RICHARD EWART: There will be more commemorations in Papua New Guinea during the course of today, and attending those commemorations on behalf of the Australian Government, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who joins us from PNG this morning. Senator, welcome. Thank you for taking time out of what I’m sure is a very busy day for you!
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, thank you very, very much. Yes, we’re about, shortly, to fly off to Kokoda and to commemorate this very, very important event, this historic event which obviously was one that followed many months of bitter fighting along the Kokoda Track. 75 years ago, Australian soldiers raised the Australian flag at Kokoda Station and I’m very, very honoured to represent the Australian Government on this occasion and remember this very heroic contribution on the part, particularly, of our Papua New Guinean friends.
RICHARD EWART: How important do you believe it is, 75 years on, to keep this link between Australia and Papua New Guinea with commemorations taking place in both countries?
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, Australia and Papua New Guinea of course share a history, they share a close friendship and this is a partnership that we work with Papua New Guinea through our Kokoda Initiative. What this initiative does is recognise this shared history and the values that underpin it, but also it’s aimed at preserving the Kokoda Track region for future generations. We’ve been working closely with the Papua New Guinean Government to protect the Track and through this, we want to make sure that we keep the Track open and safe, as well as manage as best as possible to also, as part of this process, ensure that we maintained the region’s very important environmental values and biodiversity, the cultural and the military heritage values, and of course help the local communities. That’s part of me going up there today. We’ve done a lot of work and one of the things that I’m doing today is basically launching some Australian-funded infrastructure through some… What we’ve done is, we’re opening a school, classrooms, various things that we’ve provided up here. We’re also launching a new book, a children’s book, called Butterflies Along the Track and it’s a combined effort by the Kokoda Primary School and the Haileybury College in Victoria. So, the bricks and mortar that I’m opening today and that we have opened are really only a significant contribution to the existing bonds that do exist between our two countries.
RICHARD EWART: It’s interesting you talk about the school element there, because trying to explain to a group, particularly of primary school children, say, about what happened at Kokoda 75 years ago in the right sort of terms for people of that age is quite a difficult thing to do, but clearly Australia and Papua New Guinea are very keen to make sure that the legend lives on, that Kokoda is not forgotten.
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Exactly right. It has to be, apart from the sort of… I’m opening, actually, nine new buildings that have been funded through this Kokoda Initiative: classrooms, a skills facility at the technical college, staff houses, basically general maintenance. But the book which I’m really excited about is actually a story targeted toward children in their language. Let’s not forget that you’ve got many children both in Papua New Guinea and in Australia who do have grandparents who fought in the battles that basically were our northern front, you know, this was the protection of our northern front and so, who can forget the stories of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels along that helped our soldiers and cared for them and did all those vitally important things that made an enormous contribution. So, these stories told through this children’s book I think reflect that enduring relationship that has been forged out of those battles 75 years ago.
RICHARD EWART: Now, as well as the ceremonies taking place at Kokoda, I gather you’ll also be visiting the provincial capital, Popondetta, and we shouldn’t forget, of course, that once the Kokoda Campaign was over, Australians were still actively involved and a lot of lives were lost around Popondetta.
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Yes, absolutely. This is really a look and commemoration of all of those sites. I’m also going through, as I travel, to look at some infrastructure projects that we are building. We’re stopping at the Kumusi Bridge to inspect an Australian infrastructure project. Of course, bridges in those areas will make a huge difference. Six bridges all up will improve the region’s growth prospects. Of course, apart from reducing the travel time, it’ll make the crossings a lot safer and really connect people. Of course, let’s not forget that once Kokoda Station was taken then, yes, the Japanese were driven back to the coast and so we’re ending our day with a stop at the Popondetta Memorial to pay our respects to the lives at that final battle which involved our Australian troops and the Allied attack on the Japanese beachheads in Northern Papua at Buna, at Gona and at Sanananda.
RICHARD EWART: Senator, we’ll leave it there. Thank you once again for taking time out on a very busy day for you. We appreciate your time. That’s Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who’s Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, over in PNG to take part in the commemorations 75 years on after the end of the Kokoda Campaign.
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