Back in 2006 we proposed that PNG proclaim ‘Kokoda Day’ as a National Day of Commemoration to honour the legacy of their wartime carriers who were affectionally known as ‘fuzzy-wuzzy angels’.
Because they were engaged as civilian labourers to support our troops across the Kokoda Trail and other campaigns in Papua and New Guinea from 1942-1945, they were not entitled to any official recognition so their names were never recorded on a roll of honour and no campaign medals were ever issued.
While we were aware that some 9000 Australians visit Gallipoli each year at a cost of around K18,000 each to commemorate our WW1 Anzac heritage we believed the word ‘Kokoda’, which symbolises our WW11 military heritage, has the potential to attract similar numbers of Australians because it is closer, cheaper and more relevant to the battles that saved our nation.
We were partially successful however the PNG National Executive Council (NEC) unwittingly decided to change the name to ‘Fuzzy-Wuzzy Angel Day‘ which effectively killed off the marketing value of the concept as most Australians are not familiar with the term which also has a patronisation connotation attached to it.
Since then, we have made numerous submissions to have it changed to its original name, Kokoda Day, however nothing has happened and a significant marketing opportunity for PNG has gone begging.
This is illustrated in the 2003 social media posts for ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Day’ in PNG, and ‘Kokoda Day’ in Australia on 3 November 2023.
The Australian Assistant Minister for Defence and Veterans Affairs, the Hon Matt Thistlewaite visited PNG to open a ‘Kokoda Gallery and World War11 Exhibition’ at the National Museum and Art Gallery and visited the Isurava Memorial on ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel Day’.
Social media photographs from the Australian High Commission indicate there was little public interest in either event – the opening of the ‘Kokoda Gallery and WW11 Exhibition attracted only 114 ‘Likes‘, 5 ‘Comments‘ and 11 ‘Shares‘ – the Minister’s visit to Isurava was even less remarkable with just 48 ‘Likes‘, one ‘Comment’ and 6 ‘Shares’.
There is no record of any schools commemorating the occasion or any form of commemorative service being conducted on the Kokoda plateau – nobody turned up for the Minister’s fly-in visit to the Isurava Memorial apart from a few bemused local villagers.
However it was different story in Sydney where the annual Kokoda Day Commemorative Service saw several hundred representatives from the veteran community come to pay their respects along with Federal, State and Local Government politicians; senior officers from the army, navy and air force; local schools and past trekkers.
A video clip of students from the North Strathfield Public School singing the PNG National Anthem went viral with 1500 ‘Likes‘, 157 ‘Comments‘, 310 ‘Shares‘, and more than 22,000 views!https://www.facebook.com/AdventureKokoda/videos/24251283431153175/
This indicates the term ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel Day‘ does not have any marketing resonance in either PNG or Australia!
This will remain the case until the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority gets serious about the international marketing potential of their own unsung heroes who contributed so much to the allied victories in Papua and New Guinea from 1942 – 1945.
Until then, the potential of Kokoda Day, which is outlined in this link, will lay dormant.