Close Community Ties Through Tragedy


On a remote Malaysian island, a small school and its community have formed a strong and lasting bond with the RAAF - born out of the most tragic circumstances.

The island of Pulau Aur has only one kampong (village), one school and fewer than 100 residents. The school currently boasts an enrolment of 12 students.

Pulau Aur was a forgotten place, never featuring in the news reports, but on the night of April 18, 1999 the crash of Pisces 1 (a RAAF F-111G) on the high slopes of the densely forested island changed the trajectory of the islanders - and resulted in the building of a strong relationship with Australia.

When Squadron Leaders Anthony 'Shorty' Short and Stephen 'Nige' Hobbs lost their lives after their aircraft impacted high on the mountain, the small island community quickly responded - trekking through dense jungle at night to the burning crash site in order to potentially provide what assistance they could.

The role this community played in lending a hand and openly supporting the recovery was not lost on the family members and close friends of Shorty and Nige, and with the approval of the local community, a memorial plaque commemorating the accident was unveiled at the local school - built into a stone plinth in pride of place in the school grounds.

On the 25th anniversary of the loss, Air Force enabled family and close friends to visit Pulau Aur - accompanied by aviators from 19 Squadron, 6 Squadron and Headquarters 82 Wing - to commemorate the anniversary.

This included a community engagement opportunity at the local school, where 6 Squadron and 19 Squadron donated educational supplies and sporting equipment to the enthusiastic local kids who were delighted to receive the visitors and their donations.

Doubles badminton and a 'scratch' soccer match were quickly underway, a highlight of which was a young student - no older than 11 - bamboozling a 6 Squadron pilot with deft footwork to register a bevy of uncontested goals.

Wing Commander Belinda Edmunds, Commanding Officer of 19 Squadron based at Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Base Butterworth, Malaysia, commented on the relationship between RAAF and the Pulau Aur community.

"Our relationship with the Pulau Aur community is very special to 19 Squadron. The relationship began 25 years ago when they supported Australia following the F-111G crash, which killed two of our finest aviators," Wing Commander Edmunds said.

"The accident not only impacted the lives of family and friends, but the entire community of little Pulau Aur - it bonds us together.

"Whilst 19 Squadron have a close bond with the crash site, it is the Pulau Aur community that are the custodians and caretakers and spiritual home of the memorial, and so since that time 19 Squadron and the Pulau Aur community have continued to engage and support each other."

The school visit proved of great worth to the 19 Squadron aviators involved.

"We especially enjoy our engagement with the school community. The children of Pulau Aur are really engaged in learning about our shared history together, the role of RAAF and how we contribute to protecting their sea," Wing Commander Edmunds said.

"The 19 Squadron aviators really embraced the opportunity to fundraise and donate schooling and sports equipment as a way of thanking Pulau Aur for their friendship and support."

19 Squadron provides a permanent ADF presence in Malaysia, enabling the projection of the integrated force into the region through the provision of airbase support at RMAF Butterworth.

Malaysia is one of Australia's most important and longstanding partners. The countries share a commitment to a peaceful, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

For over 82 years the two counties - and their communities - have meaningfully supported one another through deep relationships built on people-to-people ties, such as was on display at a tiny school at Pulau Aur where human bonds will now never be broken and are set in stone.

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