Independence Day: 47 years of failure
How we raced to make independence happen

35 years on - some reasons for pride

The main issue was that too much experience and expertise deserted PNG in those few years immediately after Independence. But that was in the seventies, and nothing can change what happened then

Indy top 1

| First published in PNG Attitude on 16 September 2010

In 2010 I sought to draw back the curtains of gloom and identify some of the important areas in which PNG was doing well. Twelve years later, I leave it up to readers to assess how things are going. Plenty of space for Comments below

NOOSA – I was at that first Independence Day in Papua New Guinea and was amazed and impressed in how such an important and complex national event could be was organised in a heck of a hurry.

With only ten weeks’ notice, chief minister Michael Somare gave District Commissioner David Marsh the task of organising events both on the day and for the six days of celebration from 14-19 September.

Flag lowering
The Australian flag is lowered for the last time

Marsh and his team did an exceptional job – VIPs, security, transport, accommodation, hundreds of events and the proceedings themselves all had to be planned and brought to fruition.

And not just in Moresby, of course, but throughout the country where kiaps, teachers and other government officials were kept especially busy

As well as the high profile events, there were exhibits, church services, sports fixtures, bands, pageants, addresses, dinners, ceremonies, concerts, fireworks, medals, publications, tree plantings and radio broadcasts.

The West Indies cricket team played exhibition matches in Port Moresby and Lae.

On the day itself, in the presence of the Prince of Wales, the commander of the PNG Defence Force raised the new national flag on behalf of the people of Papua New Guinea.

I was there. It was an emotional moment as the beautiful Kumul was picked up by the getle breeze and fluttered for the first time.

Independence Day was a huge success. And its success had been achieved with speed. A bit like Independence itself.

Australia had been in PNG to build a nation.

We expatriates played our parts in that grand enterprise.

Unfortunately, when Australia pulled out, so did thousands of its citizens who had worked in PNG for many years. And they left quickly.

It was said then, and still is by a lot of people, that Independence had “come too soon”.

But, to me, the main issue was that too much experience and expertise deserted PNG in those few years immediately after Independence.

But that was in the seventies, and nothing can change what happened then.

Today, 35 years on, what can we say about Papua New Guinea?

Well, my website PNG Attitude always has a lot to say – and some of it is very critical.

Irrespective of what one may think about governance, health and other issues, let me tell you six good reasons why everyone associated with Papua New Guinea should feel a sense of real pride in the country.

1 – PNG is a parliamentary democracy. Forget the skullduggery and tactical trickery that sometimes characterises national parliament, PNG’s people go to the polls every four years to elect their government.

They will do so again in 2012 as they have in the 48 years since 1964. (Yes, 2014 will be the 50th anniversary of representative government in PNG.)

2 – PNG is united. And what a challenge this was - a fragmented tribal society of more than 800 languages and as many cultures has managed to remain together as one nation for 35 years.

True, it hasn’t always been plain sailing, but how could it be in such circumstances. Unity alone is a considerable achievement and a positive reflection on PNG’s political leadership.

3 – PNG has retained a viable society. Although periodically threatened by commercial pressures and the waywardness of modern life, the bedrock of PNG society remains the tribe, clan and extended family.

The wantok system can be a curse when applied to conventional organisation; but is a real blessing when it comes to providing the baseline security that a nation and its people require.

Whitlam somare
Gough Whitlam speaks with Michael Somare on Independence Day

4 - PNG has retained some strong institutions. It has a Defence Force that understands the primacy of the government of the day. It has an independent and strong judiciary. It has universities that produce thinkers and doers.

And it has non-government organisations that, while frequently criticised by some politicians, are growing in robustness and contributing greatly to the maintenance of a strong civil society.

5 - PNG has a free press. While not numerous in terms of autonomous outlets, the PNG press has a tradition of independence that was first entrenched by those forcefully unfettered journalists who gave real backbone to the country’s media organisations in the 1960s and 1970s.

This feisty press tradition has more recently managed to migrate successfully to the internet, especially through blogs. It will continue to flourish.

6 – PNG has a people who will prevail. Over many hundreds of years a thousand societies developed in relative isolation from the world and from each other.

But that proved no fatal constraint, because these societies also produced an enviable toughness, an acute intuition, a richness of culture and a great capacity to change. No more needs to be said.

All Australians who have affection for Papua New Guinea and its people, and there are very many of us, congratulate our close neighbour on this auspicious day and want to communicate to you the continuing warmth of our friendship.


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Ian Ritchie

Interesting retrospective, Keith.

(My opinion)

1. Remains similar (the skullduggery has honed it's skill).

2. Seems like that comment holds true.

3. Somewhat true, however IMHO, the wantok system has suffered due to the "me first" attitude.

4. Totally destroyed.

5. PNG had a free press. Now they rarely criticise the government and get away with it.

6. Remains one of PNG's greatest assets.

But what would I know!😁

Albert Schram

Indeed this can no longer be upheld. Time for a revisit.

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