Celebrating PNG Independence Day

Zoey Oiave in traditional Papua New Guinean dress last Wednesday.

On September 16, 1975, our northern neighbour Papua New Guinea officially became its own independent country, after 70 years of Australian administration.

It’s a deeply important day in the country’s history, and one that is celebrated by Papua New Guineans across the globe.

Anna Oaive has lived in Tumut for 20 years, and still marks September 16 each year with traditional dress, music and dancing, and a feast.

“It reminds us that we’re from that country, no matter where we live,” she said.

“I’ve been in Australia for 20 years now. Tumut is my whole life, and Tumut is where I’m from, that’s what I call myself. But Papua New Guinea is still part of me as well. Even though I don’t go home every day or even every year, it still reminds me of who I am.”

This year, Anna and her daughter Zoey travelled to Wagga to celebrate with friends. They often go to Canberra, and Anna would like to host the celebrations in Tumut some time in the coming years.

Anna and Zoey Oaive in clothes in the design of the Papua New Guinean flag.

They went to a party hosted by John and Margaret Rumens, Australian teachers who lived in Papua New Guinea in the seventies – John actually taught the first independent Prime Minister of PNG, Michael Somare.

They wore traditional dress and ate Papua New Guinean foods like green bananas, yams, cassava, fish, chicken, and sweet potato.

“It was so exciting,” said Anna.

“It’s like we’re a family, and we say that even though our family lives so far away we still have family here.”

Unlike many independence efforts from former colonial powers, the PNG changeover was a peaceful transition amicably agreed upon by both sides.

The country was initially invaded by Britain in 1884, with the northern part of the island colonised by Germany. In 1905 Britain asked Australia to look after the island, and Australian soldiers seized the German territories during World War I. It remained under our administration until 1975, and like us, it retains Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and is a part of the Commonwealth.

“Independence Day is important,” said Anna.

“I was only five years old, but what it means to me that we were happy to be independent ourselves, instead of us relying on Australians. In that way it made our country mature; it grew us up. We still have our culture, but being independent changed our lifestyle as well.”