Kokoda Day: PNG Gateway to Wartime Tourism

Our submission to the PNG Government to proclaim ‘Kokoda Day’ as a National Day of Commemoration to honour the service of their wartime carriers in 2008 was amended by the National Executive Council to ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel Day‘ – the reason, according to one MP at the meeting, was because a group of MPs from another Province thought ‘Kokoda’ was already getting too much attention!

12 years later we now know that eliminating ‘Kokoda’ from the proposal also eliminated the wartime tourism potential of the concept.

‘Kokoda Day’ could be a source of intense pride for all Papua New Guineans. It has the potential to emulate the commemorative status of Anzac Day in Australia. It will also provide a strong incentive for Australians to visit PNG for the commemoration and all it represents. But more importantly it provides a status of recognition for the Papua and New Guinea wartime carriers – the unsung heroes of the campaigns they supported throughout Papua and New Guinea.

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Kokoda Day: A Tribute to Papua New Guinea’s Unsung Heroes

 

The bleached bones of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of nameless PNG wartime carriers lie where they fell in unknown locations in swamps, jungles and formidable mountain ranges during the New Guinea campaigns. To this day we don’t know who they were. We don’t know where they came from. We don’t know where they died. There is no record of their existence. No medals were ever struck to acknowledge their service towards the war effort.

It’s time to honour their sacrifice by providing a Spirit Haus for their souls and a day to commemorate their sacrifice.

Australia was unprepared for the war in the Pacific in 1942.  Our faith in ‘great and powerful friends’ coming to our aid in the event of Japan entering the war was shattered with the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse near Singapore on 10 December 1941 and the secret deal struck by UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt for American aid to be directed to the European theatre of operations at the expense of the South West Pacific.

The defence of Australia and its mandated territory of Papua and New Guinea was dependent on untrained militia forces and a small band of New Guinea Rifles as our experienced AIF units were returning from Europe to meet the new threat.

Resources were so scarce in New Guinea that young males were forcibly recruited to support the war effort[i].  Many of these men from remote mountain villagers had no idea of the war and were conscripted against their will.  They were told that men from Japan were the enemy.  For many of these men other villagers living in remote tribal lands were also considered ‘enemy’.  One can only imagine the fear and uncertainty they felt as they were forcibly marched away from their families and clans to fight in ‘our’ war against Japan[ii].

It has been estimated that some 10,000 PNG nationals served as Carriers in support of the Australians during the Kokoda campaign in 1942. A further 42,000 are estimated to have been indentured to support Australian troops in the Milne Bay and the Buna/Gona campaigns.  They were paid 10 shillings per month.

The issue of compensation remains a vexed issue more than 70 years after the war.  While the Australian government paid some compensation for property damage to PNG nationals between 1944 and 1957 the wartime carriers were excluded from receiving any such benefits under the prevailing legislation. In 1980 they were also deemed to be ineligible for the PNG War Gratuity Scheme for ex-Servicemen.

And they were deemed to be ineligible for a medal.  In the eyes of post-war bureaucrats they were both nameless and invisible. (more…)

Kokoda Day – Time for Recognition

‘Kokoda Day’ could be a source of intense pride for all Papua New Guineans. It has the potential to emulate the commemorative status of Anzac Day in Australia. It will also provide a strong incentive for Australians to visit PNG for the commemoration and all it represents. But more importantly it provides a status of recognition for the Papua and New Guinea wartime carriers – the unsung heroes of the campaigns they supported throughout Papua and New Guinea.

Australia was unprepared for the war in the Pacific in 1942.  Our faith in ‘great and powerful friends’ coming to our aid in the event of Japan entering the war was shattered with the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse near Singapore on 10 December 1941 and the secret deal struck by UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt for American aid to be directed to the European theatre of operations at the expense of the South West Pacific.

The defence of Australia and its mandated territory of Papua and New Guinea was dependent on untrained militia forces and a small band of New Guinea Rifles as our experienced AIF units were returning from Europe to meet the new threat. (more…)

Kokoda Day: Deeds not Words

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Kokoda Day Speech by Charlie Lynn MLC at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway, Concord – 3 November 2014

Today we commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the day the Australian flag was raised by our troops after they had recaptured the village of Kokoda. This ceremony would never have happened if our allied naval forces had not thwarted Japanese plans for a seaborne invasion of Port Moresby in the battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 and the battle of Midway in June 1942.

Japanese plans for the capture of Port Moresby were continually disrupted by the heroic actions of our fighter and bomber pilots who continually bombed Rabaul and the Japanese landing fleets on the northern beaches at Buna and Gona. Our coastwatchers and commandos were instrumental in reporting and harassing Japanese plans and movements.

This left them with the only option of a land assault via a series of unknown native tracks connecting remote native villages across the Owen Stanley Ranges – to become known as the Kokoda Trail. (more…)

NSW schools to commemorate 70th anniversary of the raising of the flag on Kokoda

Following is a speech delivered by Charlie Lynn, Parliamentary Secretary for Veterans Affairs, at the Anzac Memorial in Sydney to launch the NSW Schools Commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the raising of the flag at Kokoda on 3 November 1942:

“Good morning teachers and students,

Around 15 years ago I attended a commemorative service for the 8th Division in Martin Place.  The late Sergeant Stan Bryant was guest speaker.

Stan reminded us that 1942 was the most critical time in Australia’s history.

“In eight weeks the overpowering Japanese invasion forces had destroyed the United States Navy in Pearl Harbour and sunk the British battleships in the China Sea.  The Japanese had captured Hong Kong and half of China and forced the British Navy to abandon Singapore.  They had defeated the United States Army in the Philippines and defeated the British Army in Malaya.  They had occupied Indonesia and sunk the Dutch fleet in the Java Sea.

“Australians experienced the terrible fear of imminent invasion.  We faced the loss of our homes and our country.  Many had turned to prayer as a last resort for their safety. (more…)

Fuzzy-Wuzzy Angel statue unveiled on Kokoda Day in Sydney

UNVEILING OF THE BRONZE STATUE HONOURING THE NEW GUINEA WARTIME CARRIERS by THE HON VICTOR DOMINELLO MP

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is no doubt that Kokoda is a pinnacle on that Anzac line of courage and fortitude that runs through our nation’s history from Gallipoli to Kapyong, from Long Tan to Tarin Kot.

Now almost seventy years has passed, but the name Kokoda continues to echo in the annals of Australia’s military narrative.

Early in 1942, Australians had mobilised in the face of a unique threat on its doorstep… (more…)