Fred Schipke befriended enemy in World War II aftermath

Artefacts from war days reflect ties between Australia & PNG

Charles Lepani at the launch (Rodney Start)BRUCE HILL | Pacific Beat, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

A COLLECTION of artefacts collected during the Australian military occupation of Papua New Guinea between 1914 and 1921 represents a significant link between the neighbours, says Charles Lepani, PNG's high commissioner to Australia.

A new book, War Trophies or Curios?, describes the untold story behind the collection of more than 600 objects including carved figures, masks, shields, instruments and weapons.

Charles Lepani, who attended the book's recent launch at the Melbourne Museum, told Pacific Beat the collection reflected Australia and PNG's close historical ties.

"This collection puts PNG and Australia relations together and takes it to another step back to the World War I, as well as Kokoda of course, Kokoda Track for the World War II," he said.

"It brings together these two major world events that affected Papua New Guinean villages, then with very little contact with the rest of the world, that brought PNG suddenly in a traumatic way to the modern world."

Australia first assumed control of the British colony of Papua in the southern half of Papua New Guinea in 1906.

During World War I, Australian forces claimed control of the northern part of German New Guinea, which had been German territory.

Mr Lepani said artefacts, collected by Australian troops when they took Rabaul from Germany, gave Papua New Guineans an identity as a nation.

"They are ancestral expressions of who we are today and also for future generations. They can give meaning to our lives for the future," he said.

A chief's necklace made of small seashells (Jon Augier)Dr Christine Winter, co-author and assistant professor from Flinders University in Adelaide, said it was important to keep the PNG artefacts in Australia.

"They are not sitting in a vacuum, they are sitting in a collaboration between museums, between peoples," she said.

"We have a large diaspora from Papua New Guinea in Australia and we have a long history with our neighbour as part of Australia. So it is highly relevant that this collection is situated here."

Mr Lepani agreed the Melbourne Museum was the best place for the collection of PNG artefacts.

"Our museum has gone through some very challenging times. I have campaigned here since I've been in Australia to allow these pieces to remain in Australian museums, with good facilities for them to be looked after properly, until such time we can take them back," he said.


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