Papua New Guinean veterans who Australians dubbed ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’ during World War II are to be issued with medals and provided with financial support in recognition of their services to Australian forces during battles against invading Japanese forces. The Koiari people earned the nickname in 1942 when they carried Australian supplies and equipment and helped evacuate wounded soldiers.
“The fuzzy wuzzy angels saved the lives of many Australian troops during the Kokoda campaign,” said Liberal Senator Guy Barnett. “They carried stretchers, stores and sometimes wounded diggers directly on their shoulders over some of the toughest terrain in the world. It has been over 65 years since the Kokoda battles commenced, without official recognition and a medal.”
The Senate agreed to Senator Barnett’s motion that called for prompt recognition and support for the surviving angels. The Senate directed the Defence Awards and Honours Tribunal to ‘promptly determine the most appropriate form of medal or recognition for the remaining fuzzy wuzzy angels or their surviving families’.
It also asks the government to consider a small ex-gratia payment to each fuzzy wuzzy angel and to fund initiatives to upgrade the health and education status of people in the isolated villages along the Kokoda Track.
In fact, after the war a medal was struck for the ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’ [right], but I don’t think anyone would begrudge further recognition of these remarkably loyal and committed people, who were also recognised in Bert Beros’ famous poem.
Asking that an Angel guide him
And bring him safely back
Now we see those prayers are
Answered on the Owen Stanley track.
Tho' they haven't any halos
Only holes slashed through the ear
Their faces marked with tattoo's
And scratch pins in their hair.
Slow and careful in bad places
On that awful mountain track
And the look upon their faces
Made us think that Christ was black.
Many a lad will see his mother
and the husbands, weans and wives
Just because the Fuzzy Wuzzies
Carried them to save their lives.
From Mortar or Machine gun fire
Or a chance surprise attack
To safety and the care of Doctors
At the bottom of the track.
May the Mothers of Australia
When they offer up a prayer
Mention these impromptu Angels
With the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’ hair.
‘The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’ by Sapper H ‘Bert’ Beros [NX6925], 7th Division 2nd AIF, was written on the Kokoda Track in 1942.
Photo: George Silk’s iconic portrait of ‘Dick' Whittington and an unnamed ‘fuzzy wuzzy angel’ taken on Christmas Day 1942. Two months later Whittington died after contracting scrub typhus. [Australian War Memorial]