The last 50 Australian infantry soldiers in East Timor boarded an RAAF C-130 transport aircraft on Friday, ending a six-year intervention that has helped secure stability in the half-island nation.
"I'm looking forward to getting home, seeing the missus and having a beer," said Private James Cerone, 20, from Narre Warren in Victoria as he boarded the plane for Adelaide, where his platoon is based.
"It's been good experience ... mostly training and I'll see where it all takes me now," he said.
Lieutenant Colonel Mick Sasse, commander of the departing troops, said he had felt a growing sense that East Timorese wanted to get on with being an independent nation.
"We have provided a secure environment for them to get on with their future," Commander Sasse said.
"They can stand on their own . . . it's time," he said.
Australian troops were deployed to Dili in 2006 to help quell violent upheaval, forming a joint-task force with New Zealand called the International Stabilisation Force (ISF).
But the taskforce has not been required to respond to violence since rebel attacks on former president Jose Ramos Horta and prime minister Xanana Gusmao in 2007.
Clinton Fernandes, a University of New South Wales senior lecturer and an expert on East Timor, said the troops at first operated in a complex environment where they were confronted by barefoot teenagers armed with petrol cans to burn down houses.
He said the troops minimised interaction with Timorese, "except under highly controlled circumstances, always watching for hidden weapons".
"That might have been appropriate in Afghanistan and Iraq but not in a place like East Timor," he said.
"But bad habits die hard."
Charles Scheiner, a founder of the Dili-based non-government-organisation La'o Hamutuk, said the troops have mainly used East Timor for training for four or five years, keeping a low profile among Timorese.
The withdrawal of the Australians follows the winding up of a United Nations mission on December 31, leaving East Timor to stand on its own for the first time in almost 500 years.
The country was occupied by Portugal for more than 450 years and Indonesia for 24 years and was then under the shadow of successive UN missions.
The deployment has cost Australia hundreds of millions of dollars.
Four Australians died while on the deployment but none while responding to violence.
Lindsay Murdoch is a three-time winner of the Walkley Award, Australia's top award for journalistic excellence. Lindsay is a former correspondent based in Singapore, Jakarta and Darwin. In 1999 he covered the tumultuous events in East Timor, and in 2003 he covered the Iraq war while embedded with US Marines.