burial services that he had conducted had not been conducted well. He felt that he had let down the people that he had buried because of that, and those who attended the burial. I quite simply said to him, "The service that you conducted was a lot better than anything that would have occurred if you hadn't of been there." Because they were shoving the bodies into the sewers.
And he was quite grateful for that. He quite simply had not looked at it that way. He just looked at his own excellent standards of behaviour and conduct, and was disappointed that he felt that he could have done better. He had a high and rigorous standard, and when it was pointed what the alternative with, that gave him something else to compare it to.
I guess in those circumstances, you can't dwell on the negative, you had to look
for the positive in everything, don't you?
You have to. We all have a tendency to perhaps grieve the past and fear the future. But you can't do that. You need to have a mindful approach, focus on the present, things you can do. And move forward.
And soldiers getting counselling within twenty four hours, is that really that valuable because they might not have let the events soak in or have sorted out their feelings yet? What is the good of that quick counselling?
The twenty four feeling is that after a disaster and not just a massacre but maybe an earthquake or a huge motor vehicle accident, people are initially stunned. They can't contemplate what has occurred. They can't analyse that information in an effective, logical and useful manner. They are overwhelmed and it takes a while
to get past that period of being stunned, before they go back to having normal thought processes. They are amenable to suggestion and discussion and able to view things perhaps a bit more logically or dispassionately. So that is the feeling about it. Now the overall idea about stress debriefing is a bit controversial. A lot of organisations have swung very hard to debriefing
for everything. The pendulum has swung back a bit more recently, suggesting it may not be effective. There was an intuitive feeling that in acute stress awe in a person's life, could lead on to post traumatic stress disorder. Now I don't think there is any scientific evidence. Intuitively it surrounds correct, but I'm not sure that there is any evidence. In fact, some Australian researchers have found that that debriefing may
accentuate anxiety and may perpetuate difficulties that people are having, and that it may not prevent any transmission onto ongoing PTSD. So I've questioned its utility and perhaps its validity. From my own experience, that might be right with the PTSD and all the rest of it, but after an experience like that, soldiers were very grateful to be able to share their feelings, and their thoughts and experience with each other, and to be debriefed as groups by their commanders and padres and doctors and psychologists.
Interviewee: Peter Warfe Archive ID 2487 Tape 06
You gave us an overview of the Kibeho massacre in a sort of an operational and a leadership sense, what took place there, but I would like to get your more personal opinions of what happened that day when you were there. Did you see this massacre taking place on the scale that it did?
Did you see it coming?
Yeah, we knew that there were going to be a lot of people killed at Kibeho, the United Nations knew that. And we were working very hard with the RPA and the NGOs to try and get the people out of Kibeho. Unfortunately, different people have got different goals. The NGOs, their role was to give the people food and water, that was keeping them in the
internally displaced people’s camp. They were living relatively comfortably there, because of NGO effort, and that was great. But that effort was keeping them in the camp, which was infuriating the government. The government was becoming more foolhardy, trying to close the camps. It was grossly impatient that these camps were there and it was being shown on the international news that the camp was there. The government wanted to be in charge,
they wanted to repair the country. There were all these tensions. The different groups had different goals. And the RPA, it was a strong force on its own. I'm not sure how much control the government actually had over it. At that stage, the Minister of Defence was Paul Kugami, he had led the army in the civil war and he certainly controlled the army, but I'm not quite sure how much the Rwandan Government
controlled the army. So it was largely acting on its own. They wanted that camp closed, they wanted the people out of there, and they were determined to do it. And we were trying to do it, too, but the NGOs were giving plenty of reasons why the people should stay there. They were making it more comfortable, and also when people did leave and go home
there were property disputes and killings and all that. It was a very complicated situation.
Why was Kibeho such an important location? Why did the RPA want these people out?
Oh look, there had been hundreds of internally displaced people’s camps, throughout the southern half of Rwanda, since the end of the civil war. In the year after the genocide and the civil war,
the camps largely coalesced, the smaller displaced ones, largely coalesced into bigger camps. So where there were originally camps of a thousand people here, or five thousand there, they gradually coalesced into bigger ones, and when the smaller ones were forcibly closed by the RPA, some people went back to their original homes, but others went to the larger camps, so Kibeho was getting bigger. When I first went there,
there were thirty thousand people there, in about October, 1994. By April, 1995 when the massacre occurred, there were a hundred and twenty thousand there. It was getting bigger as time went on, and that was infuriating the RPA further and further and further.
Was it straining their resources as well?
No it wasn't…it was straining the government politically, it was an embarrassment.
They were trying to put forward the view that they were an effective government of the country, that they were rebuilding the country, that they were in charge of law and order, that they were restoring power and water and training police and all the rest of it. It's a bit hard to say that you are in charge of your own country when it is full of internally displaced people’s camps. And there was a lot of hatred of these people there, because they were felt to be the perpetrators of the genocide, and former Rwandan government forces.
They were seen as the enemy. So they were very upset that these people were being fed by the non-government organisations and ostensibly being fed by the United Nations. Although the UN wasn't really protecting them, they were just trying to provide a security presence in the country, in the absence of any police force or any other body that could effectively
establish security. So there were these internal contradictions and tensions. Even in retrospect, I'm not sure…Other than having developed a model village where they could have been taken to, that were heavily policed by fellow Rwandans, there was not another solution. You see, there was no police force. It takes ages to build a police force.
What was your immediate reaction when you noticed that there was an escalation of what was taking place in that region, Kibeho, when you were there?
The first time that the RPA put a battalion in there, two battalions, we thought that there was going to be trouble, because there just didn't seem to be a way to get the people out. And with that sort of simmering hatred,
and that situation…there were a lot of armed soldiers dealing with people who they thought had killed their families and former soldiers, at the very least there was going to be an accident, there was going to be a flare up. At the very worst there was going to be a total camp extermination. I don't think any of us thought that was going to occur. I don't think any of us thought that there would be a massacre as large as there was. But we knew that there was going to be trouble, that there was going to be killing, that there was going to be a lot of trouble,
and we were trying to get UN transport together and NGO transport together, to get the people out of there after the RPA had moved in. But the NGOs wouldn't help us, because they had been directed by their headquarters largely in Europe, not to get involved in a forcible camp closure. So the very time that we needed the NGO resources, like the trucks and vehicles that they had, to get the people out, they wouldn't allow them to be used.
It seems ludicrous in retrospect, that at the very time that the NGO resources could have been put to good use, they refused to do it. And that was because of the politics, of the understanding of forcible camp closure and not to be involved in it. Many of the NGOs see their roles as being totally apolitical, and taking neither side, which is sensible and right, so when a forcible camp closure occurs, that is seen as a political act and they mustn't be involved.
But in fact it was precisely the time when they could have assisted to get the people out of there.
And they also knew that this situation was taking place?
Oh yeah, they knew it all right. I'd been to Kibeho, just before the massacre with the deputy force commander and the colonel of operations, and there was a lot of dead people around and we could see what was happening, and we went and got some of the NGO leadership and we flew them to Kibeho in our helicopters to show them what was going on.
They were saying, "We're not allowed to intervene in a forced closure." I said, "Well, you're going to be involved in a massacre." And we took them there and showed it to them and then they spoke to their headquarters and nearly all of them did assist, then, at that time to get the people out, but we had lost about thirty six hours and then the massacre occurred about thirty six hours after that.
That picture you showed us before of you addressing
a unit of Australian soldiers there, as I said before it is an extremely expressive photo, of the faces of the people there. What were your individual accounts of the reactions of some of the soldiers?
Well, they were varied. Some were stunned, and they were working almost like automatons, they were just going about their day to day work without thinking very much. They were exhausted. They were emotionally drained. Some were very angry.
You know, shouting, furious about what they had seen, and threatening to take action against the RPA. Some were emotionally blunt, empty, tearful and non-communicative. Most were pretty worn out, and upset
by what they had seen, but still functioning pretty well. [We] in fact relieved them all and replaced them with others….that is standard military procedure, after people have been through a particularly demanding or gruelling incident, and they're tired and worn out, you would normally relieve them and get another group in to continue the work, that was normal. And some of them were a bit upset about that, they thought that they had done a good job and
they thought that they were being taken away because they hadn't done a good job, and I had to explain to them that it was normal standard operating procedure to do that. They had worked very hard for a few days, they were exhausted, it had been tough stuff and it was time for them to have a break for other people to shoulder up and do the work. It shows their spirit tremendously well, doesn't it? That they wanted to carry out the work and perhaps misunderstood the intention initially, but were quite happy once it was explained to them afterwards.
You said some of them were shouting?
Shouting, "This is terrible," and shouting at…there was still RPA around then, they were shouting at them that they were child killers…I was concerned. There was a lot of tension and I was afraid that there could be significant conflict between the RPA and the Australian soldiers that were there.
The Australians were in a certain section of the camp, and they were with Zambian troops?
Yes, they were. The killing had occurred mostly around them.
So they were encircled?
Yes, they were in the middle of this. The Kibeho area was built along a ridgeline and this hundred and twenty thousand people was largely congregated along the ridgeline, which was about twice the size of an AFL [Australian Football League] football ground.
It was about three to five hundred metres long and about a hundred and fifty metres wide. And the Zambian company was in the buildings in the centre of the area there, and the Australian Medical Support Group of about thirty three people was there as well. So the killing occurred around them, when people were trying to break out of the area, the RPA had surrounded the area and were firing on them then.
Now where was the perimeter between the Australian front area to the RPA and the killing taking place?
Well, there was just the buildings and some barbed wire around the central, old Catholic mission station. I mean they were right next to each other. They were right in the middle of it.
There was a lot of shooting. It was fortunate that none of our people were injured.
No shots came towards the Australian soldiers?
Oh there were bullets everywhere. There was plenty of lead in the air, but nobody was injured, fortunately. They were in the buildings and they were wearing protective equipment, and a lot of them were in bunkers. The medical personnel were treating people while all of this was going on.
But when the shooting got so heavy, they went into the bunkers. They were all wearing Kevlar jackets and Kevlar helmets to protect them as well. And the killing was occurring in waves. Initially it was for an hour, and later it was for twenty minutes and then it was a ten minute episode, and then it was sporadic shooting all through the night. Our people withdrew during the night and then came back to provide health support the next morning.
I'm just trying to get an idea of the actual killing that took place. Was this just like the soldiers opening fire in front of a crowd?
Yes, that's right. Straight into it, exactly.
You said that they used machetes as well…
The people in the camps had machetes and they used them. The people within the camps had been fighting amongst each other, the whole time they had been in the camps. Because some of them had been former Rwandan soldiers
and some of them had been the perpetrators of the genocide. But some of them were simple Rwandan tribes people, who hadn't been former soldiers and hadn't been involved with the genocide. So many of the people that were in the camp hated each other just as much as they hated the RPA, and they had been fighting amongst each other all the time as well.
That's a nightmare situation…
Well, that's right. I mean, it was very complicated.
Kibeho had been going on for so long, it had become an entrenched little community. They were running a market in there, there were some people baking bread, there were traders, there were wood carvers selling things, it had developed a micro economy of its own. And in that there were crooks, there were stand-over merchants, there were people controlling the marketplace.
It had its own hierarchy of authority in there that involved former government officials, former soldiers, people who had been involved in the genocide.
And most of them were Hutus?
Yeah. So it was not the sort of picture that you would expect to see, of people sitting on the ground starving. No. Not at all. People had been in Kibeho for over a year.
There were lots of dwellings around? Houses?
It was largely…they call them 'blidis.' Little huts, largely provided by UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund]. Almost like little igloos, but with blue UN plastic sheeting over the top to provide protection from the rain. And little fires,
cooking fires here and there. There were cooking pots and food distribution centres and a lot of reticulated water, huge water storage tanks and distribution systems. We were looking after the quality of the water, our environmental health people were looking after the quality of the water of the place. So a lot more control and a lot more organisation within the camp at that stage,
than you would imagine at the beginning, with people just sitting on the ground and lining up to get food. It was like a little community of its own. And that was infuriating the government and the RPA, they wanted them out of there. These people, I mean the people were putting on weight. They were looking healthier than the people who were living in the villages of Rwanda. And the government and the army thought that these people were the ones who had conducted the genocide. So you can understand the tensions that existed.
That's not black and white, is it?
No. It was a very complicated situation.
What were your feelings? You knowing that, being the leader of the Australian contingent there, what was your view? I mean knowing these little grey areas…I presume your own personal views of what you thought of the RPA and what you thought about the former regime that was there which
orchestrated the genocide against the Tutsis?
Well, we all had personal views, but they were largely irrelevant. I mean, we were in an exceptionally difficult situation, with very limited choices about outcomes. My personal view was very similar to the UN Force Commander's view. We spent a lot of time together. He had a lot of pressure on him and doctors and commanders traditionally had a close relationship.
We used to share a lot of time together, a lot of thoughts, and our view was that the country was a mess, the history was unbelievable, the situation was grossly unstable, the government was in place but largely didn't have the resources or tools to be able to solve a problem like this. The RPA was a force unto itself. It had fought a successful civil war, it was capable of fighting, it had seen action, it was well trained,
it was well experienced, it had a lot of ruthless men. Whereas the government knew what it wanted, it couldn't enforce that will down to a fighting level within the ranks of the army. Certainly junior commanders…did what they liked. They weren't authorised to do it. They did what they liked. So we knew the situation was grossly unstable. There were few solutions. At one stage, by helping getting the people
out of the camps and going home where there were property disputes and murder, there was legal opinion coming from New York that the UN activity of getting the people out of the camp and taking them home was possibly illegal, or against humanitarian law because it was resulting in people being killed. So in that sense we were damned if we did and damned if we didn't.
The thing that we tried to inform New York was that we were heading towards a disaster, that a lot of people were going to be killed. And that was going to happen anyway, and there were limited choices, but by getting the people out of the camp and closing it down as soon as possible, there was likely to be a lesser loss of life. But the actual intervention to do that was unpalatable to New York and to the non-government organisations.
I know the Australian soldiers were very disciplined, and you had your faith to rely on in that, but nonetheless you were saying that they were shouting out things to the RPA…
They were shouting their indignation about what had happened.
While the massacre was taking place?
Well, yeah, but people weren't listening to them. It was a pretty noisy environment. There was over a hundred thousand people there, half of which were screaming,
with tens and hundreds of soldiers firing. There was a lot of mayhem. After the massacre, there was more or less….not shouting indignation at them, or were screaming at people, it wasn't that, it was just protesting about what had occurred. So it wasn't a loss of control or a loss of self-discipline or anything like that,
it was just an expression of disgust at what had occurred.
Where there any soldiers that you had to control…
Physically? No, not at all, not once, nobody.
What about the Zambians?
The Zambians were ordered not to intervene by the UN Force on the basis of orders received from New York, so they didn't.
They were well trained. The Zambian colonial background was British, and they were well trained, and they understood if they intervened that they would be killed. So they didn't. And they protected the Australian Health Group, although we had our own infantry there as well. And they contributed a tremendous amount of information to
the post-massacre investigation, which resulted in a loss of international aid, a loss of standing for the government, a huge loss of income and it resulted in the prevention of clumsy camp closures like that in the future. So they contributed a great deal to good outcomes in the long run, although they didn't intervene in the massacre. The other thing of course that both groups did was they
reported what was happening clearly to their superior headquarters and to the UN Force, so it was known what had occurred, otherwise it would have been denied. There was killing in Rwanda all the time, everywhere. There was gunfire everywhere, all the time, you used to hear it all of the time. And the RPA or those involved would deny it, "No, we didn't do it." And they would get rid of the bodies, so it didn't happen. At least on this occasion
it was witnessed, it was recorded and photographed and they couldn't deny it anymore, they could not get away with this sort of thing anymore. And the Rwandan government and the RPA paid the price for it.
Now outside of the Kibeho massacre, obviously you were there for six months, what sort of problems or what other aspects of your engagement with other UN troops….there were several other contingents there from different countries?
Yes, there were. The UN headquarters was largely built with Canadians. There were a number of Africans there as well. There were about half a dozen infantry battalions which came from Senegal, Malawi, Ethiopia, and they rotated with other countries as well. There were some Indians there at one stage. And our relations with them were generally good. Although they had different outlooks
and different practises, which we didn't always agree with. I remember a civilian was killed near the battalion headquarters, one of the Nigerian battalions once, and it transpired that the civilian was one of the Nigerian soldiers who had gone out through the perimeter one night to a bar and they got full of grog [alcohol] and came back, and they were trying to sneak back in,
and the civilian was killed, and it wasn't clear why he was killed. The Nigerians got their own soldiers and tortured him, including whipping him with basically a fishing rod. In fact, the battalion commander said, "We gave him a very thorough whipping and got the truth out of him."
The soldier said that he had killed the guy because he thought that he was going to get into trouble. We didn't really approve of torturing your own soldiers, but to that particular battalion commander, he thought that was perfectly reasonable. So there was some different cultural differences. Mind you, the next Nigerian battalion that came in, their battalion commander said that he would never engage in such a practice.
So I think it was a personal matter rather than a cultural issue.
Did you find that the other African states…you did mention the Zambians were well trained, but the Nigerians, the Ethiopians…
They all had different levels of military skills and things and saw it differently. The Ethiopians, they saw their time in Rwanda as a holiday, because they had been through a civil war for years and years and years, and hadn't even had uniforms in their army,
and here they had uniforms and they were being well fed, and for them it was tremendous, they loved it. It was much better than being back at home.
Were they professional in their abilities to handle the situation where they were?
Yeah, I think so, although many of them just went over there and built their headquarters and their camps and sat there.
Sometimes they provided some health services to the nearby population, but quite often they were just sort of there. Rather than getting out and extending their influence to the local population. And some of them were surprised when they were attacked in the middle of the night. The Tunisian battalion was attacked one night and there were mines laid around there and the
regimental sergeant major had his heel blown off. In fact, we had to amputate his leg. At that stage they just had the 'build a fort and stay here and do your time' focus. So perhaps in retrospect it wasn't surprising that they were militarily probed by somebody, and that made them hunker down even harder. So at night they would all pull in behind their barbed wire and let go with a couple of hundred rounds to let people know they were there.
It was hard to see what sort of contribution that activity makes to peace keeping. Whereas there were others who were…we were out and about trying to provide health support…In fact, when we left the RPA said they were sorry that we were leaving because they were grateful for the work that Australia had done, and the provision of health support, because even their own soldiers who had been shot…they used to bring them and throw them over the back of the vehicle at the hospital door and drive off. They knew they would be well looked after,
because we had, by far and away, the only sophisticated health facility in the country for ages. The only operating theatre, the only blood bank, the only diagnostics….at least for the first three months that we were there before a couple of the other hospitals were able to open up and were able to get NGO support to have more advanced facilities. It was interesting, we had clashed with the RPA and we had nearly had some gun fights with them,
but they respected us, actually.
What were these incidents where the Australians clashed with them or nearly had firefights?
When we first got there, I think, the hospital was commanded and controlled with an infantry support force, and they went in with a view of security that the way the infantry do, and it was to safe guard this and safe guard that. It was most unfortunate that the Australian group was the only group in Kigali with the RPA.
The others were out in the countryside. But we were right next to one of their infantry battalions and their intelligence outfit and their Ministry of Defence. And our barracks were physically separate from the hospital where we were providing health support. So the Australians had to go backwards and forwards on the street past an RPA infantry battalion, day by day, and there used to be a bit of name calling and that sort of thing,
and it just created friction. There was a group that had been creating more friction, had only been there a couple of days and it was commanded by a young major, who was a particularly aggressive young RPA major, and he had a lot of authority in the RPA and was well regarded by the senior RPA. There was a show of force and I think a vehicle was bumped and somebody was pushed and there was an argument in the street right outside our barracks.
A whole lot of RPA soldiers were there and then they were ordered to load, and we had a lot of soldiers there who were ordered to load….it's a very difficult situation. You only need one guy not to load his weapon properly and for one bullet to get loose, and all of a sudden there can be blood all over the place. And I wasn't particularly impressed with this confrontation. I thought that our aggressive posture
was too aggressive, bearing in mind that we were essentially providing a health support unit to support the UN. In the ops [operations] room of the Medical Support Force they had a map of Rwanda, with all of the RPA units marked out on it, as though they were the enemy. That's the normal thing, you have an enemy map. But of course they were the legitimate army or the legitimate government of Rwanda.
So somehow they had become demonised in the eyes of a lot of our own people. They were killing a lot of people and they were difficult folks. There was no doubt about that, and we were living too close to them, but they were still the army of the country. And this sort of getting into confrontation with them, I think it was avoidable,
or it should have been avoidable and I thought it was going to end up with somebody getting killed. At the UN headquarters there was a lot of finger pointing at me…I mean, we had only been there about three days and I was told in no uncertain fashion by a number of the senior officers in the UN headquarters that the Australians were too aggressive, that they were looking for trouble, and that there was going to be trouble. And when this confrontation occurred with the RPA, they made it clear to me that they thought it was our fault.
The UN thought it was our fault, and I thought, 'Hang on, there's something going wrong here.' The new Australian commander of the Medical Support Force and I had known each other for a long time, and trusted each other and we talked about this. I organised a meeting with the RPA and made it clear that there had been some friction, and to some extent that is inevitable, because we were in town, too.
But we were there to provide health support and that was it. And they were pretty tough, and they said that we were too aggressive and that we were looking for trouble and I made it clear that we weren't, that we were trying to work with them to provide health support to the UN as required, and to their people, and that they knew it was worthwhile, and that there was tension and it was coming from both sides and we both had to settle it down a bit and work together. And it didn't help much that our barracks were in their old officer training facility and
they wanted them back and they wanted us out. So we were too close to them. And they resented, I think, I think they resented a lot of things. They didn't understand that there were women in our group, they resented that.
Yes, women. There were nurses and there were a lot of women in the Health Support Group, there weren't any in the infantry force. They didn't understand that,
they misunderstood it.
How did they misunderstand this? In what way did this manifest…?
Well, one of the African battalions had its own brothel in Kigali…
A UN battalion?
Yeah, they had their own brothel. It was one of the African battalions and they knew that and they saw that we had women with our group and we had
an all ranks’ mess, and an warrant officers’ and sergeants’ mess and an officers’ mess, and there were alcoholic beverages available for a couple of hours on a Friday and Saturday night, and there would be some singing and things like that, so I think they had a…they didn't understand what was going on. They drew their own conclusion to how they saw other UN detachments behaving. So they didn't like that, but they respected us. And they said it, they told us that.
They told me that they thought we were the best disciplined group in the UN Force, so they respected us but that didn't mean that they liked it. It was their country and they wanted the UN out. And there was also a…there was the issue…after the Canadians and British left, we were the only significant white contribution left in the UN.
The Tunisians were sort of Mediterranean, more white if you like than the Africans, and there were a lot of Canadians there, too, and that didn't help. The black and white divide, and people have different views. There is racism in Australia, and there's racism in Africa
and that clashes as well.
Did that transpire with any of the Australian soldiers? Did you see that racism take root over there?
I didn't see any practical outcome of it, but I heard it and I didn't like it, and we tried to educate the people about racism and cultural sensitivity. But many of them themselves had been on the receiving end of racism in Australia, or in Rwanda.
And they had been called white bastards by people. And they saw a fair bit of killing and things and they didn't appreciate it, so there was quite a bit of tension there.
Did the other forces, from what you heard of…The Belgian forces…
No, the Belgians had been there before, they had been there before the genocide, because it was part of the greater old Belgian, I suppose Belgian Congo days.
Their colonial empire was in that region. But the Belgians had gone…I think the Belgians were gone before the genocide. They were part of the original UNAMIR [UN Assistance Mission In Rwanda] One, the two hundred and fifty peacekeepers that were there, when the president's plane was shot down, when the genocide started and that civil war occurred, and then they were gone.
But they were part of the first fourteen that were killed?
That's right. They were the vice-presidential guard that were killed.
Like in Somalia, when some troops were exposed to high levels of tension and were even being shot at, we saw an instance where the Pakistani peacekeepers opened up on Somalian civilians in some sort of demonstration or something like that. Now having looked at what was happening
in Rwanda, the extreme sort of tension that the Australian soldiers faced, even though they weren't fired up upon, that we were aware of, if you kept them in the line so to speak, could this have eroded their discipline?
It could. It was an extremely explosive situation. And emotionally charged, and people were tired and upset and angry,
and you get a mixture of adrenaline and testosterone and fear and firearms, you have potentially got trouble on your hands. It takes a lot of control, a lot of control. People talk about control and command in the military a lot, and everybody knows what command is, "I'm the boss, you do this." but not too many know what control is, you know that effort laterally
to have people working together and to be holding the line, and that is not easy, but it is critical.
Were you ever criticised by some Australian soldiers that were about some of the events that took place?
Not to my face, and not to my knowledge. But people always had different views. I'm sure that a number would have thought that there was more we could have done, either to prevent the disaster.
I'm sure there were those who felt that we should have intervened. And I can understand that view, even though I don't support it, either because we were ordered not to and because I think the aftermath would have been a disaster. I've got no doubt that if we intervened they would have all been the killed, all the troops would have and probably the whole camp. I've got no doubt about it.
I heard of one instance where an Australian soldier,
through another source, had taken a slingshot out and slung it at an RPA unit…
Well, yeah, he was on piquet duty, he was on guard at the hospital and he was out the front and it was his duty to sit there and have a presence at the hospital and basically control who was coming in and out, and to report anything untoward. And over the road
from there, there was I think an RPA workshop, where they looked after their vehicles. What they used to do was steal UN vehicles, paint them green and put Rwandan plates on them. And they had one of their guards sitting out the front, and these guys are sitting around there for a couple of hours each, bored stupid. So the young Australian there, he fired a slingshot at this other guy, and the RPA fellow got pretty upset and a few others turned up and
there was a lot of shouting and carrying on. More senior people came down and defused the situation, and the young soldier was up in front of his commanding officer the next day, and asked if he was trying to create a war. It was pointed out to him very clearly that this was very foolish behaviour, and he understood that that sort of thing had to stop. He did understand that he was foolish.
He was just bored and it was a silly thing to do. He just didn't understand the potential implications I think, and I don't think he was looking for a big fight. He was just silly and…tension and testing them out, boredom, loneliness…
Interviewee: Peter Warfe Archive ID 2487 Tape 07
So how do you look back on your time in Rwanda now?
I suppose with mixed feelings. It was, in a lot of ways, the high point of my military career, commanding a military operation overseas. And
that was a privilege and a great honour to work with so many good people, from the army, navy and air force and the reserves, doing, I believe, a very important job, which has proven to be sustainable. I mean, Rwanda has turned out to be a strong, stable, successful place, so far. On the other hand,
it was very hard work. We were working fourteen, sixteen hours a day, virtually every day of the week. And it was…it was a mental and physical strain for everybody. It was a separation from my family which I didn't enjoy. My own father had been away in Vietnam for two years, when I was fourteen to sixteen,
and then I was away, not so long, but for a long time. My eldest daughter was seventeen, finishing her year twelve. It was a time when I would have preferred to have been home to provide support to her in particular and to my wife. It was a time of fear. My wife knew that I had been in a car that had been shot up the year before, and
she had no doubt about the risks involved, and it was a difficult period for her, looking after four teenage kids at school on her own, with me away. So from that point of view I regret the strain and the absence from my family, but I think it was a tremendously important job and a great honour and privilege to be able to contribute to that.
Fortunately, there appears to have been a good outcome in the country in the long term, which I think makes it all the more worthwhile. If there had been another outcome…besides the massacre and the killing and the heartache of what was occurring when we were there, if there had been a collapse of the country and a worse outcome, it would be a bit harder to look back
on that period favourably. Yeah, I think to date there has been a good outcome in Rwanda, a sustainable outcome. I think that helps people to look back and think that their service was worthwhile and valued, or valuable. I think that is one of the problems that perhaps the Vietnam veterans perhaps had, the war
was lost and their contribution wasn't seen as being valuable, although they served there with honour and decency and it was worthwhile, and Vietnam today is a successful and stable country. It might be a bit harder for them to reconcile some of their memories that way, but for my own, I think that, yeah, history has demonstrated that the UN commitment there was worthwhile.
The question will always be, of course, why wasn't Numier One reinforced and could do something to prevent the genocide? And it's a good question. We've been through that before, the paralysis of the UN, the unwillingness of the US to be involved in another African adventure, following the debacle of Somalia. Perhaps the resources issue, the northern hemisphere, south hemisphere
polarity, the huge commitment to Yugoslavia that was occurring at the same time…in terms of Numier Two, after the genocide and after the civil war, it certainly provided the security framework that allowed the NGOs to continue their good work. It allowed the government to get itself up and running. It allowed the nation of Rwanda to put itself back together in terms of rebuilding its education system, its police system,
its power grid, its water supply, because all of it had been destroyed, the whole lot, it was all gone. So it allowed the country a second chance in that sense to rebuild itself and to get itself back on its feet, and fortunately to date it has largely been successful.
Were you proud to be an Australian so heavily involved with the UN operation?
Well, yeah, I think the Australian contribution to UN operations over the years have been tremendous.
We haven't been involved with all of them, but many, many of them, including Korea and Yugoslavia and Somalia and other places, and generally our troops have provided technical expertise. There are a couple of hundred nations that can provide infantry battalions, but there are not that many nations that can provide communications network,
deployable field hospital, things like that, technical capabilities, the airlift capability, avionics, that sort of thing. So normally we've made those sort of contributions and they've been effective contributions to UN Forces and helpful and supportive. They've generally been effective in doing their job, in accomplishing the Australian mission and certainly assisting the United Nations in
accomplishing their missions, generally. The success of their communications outfit in Cambodia is a great example as well, I think. So I think Australia can be largely proud, our military and our general population and our government can be proud of the Australian contribution that has been made over the years, and undoubtedly will be made in the future.
And after Rwanda, where did you move to then?
After Rwanda, I came back to Canberra.
I came back as one of the directors in the surgeon general's office, in the Strategic Australian Defence Health Headquarters. I was involved in capability development and some strategic operational work and clinical policy development. And it was in that area where I was involved with looking at the health status of the Defence Force. Doing a comprehensive health surveillance study into what
was the fitness, how much sick leave was being taken, what was the medical discharge rate, where were the preventative factors in training army, navy and air force was the last major study I conducted before I left the military at the end of 1999. I left the military earlier than I wanted to. I had been told that I was going to be promoted for nine years and when the time came I wasn't, and another guy was and I was disappointed in that.
And I felt that there was no longer a future for me in the military, so I resigned in late 1999. I was involved with the reserve for quite a while afterwards. I had the privilege of going to East Timor for six weeks in 1999, as a preventive medicine physician and I acted as then senior medical officer for the Australian Forces while the incumbent was on leave,
and I enjoyed there. East Timor, the work there was good, very interesting. Australians did a lot of good work there. We were involved with disease prevention, health surveillance, vector control. We were providing health support, medical, dental and nursing support, surgical support, to the UN Force, so there was a lot of interesting tropical disease there. There were some trauma cases. We were working with an Egyptian contingent, and that was interesting.
It was interesting that I was able to go on that deployment. If I still had been in the regular army I wouldn't have been able to go. So I had about six weeks there. I've since been involved doing a bit of project work for Defence, reviewing their rehabilitation policy. I'm a member of the Defence Human Ethics Research Committee and I chair the Defence Public Health Consultative Group, which tries to draw together the expertise in preventive
medicine and public health and tropical medicine in the reserve, to support the Australian Defence Force today.
Let's go back to the review that you did of the health of the soldiers and so on. Did that involve comparisons with other countries?
No, it didn't. It was an internal review. It was hard enough to get the data from our own sources. It may seem odd, but at that stage we didn't know the leading causes of death in the
Australian Defence Force. And I had surveyed the leading causes of death in the army, which was actually from motorcycle accidents, outside of military operations at that stage. And we wanted to know how much time was being lost from injury, particularly training injury and how much it was costing us. What was the effect in terms of time off, compensation payments, sick leave,
medical discharge from the forces. We knew that there were a lot of training injuries, particularly lower limb, lower back injuries occurring as a result of military training and we were trying to quantify that, and we did that, and it was a very high injury rate with a shocking expense attached to it. Now military training by its very nature, it is physically intensive,
and there will always be injuries in military training and military operations, but it was our goal to try and minimise them, to try and address those training activities to see if we could prevent injuries through better work practice or better preventive care or better health surveillance, earlier injury intervention, perhaps more protective equipment, things like that. That was the basis of the study, and my area looked at that
and we conducted this health status surveillance of the Australian Defence Force. And it was published I suppose about a year after I left. It was quite an important document, to really have some factual data to argue the case, rather than, "Rugby is good training for infantry soldiers, so we will play rugby."
Some sensible activities like recruits wearing soft shoes for the first two weeks, rather than having blisters and training soldiers for running on ovals rather than running on roads, so they weren't getting stress fractures. Some simple interventions like that I think have been quite useful in preventing a lot of injury. Probably saved a lot of dollars as well. But to do a study like that takes an extraordinary amount of time and…
We did it, I am glad to say, but it took a considerable effort, a lot of effort. The assembly of data and quantifying it and analysing it, it was easily the equivalent of a masters or a PhD [Doctor of Philosophy – degree] thesis. It took a lot of people a lot of time and a lot of work to do it. And I afforded it the priority, while the rest of us were writing ministerial briefs and conducting reviews for the Australian National Audit Office, or somebody else's review
of Australian Defence Headquarters, I was absolutely determined to try and get some health surveillance work done to measure what we were doing and to try and get some good preventive practice into place. So, I'm pleased to say it was achieved.
What years did it cover?
Going back a bit. We were looking at comparative data for about the previous five years. And it was hard to get, because it was army, navy and air force, regular and reserve,
some of the data was in DVA [Department of Veterans’ Affairs], some of it was in military compensation, some of it was in army health, some of it was in different operational headquarters, some of it was indirect data being pension data that we could only get from external agencies. Some of it indicated that our data collection mechanisms were inadequate, so it drove better health surveillance methods in both peace and military operations. So there were a lot of good outcomes, I think.
And that is something that they are still using today?
Yes, that's right. It is still quoted as an authoritative document. I think that it is likely that it is about time that another one was conducted. I think it is likely to be done by some external consultants the next time around. It is a lot of work, a hell of a lot of work, and a lot of time, and it takes a lot of careful statistical analysis to get dependable
and valid and reliable outcomes, rather than just guess work. That was what we were trying to do, we were trying to get past the guesswork and the conventional wisdom and the hearsay and the common knowledge about military training and injuries. We wanted to get at the factual data and be able to use that to articulate the argument of whether it was a good idea for infantrymen to be carrying seventy kilogram loads. Do they really have to do it? What are the consequences of this?
What are the actual consequences of people operating equipment systems that are not probably ventilated or air-conditioned? What are the military hazards in training? What can we do to improve it? We were look at the OHS [Occupational Health and Safety] aspects, the ergonomics, the man-machine interface. What are the human factors involved in a variety of Defence environments? Not just environments like office buildings, but perhaps indoor rifle ranges,
tanks, armoured vehicles, jet aircraft. A myriad, an endless number of operating environments in peace and war.
And after doing this, how far off the mark were Australian forces? Did they need vast improvement? Or a little improvement?
There wasn't a benchmark.
What we found was that there were a number of areas where improvements could be introduced, and that would take into account the physiology and biochemical reality of people. There is no point in training people physically ten hours a day, day after day after day, if they weren't getting greater gains. We know scientifically that you can't get significant increases in biodynamic strength in less than six weeks,
so there is no point in flogging people hard and hard and hard for two, three and four weeks and expecting outcomes. Whereas in fact, what you are doing is increasing injury rates without improving your outcome. So that is the sort of scientific background that we had to it. Military training in Australia and elsewhere has been going on for thousands of years. There are a number of tried and proven ways of doing it. All we were really doing is
nipping around at the margins and trying to improve the benefits that individuals receive from that training, reduce the preventable injuries that occurring, help them to operate with their weapons systems and in their environments more effectively, so they can be effective as individuals in the groups to assist them in achieving their mission. That was our goal, that was our contribution to it, and that was the focus of the whole study.
And as a result of that, I am pleased to say, there has been quite a significant increase in human factors and human performance research conducted both within Defence, by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation and also by outside agencies who interested in similar things. Because when you think of it, there are many organisations that have very similar goals to defence in terms of physical training. And we established a dialogue
with the Australian Institute of Sport, and their goals are the same. They are trying to train people to behave at optimum levels under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, so there were obvious similarities in their approach to things and ours, and that was a useful collaboration in terms of…a myriad of things. Like psychological approaches to physical training, abnormal climates, humidity, cold, altitude, adaptation, things like that,
heat…special clothing to allow heat to escape easily. Many similar projects with similar interests. It was quite a good early collaboration with them, and I assume that is still going on. It was an obvious one to me, where we should have been working. Wollongong University was doing a lot of work at the time on heat illness, and prevention of heat illness. It is a major problem in the Australian environment and our geographical region,
and it was clearly obvious that we should have been collaborating with them, and we started doing that and working closely with them, and I think that work is still continuing as well.
Even though you thought it was obvious, were you still surprised by the similarities between the AIS [Australian Institute of Sport] and the army…
As we got into it further, yeah, it did become clear that there were many areas of similar interest. And also there were areas of similar interest with other armies and other defence forces.
There is a four army agreement between the American, British, Canadian and Australian armies, for inter-operability, and there are a number of working groups within that, including a health service support working group, and I was the Australian representative and leader of that working group for three years, and it was a tremendous opportunity to collaborate with those other armies which were having the same problem. Although the American and the British, of course, are enormously larger than ours,
but the problems are virtually identical and it is just a matter of scale. Preventable injury, physical injury, heat illness, tropical disease, the ability to operate, environmental health threats, occupational health threats, operational health threats, like the weather and the weapons systems or the bullets or the bombs. Very similar problems that need to be addressed. It was very interesting to be able to work with those people as well
in addressing those issues.
What did you learn from their side of it?
The same as when I had been on exchange, that the problems are similar, it's a matter of scale. I think there is sometimes a national cringe that Australia is small and not as big and perhaps not as good as other places, but
in my experience of the military at least, our military forces and our approach to health support of those forces are just as good if not better than some of our larger allies. Our problems are very, very, very similar and different approaches have been getting different outcomes by sharing that information and knowledge, there is scope to improve it for all of us.
And that has largely been a successful collaboration over the year, I think, with the ABCA [American, British, Canadian and Australian Armies Standardisation Program] program.
And when you left the army and moved to the reserves, why did you decide to keep that link?
Well, I think it was at that time the view was there was concept of having one army, which is the right concept of course in this country. It's not exactly that way, there is a regular army and there is
several… the reserve army has a territory and state focus, and there is a good deal of competition between those groups, and that can be quite healthy and that allows you to extract the skills and benefits from each group for the common good. I thought I had skills and ability that could be useful in the reserve. Generally the army reserve I think is
grateful to have people move from the regular army there for the skills they bring, however in terms of the reserve, they often see regular people coming in as being a threat to their, perhaps, opportunities for promotion or their jobs that they've been striving for. By no means are people always welcome to go from the regular to the reserve. As a policy they are, but individually that is not necessarily the case,
particularly senior officers who may be seen as a threat to peoples’ promotions. That is why there was no sort of posting available to me, I in a sense had been promoted past all of those, so there were opportunities for me to do studies and be involved in committee work, and like go to East Timor, rather than holding down a reserve colonel's appointment which would
block the promotion channel for the reserve officers.
Is it a different culture when you go to the reserves?
Well, yes it is. The regular people are doing it all day long and the reserve people, they've got two jobs, and there are different levels of experience and knowledge and time available to contribute and work.
There are different expectations of what one's job or future or promotion opportunities may be. In different parts of the reserve it is different. I am in a technical part of the reserve. The regular health people are largely seen, in peace time anyway, by the regular forces as being second rate doctors who can't make it in civvy [civilian] street.
The reserve health people look on the regular health people probably much the same way, that they don't know anything about medicine and they look at them as being military officers rather than being health professionals. The regular health people look at the reserve people as health professionals who don't know anything about the military. So there are different views and different tensions.
The regular people have to a large extent sacrificed the stability which can provide a lucrative medical practices or health practice, which perhaps the reserve officers can enjoy to a greater extent. But the reserve people perhaps see the regular ones as having had the opportunities for all the
glamour postings and the overseas jollies and there is a bit of the grass-is-greener in all these cases, I think. But there is generally a healthy tension and a co-operative spirit, I think, between the health professions anyway, even more so these days I think. It's been a bit more upsetting lately in that the regular component, the top of it has been cut back very severely, in terms of promotion opportunities, and currently the surgeon general of the Australian Defence Force
and the three assistant surgeon generals are all reserve officers. So that was seen to be enhancing the profile of the reserve and if the senior officers were from the reserve, that it may increase recruiting and retention of reserve officers. I don't think that has proven to be the case to date, and it has certainly seen the outflow of very capable regular officers who
had a number of years they could have served at the time, and it has certainly truncated the career expectations of regular service officers, at the moment. But it is under review, it will swing back, I've got no doubt. It's an inevitable outcome of peace time, the health services get cut back, and they're the first thing that is wanted when there is a military operation underway.
So how did you become involved in East Timor?
Well, the INTERFET [International Force East Timor] Operation had been underway for some time. It was a transition to a United Nations…yeah, a United Nations operation was underway in early 1999, I think. The Land Headquarters was putting together the structure of the people who needed to go there, and they were looking at the rotation
of personnel through the Australian hospital in Dili. There was a vacancy for a public health physician. I was asked if I was interested. I had only been out of the regular army for about four months, I was quite interested. I was doing some consulting work for the ACT [Australian Capital Territory] Government and was involved in doing some health planning for the forthcoming Sydney Olympics. So I took two months off and went to East Timor, and enjoyed it very much.
And what did you see in East Timor?
Well, I was working in the UN hospital in Dili. I was involved in being on call assisting in the hospital; I was treating the outpatients, liaised with the Red Cross Hospital to see if we could be working together. I acted as a senior medical officer to the Australian Force while the incumbent was on leave for about a month. It was just the sort of thing that I had been doing for years,
working on the headquarters, planning military work, executing military work, visiting the infantry battalions, visiting the health people in the field, going around and looking at what the health threats were and…yeah, being a field medical commander.
It was all becoming second nature to you?
Well, yes, that's right. I liked doing it. I'm a military physician, that's what I've done.
And when you were in Timor, that was after
the Australians moved in and so on?
That's right, it was after the Australian led, the INTERFET Force had done their job, General Cosgrove and his staff had come back, it was building up into a UN operation at that stage. When I was there, in a way it was still the honeymoon days, there wasn't any trouble in Dili. There was a curfew, there weren’t any shops open, there was nowhere to go, there was nothing to do. That was the time when the UN Force is easy. The longer the UN Force is there,
the harder it gets, because of the developing autonomy of the national government, the developing strength of its own army, the developing strength of its own police, the development of insurgents and of criminals…it just gets worse and harder for the UN from day one. In the early days it is very easy because there is no other authority and you are in charge of everything. So it was easy, it was very pleasant, I found it very relaxing, compared to Rwanda,
that part of it was very easy, straightforward and relaxing.
And what was the mood of the local people there after all this had happened to them?
In East Timor at the time…I think it was relief. People were coming back into Dili and they were starting to rebuild the houses, and we were involved
in restoring the water supply and there were, I think, Indian engineers who were involved with getting garbage disposal systems back into place, and the people were starting to develop some rudimentary market structure. So it was a period of quite confidence, of getting back to normal. I mean, the place was wrecked. It was quite peculiar to see, and I had never seen so much damage in a place
without bullet holes and mortar holes and things everywhere. But every building in Dili, I don't think there was a roof standing anywhere. Everything had been torched, and it was quite peculiar. It looked like it had been a combat zone, but there just weren't the bullet holes, it looked different. But very nice people, lovely people. There seemed to be good relations between the UN people and the population at that stage. And
there was a lot of gratitude for the military presence. And that would have changed as the country got back on its feet and the government understandably wanted to exert its own authority and be in charge. Much as I had seen with the Rwandan authorities, about a year or so later. The tension starts to increase and they want to get the UN out.
Were you shocked by the level of destruction when you arrived?
No, I think it had been pretty well publicised. There had been a lot of footage on television after Colonel Cosgrove and his force had intervened. It was pretty much as I expected, it was just different. There was a lot of wreckage and a lot of fire damage, but the place hadn't been shot to pieces.
And you said earlier that if you had remained a regular soldier you wouldn't have gone, but as a reserve you went. Why is that?
Well, I had been a colonel for eight or nine years. There wasn't an opportunity for a person of that rank to go in on the sort of structure of the health unit which was commanded by lieutenant colonel equivalent. So my rank in a sense, when I went, it was irrelevant. I was there as a public health physician, as a tropical medicine physician specialist. The rank just happened to be there.
So I wouldn't have been deployed in that role as a regular serviceman. I was part of the hurly-burly of the political military interface in Canberra. Strategic development, management, yep, that sort of level in Canberra. The winning of resources and the fighting for resources
and trying to develop the ADF [Australian Defence Force] Health Service.
When you go into a place like East Timor, how important is it to respect the local culture and so on, and show that you are not an occupying force?
Well, I think it is critical. The cultural sensitivity is virtually everything. You are not an occupying force; you are not a military victor,
it is not your country. You are there with the agreement of the government of that country. Maybe not with their gratitude, but at least with their agreement, with the legal backing of the United Nations and with the goodwill of the Australian people. So getting on with people, and working with them is critical. And it is the same as anywhere else.
It is a matter of trying to work collaboratively with people to have clear goals and sustainable outcomes, in terms of rebuilding a country, its people, re-establishing its infrastructure, its educational systems, it social systems. You need to work co-operatively with people to get this done. You can't impose external values. And if fact if you attempt to, you are likely to be met with resistance,
and a lack of co-operation. It is just completely counter-productive. You need to engage with the local people or you won't go forward. Unless you engage their aspirations and their views and their cultures, you will get nowhere. Because they know what they want, where they want to go and they will go there. And you need to understand where they're going and try to get there with them. I think the culturally sensitivity is critically important.
How important are symbols and perceptions?
That's a good question. Perhaps you should be asking a philosopher rather than me. I think the blue beret of the United Nations is a very important perception and symbol. That means that you are there as part of a world body, with agreement, with the intention of goodwill, rather than as an opponent or another nation,
which may have its own goals in that country. In that sense, that symbol is very important. There are other symbols that are important, like the Red Cross or the Red Crescent, terribly important symbols that convey much more than just a colour on a bit of cloth. And these symbols often indicate hope, hopefully humanity, perhaps moral courage,
an organisation demonstrating that it has goodwill and it has the courage to do what it knows is right, decency, things like that. So these symbols are very important. For instance, our health people in deployed operations wear a Red Cross brassard on their sleeve, to indicate that they are there in a health role, in a non-combatant role. They are there to provide health support. An important symbol.
Sometimes you hear people saying that the UN has no teeth, no power, and people don't respect it and so on. From your experiences in Rwanda and East Timor and seeing what was going on there, is that the case? Do the cultures respect when the UN comes in and does things?
I think there is certainly the scope for that respect. There is expectation of respecting a UN force when it comes in. Different groups and different people will behave differently, clearly.
And it doesn't take too many individuals to behave in an ordinary manner to sully the image that an overall group is trying to portray. We're seeing that in professional sport in Australia right now, all the time. And it is the same with that sort of thing. That if there are individuals or contributing nations that don't go in with the UN spirit, or follow the rules as they are laid down, or detract from them markedly,
then no, they won't gain the respect of the people and their mission will fail, they will be doomed to fail. It won't be achieved, the goal won't be achieved. They need to work together….it's the achievement of the mission that is critical and everybody has to work together to that goal. And that means as an individual and working in teams and groups and following the rules and encouraging others to work together to do that.
Otherwise we might as well all be living back in the caves, fighting each other.
And the people of East Timor, when you were there in the honeymoon period I guess you would say, when the UN has the power and so on, and it is an easy job, did they seem happy about the prospect of becoming independent and looking up to Gusmao [Xanana Gusmao, President - East Timor]?
As far as I know, but I didn't really get involved to that level. I wasn’t there long enough and I didn't have that exposure. But my understanding was yeah, they were happy to be independent and they were looking forward to a period of peace and prosperity. With the involvement that I had, there was a lot of tropical disease and a lot of it was preventable, and a lot of them knew it was preventable, and they were glad that there were professional health people in there then, and which included World Vision and
other organisations that were helping to get on top of some of these preventable diseases. When I was there, for instance, we diagnosed a case of Japanese B Encephalitis, and it wasn't even known that it existed in East Timor. We knew that it existed to the north of East Timor and to the south, and we expected that it existed there, but there had been no effective health surveillance, so we didn't know that it was there. So we in fact knew that it was there and we were able to bid for resources to get the mosquito population
under control, and to look at an immunisation program, to do something about it. So they were grateful for that level of health intervention and support, and were optimistic about the future, in 1999. Things have moved on since then. It is much more a diplomatic effort now, and it is much more of a financial aid effort, and there are other issues like sovereignty over oil that are critical now, but in 1999 it was about disease prevention and trying to get the country put back together, to be able to move forward.
Interviewee: Peter Warfe Archive ID 2487 Tape 08
When you contrast your experiences from Rwanda, East Timor, Papua New Guinea…even though you weren't doing UN work in PNG, what lessons have you learned about assisting countries that are economically and still developing, in the framework that you have experienced?
That is a big question. Fortunately Australia and Australians are in a privileged position; to be able to have the opportunity to be able to assist others to get onto their feet improve their life and their societies. And it is a privilege to be able to have that ability and capacity to be able to do that. That is the first thing. And I would hate to think that we as a country would ever turn our back
on that sort of approach to helping other nations. I would hope that we would never develop a, "I've got it, you try and get it attitude," like some other countries. That would be the first thing. The second thing is to be assisting other countries is to do it in a co-operative manner, not in a unilateral manner. You need to engage with the people, seek their goals, work with them,
to get the outcomes, the shared goals and the shared outcomes. You can't impose value systems or culture or outcomes or goals which fit in with our society. We need to work together to establish goals that they want, that are achievable and particularly important, that are sustainable. There is no use intervening or assisting with something that is going to fall over when you go away.
The goal has got to be helping these people to take control of their destiny and their future, and get on top of where they are going, rather than treating them as a parent treats a small child. On a day to day basis, it is a matter of fostering and helping them to develop to get on and be able to do it themselves. It sounds easy, but it needs sensitivity, cultural sensitivity and patience,
and respect. It is not just money and influence and power and authority, it needs sensitive and genuine mutual respect and co-operation, understanding, discussion, negotiation, the diplomatic arts. Even for military forces that are doing this, require a large degree of diplomatic skill rather than just the force of arms. The next thing that I think is important,
is that the approach must be reasonable. It must be achievable and realistic. It is not a matter of going into a country and trying to create a mini-Australian there. It is what is this country achievable of creating and sustaining. That is what needs to be done. Realistic goals need to be developed early, rather than
simply replicating in another country what seems to work well here, because it may not work well there for a whole lot of reasons. And I think the other thing about it is that the benefits to our country can be varied and many in this, and it is not just financial, or political or having greater influence, it can be the intangible benefits of enriching the society
for what it is doing, for enlightening that society to be helpful, of educating the next generation of Australians that we behave in a decent way, and that we believe in the force of law and decency and honesty and courage to do the right thing. Now these sorts of values can only be instilled by repeatedly demonstrating it to people. So there are a lot of spin-offs, non-financial, perhaps intangible spin-offs and benefits to our own country
as well as the country that we are co-operating with and trying to help in the long run. And perhaps in the very longest run, with that sort of approach, eventually that is going to be the solution to the War on Terrorism, something like that. A co-operative, holistic, genuine, international approach that is going to iron out the inequities and trample on the prejudice and bigotry and hatred to stop this awful ongoing payback, this never ending payback system,
in an attempt to co-operatively co-exist together, rather than endless competition. Now that might be a little airy-fairy and perhaps a little impractical, but we're not going to win the War on Terrorism by bombing people who live in holes in the ground, or exploiting them for their oil reserves. That is not going to work, because…the fundamental roots of terrorism are based on the way that people think
and the way that they learn and the way that they live. It's not just a group of fanatics who want to kill people.
Operation Infinite Justice, as they called it, is essentially pure retribution for their own self-interest.
And unfortunately it is even likely to be counter-productive. It is likely to pour fuel on the fires that empower terrorism. To me,
it is not a preventative approach, it is a primitive approach and it aggravates the very foundations of terrorism.
From your own experiences, the forces that you had at your disposal, at that time in Rwanda, was it flexible enough to undertake the duties that were forced upon it?
Look, you never have enough resources to do everything you want to do,
but when we were there we were providing at least a third of all the primary health care of the country. At least a third, initially, when the place was wrecked. We had the only diagnostic service in the country, X-ray and pathology, we had the only safe source of blood in the country, we had the best operating facilities in the country, the only physio service, we had the only health surveillance preventive medicine capacity,
that was able to get out and monitor the provision of safe water, and control the tropical disease vectors and scanners and things, so we were able to do an awful lot. If we had more we could have done more, but we were able to achieve the mission of providing good quality health support to the United Nations force, and we were able to provide health support to a large part of the Rwandan population from within the spare capacity of the group as well. So the simple answer is we had enough,
but we could have done more, with more.
When you went for that reconnaissance mission for that week, before the second contingent had arrived, what did you gather from the first group's experiences before they departed?
Quite a few things. There were tensions between the Australians and the other UN forces at the time. There was tension between the RPA and the Australians.
There was some disregard for some of the senior Australian officers who had developed liaisons with some of the United Nations women. There was tremendous support for the health support that the Australians had provided to the United Nations and to the central hospital in Kigali. That was very well regarded by the UN and the Rwandan government.
So there were some ambivalent attitudes towards the Australian groups and there were some tensions which blew up in the first week that I was there, with some confrontations between the Australian soldiers and the RPA, which was unfortunate. Fortunately nobody was hurt, it could have been a lot worse. But in some respects it was perhaps preventable. Different people have a different view about behaviour
and sort of military posture and the preventive outcomes that that provides. What is a preventive posture, what is an aggressive posture is largely a matter of judgement. It was my feeling at that stage, that the Australian posture was unnecessarily aggressive, and that was to do with the RPA and a lot of the senior officers in the United Nations headquarters,
so we changed it, and we reduced the aggressive posture, and we talked a lot to the RPA and we concentrated on our core business which was the provision of health support.
So the previous commander's attitude, the one who was co-ordinating the first contingent…
I'm not criticising him. There were different circumstances. When they first went there, it was the halcyon days of the operation. The place was wrecked, there was nothing operating, the UN could do what it liked. The Australian commander was on the UN headquarters and he was involved with strategic work on the UN headquarters. The Australian unit commander was an infantry officer, a particularly successful one, a strong man, a tough man, who set it up and ran it the way
that he knew that infantry units ran. It was the right posture at that time. There was a lot of killing, there was no law and order in the country, it was exactly right. But things changed, things change in an operation. Towards the end of it, those two Australian officers did not get on well together. The commander, I think probably in retrospect distanced himself more from the day to day operations of the unit, and stayed
active more with his force medical officer role with the United Nations, and allowed the Australian unit commander to conduct day to day operations as he saw fit, and probably rightly so. But there were problems between them. I was determined to get on well with the unit commander and we did and we are close friends now. I thought it was very important that we worked together and that we didn't tread on each other's toes, worked co-operatively, understood where the authority was, what jobs had to be done,
but to make sure that we understood the overall mission which was the provision of health support, in an evolving and changing environment. Command is a very personal thing. Everybody brings different experiences, different outlook, different training, different views and judgements to it.
The environment is constantly changing, it's dangerous, it is unpredictable, there are political considerations, there are UN considerations, there are force considerations, there is direction from Australia about what is going on and what shouldn't be going on, it's not easy, it is a lot of work. If you look at the outcomes, the hard outcomes, good health support was provided to the force, a lot of people were treated
effectively, efficiently. The UN Force health was largely good. There were deaths; there were deaths through AIDS [Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome], through motor vehicle accidents and through gunshot wounds. There were no Australian lives lost, that is a pretty significant and good outcome. We got everybody back and all the equipment back. We left with a good reputation in Rwanda,
and in the United Nations. Good outcomes. Our work was appreciated by the Australian population. We received the RSL [Returned and Services League] Anzac Peace Prize. A number of members of both contingents received honours and awards, recognising the service of their contingents. I think our work was respected by the Australian people.
You mentioned something before about an Australian convoy coming close to a VIP [Very Important Person] RPA convoy, which resulted in five of them being taken away…
Yeah, it was towards the end of our time in Rwanda, and from the earliest days…It was in the first memorandum of agreement between the UN and the Rwandan government not to interfere with vehicle convoys,
and we hadn't and we didn’t in that particular event. What occurred was that there was some Rwandan VIP being escorted, with a couple of vehicles of armed soldiers in the front and the rear. We had some vehicles somewhere, going around a corner; somehow one of our vehicles became intertwined in their convoy. It was never quite clear exactly how it had happened. I'm certain, absolutely certain
that it wasn't deliberate, there was no attempt to do anything silly or attack them or to get involved with them. It was an error related to the flow of traffic that was occurring at the time. The RPA convoy pulled up, the RPA armed guards grabbed our people, they assaulted one soldier, they hit him in the face with the butt of a rifle and took him away. I was informed about it almost immediately, I complained immediately to the force commander,
I demanded their release from the RPA liaison officer at the UN headquarters. I was happy for them to be seen by military police, to be interviewed, or one of them to be interviewed by United Nations military police, but I wanted them out of the hands of the RPA immediately. And I complained in writing to the UN Force, to the Rwandan government and to the Rwandan Patriotic Army, about the way those soldiers were handled and they were released later that day.
But personally I was outraged that they had been assaulted. I made it very clear. I reported it to Australia and the complaint was lodged with the Rwandan government, government to government, and a complaint was lodged with the United Nations in New York. Fortunately nobody was severely hurt or worse.
How many soldiers were actually apprehended?
I think there were five in the vehicle that were taken away, two were actually assaulted. And it's an indicator of that sort of environment. Everything can be fine, then all of a sudden you've got a potential disaster on your hands. It was resolved quickly, expeditiously, with no serious outcomes but it could have been much worse. It's a dangerous and unpredictable environment.
This was towards the end of that contingent's…
Well, yeah, I think we only had about two or four weeks to go.
That must have placed a lot of tension on some of the people?
Well it did, yeah, it did. And there was a lot of resentment. Our people were tired, they were homesick, and they had seen a lot of heartache in Rwanda, and there was a feeling going around that it wasn't worth spilling any Australian blood, it just wasn't worth it.
And people were angry and tired and then a couple of their mates were assaulted, and we had to make certain that people were not going to get even, were not going to take matters into their own hands, behave in an inappropriate manner which could intensify problems, aggravate relations and end up…God only knows.
It was unpredictable; you couldn't see where things would go. The RPA would react suddenly and violently with their own people, shooting and killing women…suddenly, without warning, because of things that were said to them, their own people. So I was very cautious about how we dealt with them, and making certain that it was professional and that we had a strong and coherent and consistent
appearance and posture.
When you liaised directly with senior RPA officials, how did you liaise with them? Were you very up front and firm about your views about a certain situation? How did you negotiate?
Oh yes, absolutely. That was their modus operandi. That was what they understood. So I made it clear that we were there to help them and their country, and that was it. And we were not going to be shoved around.
We were there to help and support the UN. We were there for legitimate reasons, with legitimate political and legal backing, and we were trying to help them, and we didn't expect to be treated like an enemy or inferiors, and that we wouldn't do that with them, and that our relationship had to be built on mutual trust and respect. And they had a habit of denigrating and talking down to people, and I stood up to them immediately,
at the very first beginnings, and I said, "I am a Numiere colonel and you're a colonel, I respect your rank and I expect the same from you." And largely it was all right. In fact towards the end of our time…there were always problems because we were so close to the RPA in Kigali. Towards the end of it when there was a problem, one of the colonels mentioned it to me and I said, "I'm sorry, I haven't heard anything about that." He felt he had been slighted.
Someone had called him Charles, rather than colonel, and it wasn't of his own rank. I said, "I haven't heard about that. You should be treated with the courtesy that your rank deserves." He said, "Look, it's fine Peter, I just wanted to let you know about it. I understand it was a mistake." Now six months earlier, that would have been a disaster, they would have been really angry, but we had developed a relatively harmonious relationship, based on mutual respect and they understood that we were there and
providing good care to a lot of their people, to the government, to the RPA, to the people of Rwanda.
If you look at the actual tenure of your service, your six months, when did fatigue, at just being in Rwanda for the common Australian soldier there start to set in? At what stage of their tour?
That is a good question. We had two periods of leave, a short, in country leave,
of two or three days, and a period where you could go away for a week or two, and some people went to Europe or came home to Australia. I think for our own tour, people were tired after the Kibeho massacre, because we had been there then for about three months; it was about the halfway point. This was a pretty sobering experience, 'Oh, there's another three months of this?'
That was a difficult time. I think it only really occurred to many of us when we were starting to pack up. And we were getting a lot of advice and direction from Australia that was becoming irritating. It was clear to me that it was irritating, in part because we were tired. And then the night that we got back to Townsville, I realised how we were so tired, when I saw the normal Australian soldiers in Laverack Barracks in Townsville and they looked completely different,
and that's when I realised we were all worn out. But there was in place, all the way, there was a careful rotation period to avoid people working all the time. There was sport, there was physical training, to maintain peoples’ ability work hard, there was rotation of duty and rest breaks and in country leave and out of country leave, but a lot of work.
I suppose this raises a lot of interesting questions about deployment, rotation deployment and troops and things like that. So clearly if there were any Australian casualties, this would have become a very difficult task for you to contain, considering the inherent tensions of the project?
Oh yeah, but that is the key to it, that is the command and control. You are in a difficult environment, it is unpredictable.
There are a lot of risks, a lot of hazards, and it is a matter of the leadership and of the control and the co-operative working together that gets everybody through it, and that is the key outcome of the training.
Obviously you didn't go back for a second tour, but a contingent made up of people who had previous experience in Rwanda went back,
they would be more effective? Is the exhaustion a complete type of exhaustion where they just couldn't go back?
It's difficult with hypothetical questions, isn't it? Many of the people who went to Rwanda went on subsequent operations and felt that their experience of Rwanda helped them on those operations,
especially in East Timor, that they understood what the environment was going to be like, that they understood the separation from family, the loneliness, the unpredictability, they understood what it was like to be living with weapons around all the time. So that helps, previous experience helps, I'm sure. It also helps that you know that
you are going into a controlled environment, that it is not just a free for all, that there is a hierarchy of controls and approaches and things. So you understand how the military environment is working. So you feel safer in it, rather than the first exposure when individuals and groups feel vulnerable. After you've been there, through that environment, you understand it much better and the controls feel safer.
And I guess that is why a lot of professional soldiers enjoy it. They understand the environment, and they can operate effectively and efficiently in it, they've been trained for it and they enjoy it. That is a difficult notion for some people to accept. If they had to go back to Rwanda again, if they had the opportunity to volunteer,
many would not, because it wasn't easy and there was a lot of exposure to human misery on an unbelievable scale. Having said that, many of them I'm certain would have volunteered to go back because they enjoy working in those circumstances and applying their professional skills. And many of them there, particularly the rotation of specialists from the reserve
in both Rwanda and East Timor, had been on numerous military operations before, and they basically understood the environment and were happy to provide their services and that technical support in that environment, so a lot would go back. The infantrymen might be a bit different. That is sort of the reverse. This was a health mission with infantry support for protection. This wasn't a war with health support looking after the infantry; it was around the other way.
And I think a lot of their duties were guarding and sentry and security, and a lot of that is boring and repetitive. They did a great job, they did a fantastic job. But it's not exactly the sort of work that they were trained for. A lot of the logistics people, engineers, communications people, that sort of thing, great work. It's the sort of work that they do in the barracks, in the field on exercises and on military operations to keep everything humming along.
Many would have been happy to do that work again, although they were largely confined in the base, and many of them had limited opportunities to get out into the countryside, to travel around, to enjoy the variety. They were working in workshops…although some of the engineers got out, they were destroying mines and unexploded ordnance and things like that. They enjoyed that. So I guess there is no hard and fast thing.
Largely I think the bulk of people got something positive from it; it enhanced their life personally, militarily, from a health point of view. Sadly there were a lot of casualties in terms of acute stress reactions and long lasting problems. It's a very intense environment.
So it calls into question the duration of deployment, in such high intensity stressful environments?
There has been a lot of operational experience that suggests that six month deployments are about right for humanitarian, non warlike operations. For warlike operations though, the experience is perhaps a bit longer, maybe twelve months is more effective, because the environment is challenging and people were very dependent on teamwork and working with each other
and trusting each other, and it takes a long time to get used to this sort of thing and to be working effectively. So that was the feeling about then, I'm not sure what the feeling is now. But usually longer for combat missions.
That's an interesting point. Can you tell us about the tension amongst the Australians, because the nature of the mission was so different, essentially non-combatant in that sense? How did that impact on their inter-personal relations?
Well, people were living very closely together. The infantrymen were virtually in platoon sized runs, twenty or thirty to a room for six months, you get to know each other pretty well. Most of the others, a lot of the medical support force were living in the hospital and had more private dwellings.
There was a greater opportunity for privacy for them. And that can be important for a whole lot of reasons. We were living in the UN accommodation in Kigali. It was wrecked. It had been the old accommodation for the Sabina aircrews, the old Belgian aircrews. And by Rwandan standards, it was like Chureez [?], particularly when we got some water put on.
So yeah, there is a balance between teamwork and working together, and living together and living on top of each other. People have got to have their personal space and their private time. That has to be created somehow.
Quite a few soldiers got leave in Kenya I understand?
Yeah, well the UN was using Kenya as a sort of local logistics hub, and all the flights from Rwanda, or largely all the flights from Rwanda, particularly in the early days,
were coming backwards and forwards from Kenya. So yeah, there was plenty spending time in Nairobi. Our Australian High Commission was in Nairobi, the Australian Ambassador was there. So our political focus was Nairobi, and our logistical focus was there. We were getting money from Nairobi. A lot of people were holidaying there. And many holidayed and
went through the game camps, the reserves in Kenya, which they enjoyed very much.
Did you get the chance to get any leave as well?
Yeah, I did. I took four days in Mauritius. My wife flew over, which was rather beaut.
Now you also mentioned that there were some relationships between UN staff and Australian soldiers, officers?
Yeah, there appeared to be.
How did that affect the conduct of the operation?
I think it drove a wedge a bit between the…this was in the first contingent, not my contingent. It was unacceptable behaviour in my view. I think it drove a wedge between the Australians who were working on the UN headquarters and those who were working on the Australian Force and the hospital in Kigali.
A number of them knew that a couple of the staff officers had girlfriends. And they resented it. They had a no fraternisation policy themselves, and they resented that these people who were in privileged accommodation had privileged opportunities for relationships, and it created a good deal of distrust and tension. And it was frequently the topic of discussion since,
as one of those staff officers subsequently married the girl that he met there, and divorced his wife. So there was no doubt about it. And there was worse. I'm not silly enough to suggest that there was no fraternisation within the Australian Force, that is why there are five billion of us.
But the official policy was no fraternisation, and my staff and I had no relationships, and we were very careful about any visitors to the place and what might be seen to be occurring, let alone what should not be occurring.
Did a lot of these relationships take place on leave in Kenya, with UN staff stationed there?
I suspect so. I mean, soldiers on leave for some centuries have tended to meet women when they're on leave. The boys would be playing cards and probably having the odd glass of alcohol and probably meeting some people, yeah. They're on leave enjoying themselves. Of course there were a lot of health threats in that region,
including high rates of human immuno deficiency virus and AIDS, so there was a lot of education and warning about health threats and risks. There was a lot of violence in Kenya, a lot of violence in Nairobi, people were frequently assaulted. In fact, I remember we used to stay at the Hilton Hotel in Nairobi and the doorman…it could have been Bond Street in London, he had a long red jacket and a big black top hat
and a sub-machine gun under his jacket, and a riot stick in his belt. I remember that one of the force commander's private bodyguards was assaulted by four people outside that hotel in Nairobi when he was there on leave. And there were a lot of scams. Police would hold people up in the street and say that they were…they were either real police or dressed as police, saying that they had been identified as somebody who had stolen a car,
and they were now going to be taken to jail unless they now paid the fine of two hundred US dollars, they were going to spend the next week in jail. So Nairobi was a place that was not without risks. And there was a lot of street violence, there was a lot of murder. A bit like South Africa, cars were being hijacked. Cars were being stopped, "Get out of the car now." If they didn't get out of the car they were shot and killed and thrown out of the car and the car was taken away…
So we were careful in Nairobi. But it was also a very interesting place, completely different people. There was an interesting culture, a lot of tourists there, a lot of European tourists there who were there to go to the game reserves. It was interesting.
You emphasised the importance of co-operation and that a military needs to be more diplomatic, that there needs to be more of a greater emphasis on diplomacy…
Well, in peace-keeping, yes. It's a hearts and minds thing. You are expected to be able to get along with the other members of the peace-keeping force, and you're there really to assist the government of the country.
You're not there to fight an enemy, necessarily, it is more of a security role, and to help people to get things done rather than hunting out an enemy or securing and controlling ground, or destroying some particular fighting force or whatever, so yeah, the diplomatic effort is important in all military operations, but perhaps it is a more subtle and delicate matter in peace-keeping operations, rather than
the controlled application of force and violence to achieve one's goals. It is the one circumstance where you can use force to protect yourself but not to achieve the goals of the peace-keeping mission.
The common perception of the people in Africa is that it a land of lost hope. If you've seen some of the movies that has come out in recent times, like Tears Of The Sun with Bruce Willis,
the impression that you get is that it is absolutely a lawless place and that a lot of killing, a lot of anarchy, that sort of stuff. How accurate is that impression? What exactly is Africa about?
Well, my exposure to Africa is limited really to Rwanda. It was the worst of times when we were there, but Africa is an exceptionally complicated, huge place, diverse culture. Some of the most fantastic
and advanced civilisations and architectural structures have come from there. You think about the Egyptian civilisation and other places. There is a division of resources. There's haves and have nots. There are different climates and deserts and agricultural profiles and different backgrounds with trading histories and colonial backgrounds. There are racial disputes that have been
going on for centuries perhaps, fights over resources, fights over arable land, fights over access to fresh water, to salt water, to buildings, to trade routes, to rivers…it's just a very complex place. And I think that when you think of it in those terms, the advances in a lot of the African nations are all the more remarkable given that sort of diversity and that sort of background.
And in our own recent years, look at how South Africa has changed. It's just extraordinary compared to what was occurring there maybe twenty or thirty years ago. So it is…it's a land of contrasts. It can be a hard place, but it is also a beautiful country with some very clever people, and they're getting on with it, I think. It was nice to have had the opportunity to assist. And I think Australia
has done that in a few places in Africa, to our credit. It's easy to say, "What are we doing in Africa? It's got nothing to do with us." But if we are serious about being a player in the world, in the big world, why not Africa? It just doesn't have to be Papua New Guinea or the Solomons, in our backyard and our region. Why not anywhere? If we're a serious world player, we're going to have to put up our hand and play anywhere in the world that there is problems where we can assist.
Is there an association for the Rwandan mission, for the Australians?
There is not a formal association. There is a Rwandan Yahoo Group that exchanges e-mails and things, which is a lot of fun, and tries to keep together. There was planned to be a reunion in Townsville in October this year, which I haven't heard anything about lately.
But I would hope that would go ahead. That would be the tenth anniversary of the initial deployment, and there is a sort of Rwandan sub-branch of the Peacekeeping Association. I think these things; they grow with need and with time. As more and more people are outside and they lose track of their fellow workers in Rwanda, there is a greater interest to get together
and to share experiences. As the numbers increase of those who are having difficulty coping, the focus of that organisation will become more important, and in that sense the role of a number of us as commanders and whatever will never really end. I will always feel some sort of obligation to try to help and look after those people in whichever way I can as an individual or as a group. And recently I've been involved with a couple of people who have been arguing that, although the deployment was initially considered
to be non-warlike, when you were there I can assure you it seemed very warlike to me. And there is an argument going on that it perhaps should be re-categorised as a warlike operation, which could flow on to having increased benefits for veterans as a result of that re-categorisation. In fact the government has recognised that itself recently by declaring service there to be tax-free.
We've run out time. Thank you.