Australia’s Secret War
Capitalism’s wars are generally well-publicised. But not always. The Americans managed to keep their involvement in Vietnam and, later, Cambodia fairly quiet for a while. But as more and more Americans became involved, so the news trickled out. Nevertheless, in general, the CIA’s involvement in Tibet and Britain’s SAS involvement in Oman remained largely unknown for many years.
Likewise with Australia’s secret war with Indonesia in 1965. Not that Australia actually declared war on Indonesia. And neither has any British government admitted that their SAS troops were also involved with the Australians.
Now, however, the story is beginning to come out. The West Australian (7 January, 1995) has spilt some of the beans.
The trouble began in 1963, when Indonesia began its policy of “konfontasi” to the formation of Malaysia — a confederation of Malaya, Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore (which left the confederation later in 1965). Tiny oil-soaked Brunei sat nervously in the wings,
According to Australian Cabinet documents, released after 30 years, the government of Menzies first planned to bomb Indonesia in 1964 if the Jakarta government escalated its confrontation with Malaysia. Instead, the Australian government sent hundreds of troops of the 3rd Australian regiment together with members of the Australian SAS, and the British sent members of their SAS, from Malaysia on board a tramp steamer, with tarpaulins covering the deck, to Kuching in Sarawak. They were then taken to Sirikin, on the Indonesian (Borneo/Kalimantan) border.
“Far from having only defensive positions on the Malaysian side of the border”, comments the West Australian, “the Australians mounted repeated raids into Indonesian territory.” But officially, the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment were not there. Says Darryl Easton, who was among the Australian and British troops:
“We were deniable. If we were caught, we’d have denied being Australians. So would our government. Before going into Indonesian territory to set up ambushes, we had to remove our dog tags — even through they carried our blood group — and even had to remove Australian labels from tinned food. We also were ordered to take no prisoners because they would have jeopardised the operation and our own safety.”
One operation, code named “Blockbuster”, resulted in the deaths of at least 50 Indonesians. A number of Australians were known to have been wounded in one ambush; and one of them, an Aboriginal, Private Alby Kyle, was flown to Singapore, where he was reported as saying that killing Indonesians “was just like shooting duck”.
Although the Australian government now admits that 15 Australian servicemen were killed (it may have been more), it is believed that hundreds of Indonesians died at the hands of the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment, and the Australian and British SAS.
In July 1965, the then Australian External Affairs Department Secretary, Sir James Plimsoll, informed the Indonesian Ambassador that a state of war did not exist between their two countries. However, the Australian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, attempted to clarify the situation for the Indonesian Ambassador by saying: “There are operations of war because fighting is going on,” but this was distinct from an actual war as no war had been declared between Australia and Indonesia.
Menzies seems to have mollified the Indonesian government, however. Shortly after, the Australian Minister for External Affairs, Paul Hasluck, announced that the Federal government was giving them one million dollars in aid. And, according to Darryl Easton, Indonesian army offices had been trained in jungle warfare at Canungra, in Queensland. So, that was all right.
Peter E. Newell