Anzac Day this year marked the beginning of the 80th anniversaries of the key battles that defeated the Japanese advance during the Second World War in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and the Coral Sea.
I had been hoping there would be a step-up in the Australian Government's celebrations of Anzac Day in Papua New Guinea, and even the Solomons. To say I was disappointed would be the understatement of the year!
Readers will know I have long advocated a focus on the people-to-people links between Australia and Papua New Guinea. In that advocacy I have drawn attention to the very significance contribution young Australians made to the freedom we enjoy today in Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands through their bravery, and sacrifice,
The 50th anniversary of the Battle for Kokoda, and other wartime conflicts, was celebrated in Papua New Guinea on 25 April 1992. I had the privilege of playing a role in the celebrations on behalf of the then PNG Prime Minister, Rabbie Namaliu, who invited the Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating to visit PNG to mark this historic occasion.
At the same time he invited the Australian Opposition Leader, Dr John Hewson, to travel to Rabaul and be special guest at the Anzac Day events in a community that played a significant role in World War 2. That gave the occasion a truly bi-partisan hallmark.
The Keating visit included attendance at a state dinner hosted by Prime Minister Namaliu, a truly moving wreath laying ceremony attended by both Prime Ministers at the Bomana War Cemetery, a major address to business and community leaders, and an even more historic visit by the two Prime Ministers to the village of Kokoda at the start of the historic Kokoda Track.
The PM's visit attracted wide publicity in Australia and was very well received in the media and community in Papua New Guinea.
At the time I had hoped the visit, and the extensive discussions between the Prime Ministers, would cement the annual Anzac Day ceremony as a vital part of the enduring Australia-Papua New Guinea relationship, with the focus on developing a number of historic places, such as the Kokoda Track, the wartime caves at Rabaul and some coastal centres where land and sea battles took place.
The goodwill on the 50th anniversary of Kokoda - celebrated on Anzac Day - provided an opportunity to educate school students in both countries, boost the number of Australians walking the Track, and visiting other centres.
Fast forward to the 80th anniversary of the battle for Kokoda and other events, hopefully remembered by the Australian Government, and organisations such as the RS, on Anzac Day, 25 April 2022.
To say I was disappointed at what happened - or didn't happen - would be an understatement!
As far as I can ascertain media coverage in PNG was very limited. There were no top-level visits by Ministers or senior defence force personnel, no statement from the PNG Prime Minister on the importance of Anzac Day to the Papua New Guinea-Australia relationship, and no extensive advertising and educational material in the PNG media highlighting the historic links and the 80th anniversary of battles that repelled the Japanese advance and secured our freedom.
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