How we raced to make independence happen
16 September 2022
| First published in PNG Attitude on 16 September 2015
In 2009 former long-serving PNG district commissioner, the late David Marsh, who died in 2015, reflected upon what happened on that first Independence Day in 1975
PORT MORESBY -In late June 1975, Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam asked Papua New Guinea chief minister Michael Somare to provide a date for PNG Independence.
Somare set the date of 16 September the same year. Then he gave me the job of organising the event. We had ten weeks. 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.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.