Ally helps in hour of need

Written by Ross Eastgate

AMONG the countries that contributed to assist Australia fight the recent devastating bushfires was our nearest neighbour, Papua New Guinea.

Television news images of the arriving PNG troops showed a mutual affection between the PNGDF personnel and their Australian counterparts.

They suggested many of the personnel were known to each other, old mates whose friendships were formed in training and exchange postings.

It’s usually the reverse, Australian personnel and resources deployed to PNG to assist that country to deal with famine, drought and natural disasters.

Wildfires on the scale Australia regularly experiences are not within PNG’s experience.

They are not equipped nor trained to deal with them.

Volcanic eruptions, landslides, tsunamis and cyclones are more likely, though even then the PNGDF and emergency services do not enjoy the luxury of specialist equipment to deal with their aftermath, nor treat mass casualties when they occur.

Yet in Australia’s recent hour of desperate need PNG was there to help in whatever way it could.

In 1883, the state of Queensland annexed the British territory of Papua, the bottom southeast corner of the main island.

Indeed, many Papuans still express loyalty to Queensland.

In 1914, Australia seized the remaining German administered parts of New Guinea east of the then Dutch border, continuing to administer it as a League of Nations Trust Territory until post World War II.

In 1973, the separate territories of Papua and New Guinea became Papua New Guinea until they achieved independence in September 1975.

Australia’s stewardship of both territories survived two world wars, during which its attention to such national building qualities as education and development of government services did not match the expectations a developing nation might expect.

However, in that process enduring relationships were formed between the potential future leaders of both nations.

One of the most enduring and rewarding professional relationships existed with the ADF, which post-independence acquired separate identities as the ADF and the PNGDF.

The professional friendships forged in uniform have endured, with the internet keeping old comrades in touch as global acquaintances do.

One of the great failings of Australia’s post-independence relationship with PNG has been the way it has abandoned those former personnel who were, until independence, fully fledged ADF members.

They had ADF identities, while some navy personnel qualified as Vietnam veterans.

Nor is it just ADF PNG veterans who have been abandoned.

In a country that seriously lacks basic infrastructure, PNG, particularly remote areas, has relied on Australia’s external radio service, Radio Australia, once operating under the ABC.

With no internet or local radio supporting remote areas, rural PNG often relied on the familiar static signal of Radio Australia using special short-wave radios for reception.

The Australian Government has reduced many services, to the point that by January 2017 China had assumed control of previous RA frequencies that targeted the South Pacific.

Last week Radio NZ’s short-wave Pacific service marked its 30th anniversary.

Australia chooses strange ways to embrace its long-term friends.

We can find better ways to reward mutual loyalty and friendship.

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