PNGAA Symposium Dinner speech: Andrea Williams

2014 ANZAC Centenary Commemorative Dinner
Wednesday 17 September 2014
Stranger’s Dining Room, NSW Parliament House, Sydney

Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen, and friends: Good evening and a very special welcome to:

  • The Hon. Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, tonight officially representing the Hon. Tony Abbott, MP, Prime Minister of Australia: it is a great privilege having you here tonight;
  • Major General the Hon. Michael Jeffery, our PNGAA Co-Patron, and Mrs Jeffery;
  • Your Excellency Charles Lepani and Dr Katherine Lepani;
  • Consul General Sumasy Singin;
  • Acting Consul Magdalene Moi-He;
  • The Hon Charlie Lynn MLC;

And my colleagues from the PNG community here in Australia who are continually supportive:

  • Dr Dennis Chow, President of the PNG Chinese Catholic Association;
  • Mr Daniel Luke, President of the Sydney PNG Wantok group;
  • Mr Phil Ainsworth, President of the NGVR/PNGVR Ex members Association.

I’d like to welcome you all this evening and especially to thank so many of you for travelling from Papua New Guinea, from Queensland and from elsewhere to be here.

The PNGAA is grateful to the Hon. Charlie Lynn for his generous support in assisting the PNGAA with this significant event.

We are here tonight because we all have a deep interest in—and wish to acknowledge—the continuing close relationship between Australia and PNG, and we look forward to hearing from the Hon. Julie Bishop.

Importantly tonight, we commemorate Australia’s early role in WW1 in the Pacific when a combined Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF) was landed to capture the wireless station at Bitapaka. The wireless station was crucial. Six Australians, 30 New Guinea German police and a German officer all died and we remember them all. This small but significant victory on 11 September 1914 resulted in Australia’s Mandate to administer New Guinea and a continuing ongoing relationship now: a century later.

After WW1 ceased and the mandate was proclaimed with the League of Nations, Australia had 20 years before WWII threw chaos into its midst. Another seven years passed before the Papua New Guinea Act in 1949 ensured it became united as the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Australia again set out to restore peace and instil some order. 23 years later, in 1972, the name of the territory was changed to Papua New Guinea and there was a confirmed path to Independence in 1975. Next year, 2015, will be the 40th Anniversary of PNG Independence.

It is a sad fact that many younger Australians have no idea of the long and close connections Australia has had with PNG and until last week few Australians realised that the first Australians killed in WW1 died on our doorstep in New Guinea.

A number of projects keep our members actively engaged. Our quarterly journal, Una Voce, is a vital part of the association with anecdotes to entertain, historical articles to inform and a wide variety of information on book reviews, reunions and general information. Fortunately it is digitised on our website for members and we are tremendously proud of this wonderful resource.

Members have been working on a DVD telling the kiap story, a unique historical part of our Australian/PNG relationship. We will be seeing an excerpt from this at tomorrow’s symposium and it will be launched later this year.

The PNGAA has supported the Crocodile Prize, PNG’s national literacy competition. PNGAA members Keith Jackson and Phil Fitzpatrick initiated this prize, with strong support from Bob Cleland who is here this evening. The Croc Prize is now in its fourth year. The prizes for this year will be awarded at a ceremony at the Australia High Commission in Port Moresby tomorrow.

The PNGAA Collection at the Fryer Library, University of Queensland, continues to attract a mind boggling stream of historical documents and photos. This extraordinary collection, along with collections in other repositories, urgently needs digitising for future generations. The PNGAA began a fund some years ago through profits from sales of its DVD, Walk Into Paradise, but technology is growing faster than small profits from selling the DVDs! 

The PNGAA has regional groups in other states and these continue to grow. Our annual Christmas luncheon in Sydney is always popular. In 2013, His Excellency Charles Lepani was our guest speaker. This December we have Sir Henry Chow speaking. Sir Henry has extensive business interests in PNG and is Chairman of council of the National Research Institute in PNG. His family has been in PNG for 120 years. His interests are varied and his knowledge about PNG extraordinary. Those wishing to attend will need to get in quickly.

I am fortunate to have a wonderful management committee with members based in Queensland, NSW and ACT. There are many other members who give generously of their time to assist the work of the committee.  I sincerely thank them all for their enormous voluntary commitment.

One of those who I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate is PNGAA committee member, Gima Crowdy, who has recently been appointed Assistant Coach of the PNG National Netball Team to assist in preparing the national team for the 2015 Pacific Games to be held in Port Moresby. Gima cannot be with us tonight as she has a commitment for this in PNG.

I have just been in Rabaul for a week and it was wonderful to see the support from the local community for the two official events held by the Royal Australian Navy. 

The service for AE1, the loss of Australia’s first submarine, last Sunday, began with the Navy Band walking through Rabaul and this attracted thousands of people. The choirs were magnificent and the Rabaul primary school children were beautifully turned out in their uniforms.

Another highlight of my visit was attending an Independence Day assembly and opening of two new classrooms at Kokopo Primary School. The classrooms were donated by the Australian government. Nearly 1300 students attend this school and this is replicated at other schools in the province. The schools in ENBP are overflowing with the rapidly increasing population.  

Finally, it is the people that make a nation and the warmth of the people of Papua New Guinea leave an indelible mark on everyone who travels there. Whether we had families living in PNG for years or generations, travelled there for business, or visited for a short holiday, Australians are continually touched by this relationship. We pay tribute to the last century and look forward to forging continuing growth and development of our Australia Papua New Guinea relationship in the future.

 

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