By Lisa Martin
(Australian Associated Press)
Papua New Guinea is charting an ambitious and bold course, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has declared on the 40th anniversary of independence from Australia.
Tens of thousands of people, wearing the national colours of red, black, white and gold, turned out for a dawn flag-raising ceremony outside Parliament House in Port Moresby on Wednesday.
Twelve Girl Guides and Boy Scouts carried the giant flag up Independence Hill, through a guard of honour, before passing it on to defence personnel to hoist up the pole, as fighter jets roared overhead.
Mr O’Neill told the crowd the day was not just about 40 years of nationhood but also a time to celebrate thousands of years of rich tribal history, traditions and culture.
The country would face up to present and future challenges with “courage and determination”.
As the nation descends into its worst drought in 20 years, Mr O’Neill singled out global warming as a major threat.
“Drought and frost and other extreme weather conditions are becoming worse because of climate change,” he said, acknowledging the suffering of subsistence families in the Highlands.
Mr O’Neil vowed the voices of grass roots Papua New Guineans would be heard loud and clear on the world stage at the Paris global climate change talks in December.
PNG was also gearing up to host it’s most significant international event – the 2018 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit which will bring 20 of the most powerful leaders to Port Moresby.
Former Australian governor-general Michael Jeffery was among the dignitaries attending the flag ceremony.
He served in PNG from 1966-1969 with the 1st Battalion Pacific Islands Regiment.
Major General Jeffery recalled the transition to PNG’s independence as a day of “great joy tinged with sadness” as the Australian flag was lowered.
“Australians have always had a soft spot for Papua New Guinea,” he told AAP.
“We see them as our cousins, as family.”
The young nation had come a long way from those initial moments of excitement and trepidation.
General Jeffery barely recognised the Port Moresby that had grown and developed from the one he knew in earlier days.
Festivities will continue throughout the day.