From the Archives, 1975: Australia’s flag lowered as PNG gains independence

First published in The Age on September 16, 1975

Australia’s flag lowered in PNG

Port Moresby – Australia’s 69-year rule in Papua New Guinea ended at midnight last night.

The Governor-General of the new nation (Sir John Guise) in a broadcast at 12.01 am said: “Papua New Guinea in now independent.”

The Australian flag lowering ceremony in PNG. Credit:Russell McPhedran

As he spoke, the R.A.N. ship Stalwart fired a 101-gun salute across Port Moresby harbor and fireworks exploded 3000 feet above the city.

They signaled the end of 90 years of colonial rule under British, German and Australian authorities.

In a short emotional speech proclaiming independence, Sir John Guise said: “The constitution of the independent State of Papua New Guinea, under which all power rests with the people, is now in effect.

“We have at this point in time broken with our colonial past.

“Let us unit with the Almighty God’s guidance and help in working together for the future as a strong and free country.

PNG’s new prime minister, Michael Somare, chats with Gough Whitlam while waiting for the formal ceremonies to begin.

“We now stand as an independent nation in our own right.”

Seven hours earlier, the Australian flag, first raised on Papua New Guinean soil in 1906, was lowered ceremonially for the last time and present to the Australian Governor-General (Sir John Kerr).

Similar ceremonies were held throughout Papua New Guinea and on Bougainville Island, where the Bougainville Provincial Government has declared itself independent of Papua New Guinea.

About 10,000 people watched the main ceremony at Port Moresby’s Hubert Murray Stadium.

Sir John Guise, Sir John Kerr, Prince Charles, the PNG Prime Minister (Mr. Somare) and the Australian Prime Minister (Mr. Whitlam) watched with leaders of more than 20 other nations as the Australian flag, floating in a gentle breeze, was lowered by the first battalion of the Pacific Islands Regiment.

The flag was slowly marched off the parade ground as the combined bands of the PNG police, Defence Force pipes and drums and the R.A.N. played Auld Lang Syne.

The flag was folded and presented to Sir John Guise, who then presented it to the Australian Governor-General.

“We are lowering the flag – not tearing it down,” Sir John Guise said.

“This moment and the past years of transition from Australian rule to independence have been happy and peaceful years.

“They have been so because of the foresight of both the Australian and our own leaders. We are able to lower the flag of Australia, with Australians, and friends from many other parts of the world beside us.

Not Isolation

“Independence does not mean a new isolation. Rather, independence means we join with the other free peoples of the world to choose our nation’s future and to play a part, even though it may only be a small part, in choosing a future for the children of this planet.”

Sir John Kerr said that while the lowering of the flag marked the formal end to Australia’s colonial power it did not mark the end of Australian interest, concern and involvement.

Mr Somare, in an address to the nation shortly before midnight, said Papua New Guinea had been lucky in achieving independence without fighting and bloodshed.

“I wish to remind all of us that this is just the beginning.

“Now we must stand on our own two feet and work harder than ever before.”

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