Australian High Commission
Papua New Guinea

150922 Speech Oral History's Book Launch

Launch of Voices from the War: Papua New Guinean Stories of the Kokoda Campaign, World War II

Remarks by Ms Bronte Moules, Acting Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea National Museum and Gallery
22 September 2015



Dr Andrew Moutu
Director, National Museum and Art Gallery

Professor John Waiko

Dr Jonathan Ritchie

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to be here at the National Museum and Art Gallery this evening.

What a momentous period it has been for PNG, culminating last week with celebrations marking 40 years of Papua New Guinea’s independence.

In his Independence Day address to the nation, Prime Minister the Hon Peter O’Neill gave a sense of what makes this nation great.

He reminded us that it is important to reflect not only on Papua New Guinea’s 40 years of independence, but on the thousands of years of rich history and culture that has made Papua New Guinea what it is today.

Last Monday I was here to launch an exhibition of art and artefacts which expresses the richness of that culture. That gathering celebrated Papua New Guinea’s, past, present and future.

Australia was pleased to be able to support that exhibition to help mark 40 years of Papua New Guinean independence.

This evening, I am honoured to stand here to launch another modest, yet significant, addition to the historical and cultural record of this nation.

It is a compilation of stories, adding to your already extensive collection, about another defining event in the national history: The Kokoda Campaign.

The Voices from the War: Papua New Guinean Stories of the Kokoda Campaign is a compilation of the accounts of Papua New Guinean experiences of World War II.

Ladies and gentlemen, in 1942 World War II came to Papua New Guinea. The important role played by Papua New Guinean men and women in that war is well known the world over.

The photograph of Private George Whittington being led by Raphael Oimbari in 1942 is etched in our collective memory.

The Fuzzy Wuzzy angels, as they are affectionately known in my country, are deeply admired by Australians. Their stories are received with reverence.

It gives me great pleasure that the stories of Papua New Guinean contribution to the War are well known.

However, outside of this country, these stories of bravery and heroism are rarely told by Papua New Guineans themselves. And generally, these stories are not about Papua New Guinean experiences, rather their stories colour someone else’s narrative.

Voices from the War is an early outcome of a project that aims to change this. The Papua New Guinea Oral History Project, which was announced in May 2013, aims to collect stories of Papua New Guinean experiences of World War II.

This project is important for Papua New Guinea. It will help Papua New Guineans record and preserve their own experiences about this major event in the nation’s history.

Papua New Guinean voices from the war will shed more light on one of the most significant historical events that made us the great friends we are today.

For that reason, I am pleased that the Australian Government is supporting the Oral History Project. We know that our shared history of participation in the War is one of the cornerstones of the modern relationship between Papua New Guinea and Australia.

The Australian Government is also supporting local efforts to shape PNG’s national identity and preserve its heritage.

The Australian Government recently committed $5 million annually over five years for the preservation of the Kokoda Track region.

A joint declaration between our Prime Ministers was also signed recognising the importance and symbolism of the region for the Papua New Guinea-Australia bilateral relationship.

In addition, the Australian Government has announced $25 million over four years to support the upgrade of this national institution, the National Museum and Art Gallery.

These are projects that support the showcasing of Papua New Guinea’s identity and culture and further deepen the cultural relationship between our two countries.

In conclusion, I should note that Voices from the War reflects the work done by many people over a long period.

I would in particular like to thank those who participated in the project, the people of Oro and Central Provinces, for sharing their experiences with us.

I would also like to thank Dr Andrew Moutu for his leadership in steering the project.

I thank Dr Jonathan Ritchie and Professor John Waiko for their research leadership, and those who worked with you in the field to collect these valuable stories.

I also pay tribute to former Deputy Australian High Commissioner here in Port Moresby, Ms Margaret Adamson, for her role in initiating the project and for her dedication to seeing it through.

Together, you added a significant voice to our recollection of the events that shaped both Papua New Guinea and Australia.

Voices from the War is a collection of stories by Papua New Guineans for all of us.

Once again, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to dedicate this important book.

Thank you all.