ANZAC Day Dawn Service, Bomana Cemetery
25 April 2008, Port Moresby
Your Excellency Grand Chief Sir Paulius Matane Governor-General of PNG, the PNG Deputy Prime Minister, the PNG Foreign Minister, my Australian Ministerial colleagues, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great privilege for me and my colleagues to stand here at Bomana Cemetery on ANZAC Day. It is a sad fact that no other war cemetery in the world contains more Australian war dead.
The battles Australian soldiers fought in Papua New Guinea in World War 2 – whether at Milne Bay, at the so-called Battles of the Beachheads at Buna, Gona and Sanananda or famously on the Kokoda Track – forged a special and unbreakable bond between Australia and PNG, between Australians and the people of PNG.
The Australians who lie here epitomise and embody that bond. The Australians, young and old, who come here today to respect and mark that sacrifice and the sacrifice made by Australian soldiers in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping, help strengthen that bond.
A Bond Forged in the Past
It was on the battlefields of Papua New Guinea that young Australians fought for the first time against the prospect of an invasion of Australia.
Many thousands of lives were lost in the campaigns of 1942 and 1943 to stop that invasion. Many of them are buried here at Bomana. They include more than 3,300 Australians.
There were other losses during these campaigns – more than 650 American soldiers, some 500 Papua New Guinean villagers, carriers and soldiers, and some 12,000 Japanese soldiers.
We mark and respect that sacrifice as well by our presence today.
The fighting which centred around the narrow, nearly 100km‑long Kokoda Track, was on terrain recognised as amongst the most rugged on earth, the gorges and streams and ridges of the Owen Stanley Range.
Some 2000 Australian lives were lost in the Kokoda campaign alone.
The losses would have been far higher but for the help of the local villagers, who came to be known affectionately by Australian soldiers and now by Australians for all time as the ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’.
Australians will forever be grateful for the assistance of these generous, brave people living on and near the Kokoda track, as they selflessly carried the injured along the steep and slippery path to medical help.
Today we honour their sacrifice as well.
A Bond that Continues into the Future
The bond that was forged between our soldiers and the people of PNG on the Kokoda Track is a foundation for Australia’s contemporary relationship with Papua New Guinea.
The Kokoda Track itself has become an important destination for the many Australians who, today, visit the area to pay respects to the Australian servicemen and women who endured some of the most difficult fighting conditions of World War Two.
In the same way as ever growing numbers of young Australians and New Zealanders travel to Gallipoli, Australians now come to Papua New Guinea to walk the track, follow personal links to fathers or grandfathers who fought here and to acknowledge a defining event in Australia’s history.
These visits further strengthen the links and understanding between our two countries.
These common ties have led earlier this week to an agreement between our two nations, not only to preserve the special values of the Kokoda Track, but also to assist in improving the lives of those who live in the area – some of whom are descendents of those fuzzy wuzzy angels who saved Australian lives.
The men and women from both our countries who lie here would embrace the spirit of this cooperation.
They would be very pleased that we are building on the foundation forged on the slopes of the Owen Stanley Range.
Australians have a special place etched in our hearts for Papua New Guinea and its people.
This special and unbreakable bond was forged during the darkest of times and endures today.
It is our responsibility to strengthen this bond into future, and to create a better future for both the people of Papua New Guinea, and for those of Australia.
And in so doing, we honour the memory of the brave men and women who fought and sacrificed their own personal futures for the sake of the future of their nations.
Lest We Forget.