Australian High Commission
Papua New Guinea

Speech ANZAC 2010


Address by Australian High Commissioner Ian Kemish AM


So we have come.

We have come to Bomana to keep vigil with the thousands of dead who lie here, to pay tribute to the sacrifice of generations past and present, and to draw inspiration from their example.

We are not alone in doing so. At this moment, as the sun rises across this beautiful country of Papua New Guinea, others are coming together on the far side of the Owen Stanley ranges, at Isurava. They are coming together from Milne Bay to Gona, from Bougainville to Lae, from Wewak to Sananda.

The sun is also rising in eastern Australia, and people are gathering around war memorials in our largest cities and smallest towns. Dawn services have already taken place across New Zealand and in Solomon Islands. And they will be greeting the sun in sombre reflection in many other places across the globe long after we have left this place.

We Australians, and our New Zealand brothers and sisters, come together mindful that this is the day that the ANZAC spirit was born, on a distant shore 95 years ago. We know that this day will bind our two countries together forever.

We draw immense strength from the presence and support of our friends and allies. We pay tribute to their fallen too; we embrace them as our own. In many places – perhaps most poignantly at Gallipoli itself - we are joined by our former enemies. We rejoice that this is possible.

Those who have come here are united by common purpose. But our perspectives naturally differ. Some of us are here because it helps us feel closer to people we never knew. Perhaps a long-gone great grandparent known only through the recollections of others. Many here will not have one person in mind, but come simply to say a quiet thank you to the generations who secured the peace we enjoy today.

For others, those who lie here are people they knew, whose mannerisms they remember and whose voices they can still hear. They grieve for the fallen in ways that others cannot fully comprehend.

They know, in the words of the poet, that

These hearts were woven of human joys and cares
Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs
And sunset, and the colours of the Earth
These had seen movement, and heard music; known
Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone.
Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.

Some of us carry in our hearts and minds the images of friends and loved ones who are working today, in places like Afghanistan, East Timor and Solomon Islands, to bring peace and security to the people of those countries. Those who lie here at Bomana would be proud, and would recognise a continuity in their efforts – that the work of the living picks up where they were forced to leave off.

For Australians, the battles of Papua New Guinea –where these thousands of young men lost their lives - were the very darkest days of the Second World War. Those who fought here were not fighting for some abstract concept – for honour, pride or empire. They had every reason to believe they were fighting for the survival and safety of their loved ones across the water, that their home and way of life was in grave peril. Those who died before the tide was turned in Milne Bay and on the Kokoda Track would have gone to their deaths fearing the very worst.

For many Papua New Guineans it must have been bewildering. It brought immense suffering and hardship to many. We Australians will never forget those Papua New Guineans who came to our aid, those Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels of Sapper Beros’s immortal poem who answered the prayers of many a mother in Australia. It is best left to Bert Beros to summon up the image of the stretcher bearers of ANGAU:

They haven’t any halos
Only holes slashed in the ears
And with faces worked by tattoos
With scratch pins in their hair
Bringing back the wounded
Just as steady as a hearse
Using leaves to keep the rain off
And as gentle as a nurse.

This image – of Papua New Guineans responding to the suffering of others with gentleness, perceptiveness and acuity - is a very familiar one to those of us who live in this country, and know its people.

And we must never forget the bravery, sacrifice and service of those men of the Papuan Infantry Batallion who obeyed unquestioningly the historic order to attack enemy forces. They lie here too.

Each of us will decide for ourselves what all this means for our daily lives – how best to draw inspiration from the ANZAC spirit, from the extraordinary resilience and selflessness shown by friend and allies, by our servicemen and women past and present.

But one thing is certain. We will not forget.