It’s a long drive from Cairns to the Cape York Peninsula, but for the craftsmen of the 51st Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment (51FNQR), it’s a road well-travelled.

The unit’s workshop, made up of 10 full-time Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME) soldiers, recently embarked on the second of its biannual repair tasks to its remote rifle companies.

While the workshop is based at Porton Barracks in Cairns, the team maintain equipment held at company depots in the Atherton Tablelands, Weipa, Mt Isa and the Torres Strait. 

They also have equipment at depots in small communities such as Doomadgee, Pormpuraaw and Bamaga.

Being a member of the workshop is a unique experience, according to Craftsman Brenton O’Sullivan, a vehicle mechanic who is new to the unit.

“Conducting a short-notice, forward-repair task into a remote community like Aurukun or Pormpuraaw to fix a G-Wagon that has broken down on exercise can be very interesting, especially when you are unsure of the exact fault,” Craftsman O’Sullivan said.

The workshop team conducts multiple forward-repair tasks to outstations to service and maintain weapons, vehicles and marine equipment.

They also conduct electrical integrity testing on the equipment.

These tasks involve a contingent travelling from Cairns to the outstations in specially fitted G-Wagon 6x6 surveillance and reconnaissance vehicles and general maintenance modules or, if the roads are impassable, via regional flights.

Artificer Sergeant Major 51FNQR Warrant Officer Class Two (WO2) James Gorman said the lack of facilities in remote locations made some repairs difficult.

“Not having a qualified tradesperson in the remote locations means we do not always receive accurate diagnostic information on equipment issues prior to travelling to the location,” WO2 Gorman said.

“The ability to access areas where the equipment is located requires extra planning and considerations.

“For example, B Coy Weipa is not accessible during the wet season, so all equipment and repair parts need to be freighted into the area and personnel flown in, which limits our work to known issues.”

In the Torres Strait, Corporal David Young is the mechanic posted to Thursday Island as part of C Coy 51FNQR.

“With the onset of COVID-19 and the ongoing border protection operations, equipment is being used harder and longer than ever before,” Corporal Young said.

“Longer work days and fewer weekends at home are countered by waking up each day in such a beautiful part of the world, with a very friendly and supportive local population.”

Being the only RAEME soldier on the island, Corporal Young must ensure the equipment remains operational. 

“Being in an isolated environment nearly 1000 kilometres from our parent unit and with only six full-time personnel requires forward thinking and adaptability,” he said.

“Problems that require quick fixes often need innovative solutions, as parts can take months to arrive.”

With a small team, remote locations and high operational and training tempo, life in the 51FNQR workshop is busy, but rewarding.  

Working in remote communities, on mission-essential equipment, the team can see how their maintenance affects the unit’s mission and communities they work in.

Their unit motto, ‘The love of country leads me’, is one the craftsmen of 51FNQR take to heart.