Australian High Commission
Papua New Guinea

MR 080903 Battle of Australia Day

MEDIA RELEASE

4 September 2008

For immediate release

COMMEMORATION OF BATTLE FOR AUSTRALIA DAY

 

The Australian Government is continuing to herald the importance of wartime links with Papua New Guinea.

On the morning of Wednesday 3 September, a group of Australians and Papua New Guineans gathered at the Bomana War Cemetery to hold a small ceremony to commemorate Battle for Australia Day.

“We join here today to commemorate the service and sacrifice of all those who served in the defence of Australia in 1942 and 1943 when we faced the gravest of threats to our nation (Australia). This day, to be known as the Battle for Australia day, will be marked on the first Wednesday in September each year”, said the Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, His Excellency Mr Chris Moraitis.

“As our nearest neighbour, PNG played a key geo-strategic role in the Battle for Australia. It can be argued that it still does today. This fact is becoming better known by Australians who in ever-increasing numbers are making the pilgrimage to this rugged yet beautiful land.”

Australian Prime Minister John Curtin after Japanese announced The Battle for Australia when Singapore fell on 15 February 1942. 23 days earlier the Japanese had overwhelmed and captured Rabaul (Australian territory).

But it is the first Wednesday in September that has been chosen by the Australian Government as the day to commemorate Battle for Australia day because it represents the first defeat of Japanese forces on land in the Battle of Milne Bay.

Using Rabaul as their main base in May 1942 the Japanese sought to threaten and isolate Australia and attempted a direct sea-borne landing in Port Moresby. They were turned back by a combined Australian and American naval force in the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The Japanese next attempted to occupy Port Moresby via the Owen Stanley Range but were stopped a mere 25 kilometres from Port Moresby.

To assist their forces attempting to capture Port Moresby, the Japanese made a sea-borne landing at Milne Bay in August 1942. In a fortnight's hard fighting, the defending Australian troops, supported by RAAF fighters, inflicted the war's first land defeat on the Japanese.

After the Kokoda campaign it took a further 18 weeks (to January 1943) for the Australians to drive the Japanese back over the Owen Stanley Range and, in conjunction with American forces, to defeat the enemy in a series of battles at Gona, Buna and Sanananda on the north coast of Papua.

In March 1943, a Japanese convoy of ships carrying reinforcements and supplies to their forces on the north coast of Papua New Guinea was almost totally destroyed by Australian and American aircraft in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

The Japanese no longer held the initiative. The Battle for Australia had been won.

The Bomana War Cemetery ceremony included a prayer, a minute of silence and the laying of wreaths. It was a moving ceremony to commemorate those who served and gave the ultimate sacrifice in the Battle for Australia.


Media Inquiries: Francina Thomson, Public Diplomacy Officer, Ph: 3259333 ext 276, Email: francina.thomson@dfat.gov.au