Mefloquine Dispatches: Peacetime in PNG (11th January 2023)

Reflecting the frustration at the treatment of veterans exposed to mefloquine my psychologist reached out to Richard Marles, the recently appointed Minister for Defence and Deputy PM and asked a question about Operation Baritone (March 1997).

The member of Richard Marles staff who responded might be unaware of the Company Group (3/97) that redeployed from Shoalwater Bay to Townsville at short notice. He wouldn’t know about the late-night review of your will and the death photo taken in the old hospital block. Nor blood pressure checks and the RMO signing off on your trip to war on the soldiers back in front of you. Picking up your seven magazines. Loading a pouch full of M26s. Inoculations in front of the Hercules. Lariam tablets being passed man-to-man. Briefings which talk about the rioting, the PNGDF in mutiny, South African mercenaries, Rascals, and the possibility of heavy casualties. The smell of excitement and fear as the clock moves from 24hrs Notice-To-Move (NTM) to 12hrs NTM. It would have been better than the Wild Bunch.

This message shouldn’t be coming from me. You should have been contacted as part of the Use of the Quinoline anti-malarial drugs Mefloquine and Tafenoquine in the Australian Defence Force investigation in 2018. In fact, members from 3 RAR were initially contacted by the Department of Veterans Affairs in relation to a 1996 deployment to Vanuatu. It was quickly shut down and muffled.

If you are reading the bad news here, I’m sorry if you are getting the message from me.

The Butchers Bill – Company Group 3/97

If you redeployed with the Company Group from Shoalwater Bay at the end of Exercise Tasman Thrust 97 and ended up waiting for the Hercules at Garbutt while we were staging, then you were given a Mefloquine Loading Dose (MLD). Don’t bother checking your medical records as it wasn’t written down. I had to prove my exposure via Red Cross records (I basically caught a lucky break).

Here is how you can check if you were given a Mefloquine Loading Dose as part of Company Group 3/97. If you got typhoid on the 22nd of March 1997 then you got an MLD as well. I distinctly remember getting 3-4 injections behind those planes. Check your vaccination records. Here is a personal example.

Battalion Group – 1 RAR

I was at Garbutt and had no visibility of this. However, the Australian Government decided to activate the Battalion Group. Once activated it is very likely the RMOs started the vaccination process including anti-malarial treatments. I’d be checking your medical records as well.

For confirmation here is Tony Wright’s 20th anniversary write up of the Sandline Affair. Via the Sydney Morning Herald (circa 2019). From the Archives: Gunpoint in PNG; mercenaries evacuated. Excerpt:

The Federal Government placed a crack Army battalion on heightened alert in a contingency plan to evacuate 12,000 Australian citizens from Papua New Guinea as rebel troops bundled the remaining mercenaries out of the country.

Late last night, 55 mercenaries were put on a chartered Air Niugini jet to Hong Kong.

The confrontation between PNG’s rebellious defence force and the Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan, over his aborted plan to use the mercenaries in the Bougainville conflict moved towards a showdown yesterday.

A Battalion Group is not just made up of Grunts. Things were moving very quickly. Some thoughts. Signals and medics were on the first two planes (so you would also be exposed). Airforce personnel assigned would all be exposed. Possibly a 3 RAR company? Certainly SF. Apparently four naval ships were assigned to the initial deployment. If in doubt, double check your medical records.

To the Lost.