A night at the Lowy Institute - 40 years of PNG Independence

How PNG independence happened – 16 September 1975

Part of the crowd at Independence Hill on 16 September 1975.In 2009 former long-serving PNG district commissioner, DAVID MARSH, who died recently, reflected upon how that first Independence Day in 1975 took place.

WHEN in 1975 Gough Whitlam asked Michael Somare to provide a date for PNG Independence, Somare set the date and gave me the job of organising the events. We had 2½ months to do it.

Getting people to join me to get the job done was difficult. It had to be a PNG show, yet there was no expertise amongst the indigenous people, or the government for that matter, and government departments were reluctant to release their senior staff.

There were some early concerns over micro-nationalistic movements and cults that had sprung up, also emotional talk from University students.

But when I had a general picture in my mind of the ceremonies that were required, the people to invite, the security, transport, accommodation, and so on, I gathered a few staunch souls together and started on the detail.

We raised funds from business, organised fireworks for each district and provided cash to ensure activities in all districts. We also paid for the West Indies cricket team to play in Port Moresby and Lae, had an Independence Medal made and issued all sorts of literature and badges.

During the six days of celebrations from 14 - 19 September there were exhibits, church services, sporting events, bands, pageants, formal addresses, dinners and ceremonies.

The two outstanding ceremonies in Port Moresby were the flag lowering ceremony at sunset on 15 September 1975 and the flag raising ceremony the next day.

I selected Sir Hubert Murray Stadium for the flag lowering, as it was the closest possible place to Hanuabada where the British flag was first raised in 1884. That marvellous sunset, together with Sir John Guise’s words “We are lowering this flag, not tearing it down” made for a memorable occasion.

The flag raising ceremony was conducted on Independence Hill, a hill where there had been an anti-aircraft gun during the war defending Wards Strip. It is within sight of the administrative headquarters, Parliament House, the Supreme Court and the Prime Minister’s residence.

At one minute past midnight on 16 September, the Proclamation of Independence was announced by the Governor-General in a radio broadcast, followed by the National Anthem and a 101-gun salute provided by the Royal Australian Navy.

At 9.30 am the flag raising ceremony commenced. Prince Charles inspected the Royal Guard before taking his place on the VIP dais. Cultural groups then handed the PNG flag to the Governor-General who handed it to the Commander of the PNG Defence Force, asking him to raise it on behalf of the people of Papua New Guinea.

Two chaplains blessed the flag and it was raised at 10 am followed by a fly-past of Royal Australian Air Force and PNG Defence Force aircraft.

Prince Charles unveiled a plaque and joined Sir John Guise and Sir John Kerr in planting trees to commemorate the occasion. The officers in charge of each official occasion did very well and government departments – especially Public Works, the Government Printer and the Department of Information – all rose to the great occasion.

Many people say Independence came too soon, but a country growing up is, to me, just like any family of teenagers wanting to express themselves and resenting parental controls.

When their attitudes and demands reach a point of no return, the parent is wise to modify control and just provide advice when it is requested.


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Donn Kubai

Thank you so much for the information.

Donn Kubai

Please can anyone provide the names of people who actually carried the first PNG flag to the flagpole to be raised?

To the best of my knowledge (I was there and should remember but my memory is imperfect), the Kumul flag was raised by Brigadier General Ted Diro, commander of the PNGDF, in the presence of the Prince of Wales (now King Charles III) and a huge crowd of people at Sir Hubert Murray Oval.

In 2010 Malum Nalu republished my memories of the day - KJ


Martina Apps

Happy Independence Day Highlands, Mainland & Islands. We are all Papua New Guinea.

We were watching ABC Foreign Correspondents last night and I was amazed to see a great and courageous man like Barry Kirby who went out of his way to help the women in those remote villages. It truly breaks my heart.

And that's the same situation we live with in PNG. God bless Barry.

Peter Kranz

Happy birthday Papua New Guinea! It hasn't been forgotten in Australia.

And there are many Independence celebrations today among the expat PNG communities around Australia.

Here a timeline of PNG Independence this morning (from the ABC).


And here is a moving report from Liam Cochrane (keeping up the great Liam tradition) from Foreign Correspondent last night.

Carpenter Barry Kirby's life turned upside down when he chanced upon a young woman dying on a bush road. The Australian tradie became a doctor with a mission: saving women's lives in the wilds of Papua New Guinea.


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