H.E. John Ma’o Kali at Papua New Guinea Remembrance Day Service, 2023

Papua New Guinea Remembrance Day 2023

His Excellency John Ma’o Kali’s speech at the Papua New Guinea Remembrance Day Service, Royal Military College Duntroon, 23rd July 2023.

“Gutpela monin tru olgeta, daba namona iboumuai e rapaluga lugana namana maparami.  

I am truly thankful to God for giving you the urging to attend this cold winter day in July in this beautiful place.  I pay tribute to the traditional custodians of these hallowed grounds, the Ngunnawal and the Ngambri nations and their people, and honour their elders past, present and emerging.  

Papua New Guineans with our friends, gather today to remember the sacrifices of our forebears for the peace and harmony we now enjoy. Together we reflect upon their courage, their endurance and their resilience over the suffering brought upon them by war and conflict. This Royal Military College Roll of Honour and those in Bomana and elsewhere in PNG serve as eternal reminders of the lives that were sacrificed for the freedom and liberty we now enjoy. 

On this day 81 years ago, during the Second Great War, when Lieutenant John Chalk of the Australian Army ordered his Papuan Infantry Battalion troops to open fire on Japanese forces at Awala near Kokoda, he was creating history. For this was the first time for Papua New Guineans to engage a foreign enemy on our soil – the first step toward establishing and protecting our sovereignty as a nation.  

We also remember the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels who carried supplies to troops and evacuated the sick and wounded, who assisted in building of wartime infrastructure – roads, airfields, vine and rope bridges; and other vital infrastructure. Their endeavours established and strengthened the bond of friendship between Australians, Papuans and New Guineans. 

We remember those of the Papuan Infantry Battalion and New Guinea Infantry Battalion, who were fierce warriors that never gave an inch to the enemy.  They earned their fame as the “Green Shadows”, having the ability to launch attacks with deadly force and melt away into the thick green jungles without a trace. We remember those who served in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands; and the 128 members who sacrificed their lives during the Bougainville crisis. We also remember our brothers and sisters from our closest neighbour and friend, Australia. PNG was your only colony, and our bond is deep and abiding.  The jungle clad mountains of Kokoda also gave Australia the opportunity to define her sovereignty which eventually led to the birth and creation of a new sovereign and independent state of Papua New Guinea.  

The Kokoda campaign in World War 2 was also a defining moment in the evolution of relations between Papua New Guinea and Australia – for it pitched our nation into the global sphere from its isolations in world affairs.  While the Australian expatriate community entered the war with greater self-assurance, they emerged with a difference because the colonial order was now in the limelight. The mateships and bonding from the battlefields gave birth and brought about real interaction, rather than being constrained by government or military regulation. There was to be a considerable – if not a dramatic – change in the attitude of Australians towards Papuans and New Guineans. This was critical because it led to rethinking and changes of policies presented to Canberra post war. The reconstruction process also kicked off real development in the 50’s, where the colonial government commenced construction of government schools which saw us, Papuans and New Guineans, move from missionary run “slate boards” to government run classrooms with blackboards and chalk-armed Australian teachers in the front. This saw the emergence of educated Papuans and New Guineans.    

Alongside Australia, we remember our allies in New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Tonga, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Thousands of our citizens paid a heavy price to rid the world and our region of tyranny, and protect our most cherished values of democracy, individual rights, freedom of speech, liberty and freedom – values that we often take for granted. Many of them rest in our war cemeteries and some are yet to be found. To their loved ones, we wish you to know that they lie in the arms of a grateful nation.  

In today’s increasingly contested post-Covid world, the sacrifice of our forebears reminds us that it is important now more than ever before, to gird and strengthen our security relationships against the scourge of authoritarianism, and against those who would seek to threaten our Pacific and liberty.         

As I speak, Papua New Guineans are gathering today at the Remembrance Park in our capital Port Moresby to commemorate. Here, at the Royal Military College, is the only place I know outside of Papua New Guinea where we are gathered with our friends to remember. For this I am forever thankful to General Angus Campbell and Brigadier [Jason] Groat, for your grace in allowing us to celebrate this historic moment.   

It is fitting that we assemble here at a place where we share so much history, and the names of our four officers who were killed in action on Bougainville – Lieutenants Kenny Ere, Algal Ai (whose nephew Staff Cadet Algal Lange is currently a cadet here in First Class), John Sembisen and Michael Jim – are immortalised on the Roll of Honour. To the Australian Army, they are just as much yours as they are ours, for it is in this place that they were imbued with the finest traditions of military skill, knowledge and character.  

They, along with their fellow graduates on the Roll of Honour and the thousands of men and women from the coalition of democracies gathered here today, never got to see their children and grandchildren bring their resemblance into the world, and never got to participate and experience the quantum, wondrous shifts brought about by the digital age. They will forever be young in our minds, their legacy embedded deep in our hearts. To them, we are eternally grateful for that which we enjoy today.  

As I conclude, I want to reflect on a saying from my Keapara village: “…Mulimu kolovu wailamu pa’a …”. This translates to “your past is now overgrown by bushes, your path ahead is clear …”  

The heroes we remember today cut and slashed through the deep jungles of Kokoda a new path for our nation so that we could have a clear and clean future. We have left Kokoda to regrow and to be conserved for generations ahead.   

From the rubbles of World War 2 a new nation was born.   

Yumi mas tingim ol, yumi noken lus tingting 

Baita lalodia tao, basi ta lalodia boio 

Pe ugamagi aora, irau gave ugamagi le’wa le’wana 

Let us remember them, 

Lest We Forget.”

H.E. John Ma’o Kali, CMG OBE 

PNG High Commissioner To Australia