North-West Mobile Force (NORFORCE)

Category: Policy/Strategy
Date: July 1981
Subject Matter: | Defence
Summary Information:
The North-West Mobile Force (NORFORCE) reconnaissance units of the Australian Army are a distinctive example of co-management, involving joint surveillance and reconnaissance patrols by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Army personnel in remote areas of Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
Detailed Information:
While the concept for the NORFORCE units can be traced to military units established by anthropologists Donald Thomson and William Stanner during the early 1940s (Ball (ed), 1991), the first of the current NORFORCE units was officially established in July 1981 as a 'Regional Force Surveillance Unit' (headquartered in Darwin) within the Royal Australian Infantry Corps. By the late 1980s the unit consisted of four reconnaissance squadrons (headquartered at Darwin, Kununurra, Arnhem (Nhulunbuy) and Alice Springs), each regional base providing logistical support for local patrol units. In addition, a Base Squadron and Signals Troop is located at Darwin, the NORFORCE unit consisting in total of approximately 370 soldiers (including full-time and army reserve personnel) as of 1988. (Ball (ed), 1991: DoD, 2008) "NORFORCE's patrol area covers about a quarter of the Australian land mass. Coverage of this enormous area is facilitated by a distributed network of squadrons, troops and patrols, and by the maintenance of close contacts with local inhabitants in the area... Flexible arrangements have been instituted to ensure both that the part-time NORFORCE duties of the Aborigines do not interfere with their normal employment and that their special skills and knowledge are utilised... NORFORCE is organised around four reconnaissance squadrons, together with a Base Squadron and a Signal Troop (125 Signal Troop)... The number of troops and patrols in each Squadron differs according to the nature of the area of surveillance responsibility and the availability of suitable recruits from the local population centres." (Ball, 1991, pp. 15-16) The Administrator of the Northern Territory is the Honorary Colonel of NORFORCE; the Commanding Officer (since the unit's inception an officer of the rank of Lieutenant Colonel) and Regimental Sergeant Major are regular (full-time) Army personnel. (NORFORCE Association, 2009) An agreement was reached in the 1980s between the Northern Land Council (NLC) and Army to facilitate the administration of permits to NORFORCE personnel conducting patrols on Aboriginal land: "In late 1986 the NLC initiated a meeting with representatives from Headquarters 7th Military District and NORFORCE to examine the possibility of simplifying and expediting procedures [for permits to enter Aboriginal land]. The NLC delegates suggested that NORFORCE should forward a submission to the Northern Territory Government seeking approval to issue all Northern Territory-based NORFORCE personnel ... with a permanent permit card. This card is issued on a restricted basis to those personnel, normally Northern Territory or Federal officials, who have a regular requirement to enter Aboriginal land, e.g. Police, National Park Rangers. The permit authorises the member to enter and remain on Aboriginal land for the duration of his or her duties." (Neate, 1987, p. 49)

Related Entries

  • Department of Defence - Partner