Interview with Karl Stefanovic and Sarah Abo, Today Show

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Bomana War Cemetery; ANZAC Day.

Karl Stefanovic: Well, anyone who's made the journey there, Bomana War Cemetery in Papua New Guinea has almost 4,000 Commonwealth burials from World War II. Almost 700 of them unidentified.

Sarah Abo: In honour of their service, Australia's Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy has given a commemorative address at the cemetery this morning. He joins us now from Papua New Guinea. Pat, thanks so much for your time this morning. Now, can you tell us a bit about the gravity of the event?

Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy: It was incredibly moving, Sarah. Bomana Cemetery has 3,300 Australians buried here. That is more than any other cemetery in the world. And across the three war cemeteries in Papua New Guinea, there are around 8,000 Australians buried. So, nearly 8 per cent of the 103,000 Australians who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our country are buried in Papua New Guinea. It was incredibly moving and sort of just a reminder of how hard fought those campaigns during World War II were.

Karl Stefanovic: It's hard to get a real feel for it unless you've been there, just especially the Kokoda Track and just the jungle, the sheer might of what they saw, just with the elements, let alone the enemy. Did you manage to speak to any of the family members over there? What were their thoughts?

Pat Conroy: Yeah, I got to talk to a few of the family members and I think they really felt like they'd honoured their parent’s or uncles’ contribution by being here today. And it was great to see so many Australians here. And it was also great that we acknowledged and commemorated the sacrifice of not just Australians and New Zealanders, obviously, on Anzac Day, but Papuans and New Guineans who fought alongside Australians. Most people have heard of the fuzzy wuzzy angels that transported Australian soldiers who were wounded, but Papuans and New Guineans fought side by side. There are 40 Papua New Guineans buried behind me at Bomana and I had the privilege of witnessing a 92-year-old Papuan veteran who joined up when he was 13, lay a wreath today. It was incredibly moving and a reminder of how close the relationship between our two countries is.

Karl Stefanovic: What was that moment like for you to see him?

Pat Conroy: It was, words can't describe it. This small, frail gentleman, who was still very mobile, who I was just thinking about what I was doing when I was 13. And this gentleman joined up when he was 13 years old to fight alongside Australia in what was the battle for Australia and a battle for Papua New Guinea. I had the privilege of going up to Kokoda late last year for the 80th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign, and to witness the landscape that Australians and Papua New Guineans fought through, and Japanese, to be fair, was just remarkable. It will live with me to the day I die.

Karl Stefanovic: Thanks for being with us, Pat. 13 year old and our youngest to go ashore on Gallipoli was 14. Can you imagine.

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