Australian High Commission
Papua New Guinea

131121 - Speech - Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels Commemorative

21 November 2013

Address by Australia’s High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, HE Ms Deborah Stokes at the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels Commemorative Medallion: A Reflection and Presentation, National Museum, Port Moresby

21 November 2013


  • The Hon Boka Kondra MP, Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture
  • The Hon John Pundari MP, the Minister for Environment and Conservation
  • The Hon Justin Tkatchenko, Minister for Sports, Pacific Games and National Events
  • The Hon Kila Haoda, Governor of Central Province
  • The Hon Garry Juffa, Governor of Oro Province
  • The Hon Powes Parkop, Governor of the National Capital District
  • The Hon Delilah Gore, Vice Minister for the Treasury
  • The Board of Trustees of the National Museum and Art Gallery and its President, Mr Julius Violaris
  • Dr Andrew Moutu, Director of the National Museum and Art Gallery

It is a great pleasure to be here at the National Museum today and to have this opportunity to reflect on the links forged between Papua New Guineans and Australians in World War Two and the role of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.
The experience of war brought our countries together and it remains an important part of our shared history.

Australians fought alongside the men of the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the Pacific Islands Regiment.
When many Australians today think of Papua New Guinea, they think of Kokoda, the Battle of Milne Bay and Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.

An estimated 50,000 Papuans and New Guineans assisted Australian forces during the Second World War by carrying supplies, building bases, airfields and other infrastructure, and evacuating the sick and the wounded from the fighting.

Many Australians who became sick or wounded during the Pacific campaign owe their lives to these civilians, who were affectionately known as Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.

Australians have long revered the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels for their role in carrying supplies to troops fighting in nearly inaccessible terrain and for their care in evacuating the wounded.

They earned great respect for their strength, ingenuity and compassion.

This has been well expressed in the words of Sapper Bert Beros in his poem titled ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’:

Many a mother in Australia,
When the busy day is done,
Sends a prayer to the Almighty
For the keeping of her son,
Asking that an Angel guide him
And bring him safely back
Now we see those prayers are answered
on the Owen Stanley track.

The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels Commemorative Medallion was presented to surviving Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels and their widows as a symbol of Australia’s appreciation for the care and assistance extended by Papua New Guinea civilians to Australian servicemen during the Second World War.

The Medallion was announced by then Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Sir Michael Somare on 28 April 2009.

The Medallion features the image of a blinded and barefoot Private George Whittington being helped along by Raphael Oimbari, based on a photograph taken on Christmas Day 1942 near Buna on the PNG north coast and which is displayed here today.

Over the course of the program some 112 medallions were awarded to surviving Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels and their widows from across PNG.

One of the awardees, Ovoru Idiki passed away last Friday. Idiki was an icon of the Kokoda Track and he will be missed by his family, the people of Naduri village and the many Australian visitors who met him along the track.

The presentation of this framed medallion to the National Museum and Art Gallery this afternoon will be the final presentation of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Commemorative Medallion.

I am proud to be making this presentation on behalf of the Australian Government to the people of Papua New Guinea, to acknowledge the efforts, service and sacrifice of all Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.

Our aim is to see an identical framed set presented for display at the Australian War Memorial.

But this presentation is not the end of the Australian Government’s effort to recognise the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels and the role of World War Two in the life of our two countries.

In May 2013, then Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Julia Gillard, announced a new research project, the World War Two Oral History Project, to be led by the National Museum and Art Gallery.

Funded by both the PNG and Australian Governments, the aim of the project is to produce a comprehensive collection of oral accounts of Papua New Guineans’ experiences in World War Two.

By the middle of next year, we will have collected the oral histories of people who lived along the Kokoda Track.

The National Museum and its other partners will also determine how to extend the project to other parts of PNG.

The Australian Department of the Environment will be supporting the project through the Kokoda Initiative with assistance from the Australian War Memorial.

Our aim is to hold a major symposium in Papua New Guinea in 2017, the 75th Anniversary of the World War Two Pacific Campaign, where the research will be released.

Our hope is that the collection will become a resource for academics and the public.

It is vital that PNG’s own history of the war is preserved for younger generations of Papua New Guineans.

We recognise that some of the first feelings of nationhood in this country were forged as Papuans and New Guineans from different ends of the territories were brought together at battle sites.

It is also important that young Australians remember the support and sacrifice that PNG gave Australia when our nation was tested so close to our shores.

The Australian Government will also continue to support military heritage in PNG through other avenues.

We will continue to work with the Papua New Guinea Government, the Oro and Central Provinces, the Kairuku and Sohe Districts and the Koiari and Kokoda Local Level Governments, to build and sustain the Kokoda Initiative.

The Kokoda Initiative is unique in PNG and possibly in the world.

By preserving military and cultural heritage, improving quality of life for landowners and communities, promoting environmental conservation, and building tourism, we are seeking to create a model for sustainable development.

Kokoda can be a platform to encourage tourism in other significant sites in Papua New Guinea.

And finally, before I present this memorial piece to the Minister, I would like to say a few words about the National Museum and Art Gallery.

Minister Kondra, Mr Violaris and Dr Moutu, thank you for hosting us this afternoon.

We are excited about working with the Museum more closely in future years, particularly through the World War Two Oral History Project.

Museums play a vital role in the life of nations and this is particularly true in Papua New Guinea where some of the world’s oldest cultures and traditions are being weaved into the fabric of a modern, dynamic country.

Now nearly 70 years since the end of World War Two, we gather here today to honour the contribution of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels to both of our countries.

We look forward to working together to preserve their legacy and to taking forward into the 21st century the same spirit of cooperation, partnership and brotherliness that was forged in the Second World War.

Thank you.