Well, thank you very, very much.
How wonderful to be here on this absolutely glorious day.
Can I start by acknowledging you, Governor Juffa, thank you so much for your warm welcome; to Henry Amuli, thank you; General McLachlan and all the members of the ADF who are here; High Commissioner Bruce Davis; Colonel Diro and all the members of the Papua New Guinean Defence Forces who have joined us today; can I particularly welcome the families and the descendants of the Kokoda Veterans, both from Australia, thank you for coming and joining us here.
It certainly is important to honour Kokoda in Australia, but it’s just as important that you have made the journey here to join us this morning, so thank you very, very much.
And to the families and veterans of the Papua New Guinean Kokoda Veterans; and can I particularly thank the children, thank you so much for that beautiful and poignant reminder about amazing grace, thank you.
On the 2nd November 1942, a small Australian patrol entered Kokoda.
They expected to encounter fierce Japanese resistance, but instead found the village abandoned.
This was a great relief to the weary men, who only a week before had been engaged in vicious fighting at Eora Creek, which cost the lives of approximately 79 Australians.
The following day, the 3rd November 1942, Major General George Vasey, Commander of the Australian Forces on the Track, led a flag raising ceremony at Kokoda.
I am extremely honoured, on behalf of the Australian Government, to be here today to commemorate the 75th anniversary of this historic occasion.
Australia’s reoccupation of Kokoda village was of strategic importance because it contained the only serviceable airfield between Port Moresby and the Japanese base at Buna on the north coast of Papua.
But most significantly, the reoccupation symbolised the end of the Kokoda Track campaign; the culmination of months of bitter, desperate fighting that saw more than 600 Australian soldiers killed, over 1,600 wounded and many, many thousand more to fall ill.
The Kokoda campaign was vital to turning back the Japanese in the Pacific and ensuring the security of Papua New Guinea and Australia.
And Colonel Buller referred to the battle of Guadalcanal. I was recently in Honiara as we commemorated the battle of Guadalcanal off Savo Island.
These battles, these battles were absolutely important because they were amongst the most important battles of the Pacific. They saved the Pacific, they saved Papua New Guinea, they saved our Northern Front and they saved Australia, and enables us to enjoy democratic freedoms that we hold here in Papua New Guinea and we hold dear in Australia.
We owe a great debt, a great debt to all of those who fought and died along the Track, as has been said, this is indeed hallowed ground.
But, today is a time to remember the heroic contributions of our Papua New Guinean friends and neighbours.
The Papuan Defence Forces fought gallantly to stem the Japanese advance in the early days of the campaign.
And without the help of our Papuan carriers, the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, Australian casualties would have been much, much more.
So, we will forever be indebted to Papua New Guinea and the Papua New Guineans who helped our Australian soldiers repel the Japanese invasion.
Lest we forget those who fought for our freedom 75 years ago.
May God bless this beautiful land and keep its people safe and healthy.
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