FIJI MAY 1987
When Fiji gained her independence from Britain, the people chose to remain a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, appoint a Governor General and to adopt the Westminster System of government. Fiji has two groups of nationals, the Melanesian Fijians and the Indian Fijians. The Indians were originally brought to Fiji as labourers many generations ago and are now strongly entrenched in the business and social structure of the nation.
In May 1987 an election was held, which saw a majority in Indian Fijians returned in the predominantly Melanesian Fijian Government. There were about 3000 Australian Nationals holidaying or living in Fiji at that time.
On the 14th May 1987 Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka led an armed and masked party of soldiers into the Fijian Parliament while it was in session and removed the new Prime Minister, Dr Timoci Bavadra and the elected members of parliament at gun point. They were taken by force of arms into protective custody. Rabuka announced to the population that he was in control of both the Army and the Government. Rabuka also announced he had suspended the Commander of the Fijian Defence Forces, the Governor General and the Constitution and had appointed a new Interim Council to administer the country.
All media outlets were under control of the military and foreign ships, including Australian Naval ships were warned to leave immediately. The Australian Government had a high level of concern for the safety of Australian citizens caught up in this military overthrow of a legal government.
On the 20th May, HMAS Tobruk plus a landing craft and a communications detachment were put on stand-by.
On the 21St May 1987, a 1 RAR Coy Group was placed on immediate notice to deploy to Fiji to assist in the protection of Australian Nationals in the event of an evacuation being required. B Company 1RAR was the Ready Reaction Force stand-by company and was on seven days notice to move.
The battalion second in command, Major Gary Stone, brought B Company to a state of immediate readiness and issued orders. The force subsequently deployed on 23 May 1987 by air and sea to a holding area 15 NM SW of Fiji and maintained readiness for a variety of tasks, related to an evacuation. They would fly to Norfolk Island by C130 aircraft and there board naval ships.
The transfer to HMAS Tobruk and Success was completed and the force moved to within fifteen nautical miles of Fiji where the troops were transferred to the HMAS Sydney and Parramatta. This position was held until the 29th May when it was deemed the situation in Fiji had stabilized. The force had returned to Townsville by the 7th June and now had to review the lessons learnt.
This had been the first operational deployment since the Viet Nam war and some things went wrong but a lot valuable lessons had been learnt. The synchronization of the three services in this manner had not been practiced for some time. 1RAR had performed well and this operation set the training and planning direction for the future.
Source: Struggling for Self Reliance – Bob Breen
Duty First – Horner & Bou
1 Sect, 4 Pl, B Coy, 1 RAR on HMAS Sydney 1987
Stowing gear on board
B Coy on the HMAS Sydney 1987