Home' Defence Magazine : Issue 1 2011 Contents 22 > DEFENCE MAGAZINE
The resilience of Australians is always tested in the aftermath of a natural disaster, and historically, the
Australian Defence Force has played a significant part in rescue and reconstruction efforts. Here, we look at
the approaches to natural disasters, starting with Cyclone Tracy in 1974 and moving through to this year
when two of Australia’s biggest natural disasters hit Queensland.
Defence leads the way
on road to recovery
Cyclone Tracy – 1974
Major General Alan Stretton
recalls flying into cyclone-
devastated Darwin and making
an emergency landing on a runway lit by
car headlights and kerosene flares.
Ninety per cent of the city had been
destroyed by Cyclone Tracy in 1974 and
MAJGEN Stretton thought it looked as
though it had been hit by a nuclear bomb.
People were coming out of the ruins
having essentially rescued themselves.
There was very little organisation, no
communications, no reticulated water,
no sewerage, no television and no radio.
With a population of 45,000 and no
water or sewerage, the risk of disease was
enormous and to avoid it the population
had to be reduced.
MAJGEN Stretton took the decision to
evacuate 35,000, leaving 10,000 as the
nucleus of a new Darwin.
The Australian Defence Force gave its
best support, with Army supplying all the
stores requested and the Air Force flying
people out and stores in. The Navy also
arrived with a fleet to assist the citizens
Operation Sumatra Assist – 2004/5
Following both the 2004 Boxing
Day Tsunami and the March 2005
earthquake, the Department of Defence
was an important part of the Australian
Government’s national humanitarian relief
effort to Indonesia.
Defence’s support for the tsunami relief
effort was known as Operation Sumatra
Assist. The earthquake relief effort
was dubbed Operation Sumatra Assist
Sadly, nine ADF members lost their
lives in a tragic helicopter accident on
By Hugh McKenzie and Michael Weaver
April 2, 2005, during Operation Sumatra
Assist Phase Two.
Major General Dave Chalmers took
command of Operation Sumatra Assist to
support Banda Aceh and Meulaboh, where
the major challenge was simply managing
the crowd of volunteers, aid organisations
and military forces.
MAJGEN Chalmers said the mission of
Combined Joint Task Force 629 was to
provide emergency relief, save lives and
reduce threats to survivors and to enhance
Australia’s relationship with Indonesia by
respecting its sovereignty and cultural
A 120-strong Anzac Hospital based
on the First Health Support Battalion,
including 30 New Zealand medical
personnel, worked with Germans,
Singaporeans and Indonesians. It provided
surgical capacity of eight operations a day
and included a nursing ward.
HMAS Kanimbla transported heavy
earth-moving machinery, carried
engineers, provided hotel services doing
laundry and providing hot meals. Kanimbla
also put daily work parties ashore
where Army engineers provided water
purification, debris and drain clearance,
and camp sanitation.
The Combined Joint Task Force
distributed 1200 tonnes of supplies,
carried 2500 displaced people, assisted
with 70 aero-medical evacuations,
provided 3700 medical treatments,
performed 290 operations, produced
4.7 million litres of clean water, cleared
10,000 cubic metres of debris, hand-
cleared kilometres of drains and moved
16 fishing boats.
Operation Larry Assist – 2006
When the eye of Cyclone Larry crossed
the coast near Innisfail between 6.20am
and 7.20am on March 20, 2006, the
response, with assistance from Queensland
Emergency Services, became a blueprint
for natural disasters to follow.
Many of the units involved in the relief
effort were redeployed from the field and
refitted in order to assist.
The Commander of Operation Larry
Assist, Major General Mick Slater, said the
plan was simple – sustain and protect.
Water, food and shelter was the priority
in material terms, along with troops and
engineering equipment to clear debris
blocking roads and endangering the
“The aim was to stabilise the
situation until the civil authorities could
consolidate and fully manage the situation
without Defence support,” MAJGEN Slater
said at the time.
At the height of the operation, some 400
ADF personnel were involved on the ground.
During the first four days of Op Larry Assist,
they delivered 75,000 litres of bottled water
and 15.5 tonnes of tarpaulins.
Higher-level coordination and command
was run out of a joint task force
headquarters located at 3rd Brigade in
Townsville. The State Disaster Coordination
Centre was responsible for the tasking.
An air-bridge into Innisfail by RAAF
Hercules and Caribous was established.
As the relief effort gained momentum,
soldiers from the Cairns-based 51st
North Queensland Regiment, assisting
in Babinda, were joined by soldiers from
the 3rd Battalion with the 3rd Combat
Engineer Regiment support. Black Hawks
from 5th Aviation Regiment and School of
Army Aviation flew the troops in. Three
Iroquois were also on line, as well as a
Chinook for heavy lift.
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