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About the Project

World War Two in Papua New Guinea

World War Two came to Papua New Guinea at the beginning of 1942. The War broke like a thunderstorm over the swampy coastal plains, precipitous mountain valleys and idyllic tropical atolls of PNG: a tempest that lasted for nearly four years before blowing itself out. In its aftermath, nothing was ever the same and for the people of these islands, there was no return to ‘normal’ life as it had existed before the War.

The Japanese airfield at Wewak under aerial bombardment, c.1944
The Japanese airfield at Wewak under aerial bombardment, c.1944 (Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria)

The War had a profound impact on PNG, and on Papua New Guineans. This was especially in those parts that suffered from destructive bombing and shelling like Rabaul, but also in places which found themselves in the way of the battlefront as it moved northward and westward from East Cape to Aitape from 1942 to 1945.

Its impact extended further than the battlefront, however. Its reach encompassed most of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Food grown in gardens was commandeered to feed soldiers, boys and young men were taken away to carry supplies for the armies, warplanes crisscrossed the skies and dropped bombs seemingly at random, and whole populations were made to move away from their villages to places of relative safety.


Sergeant-Major Katue of the Papuan Infantry Battalion and Captain Thomas Grahamslaw of the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU), with members of the Royal Papuan Constabulary, 1942
Sergeant-Major Katue of the Papuan Infantry Battalion and Captain Thomas Grahamslaw of the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU), with members of the Royal Papuan Constabulary, 1942 (Australian War Memorial 127566)
Papuan carriers passing through a village, 1942
Papuan carriers passing through a village, 1942 (Australian War Memorial 030207/20)

Fading memories

Now, more than seventy years after the War’s end in 1945, memories of this time of trial are fading. The young men and women from the time of the War are now aged in their 80s and 90s, and sadly, many have now passed away.

The Papua New Guinean Voices from the War collection is intended to help keep these memories alive, for the people of PNG and for all people around the world who want to learn about what happened in PNG during this time.

The decision to record people’s memories of the War was prompted by the passing of important Papua New Guineans like late Ben Moide and late Ovoru Indiki, both veterans of the War, and many others like them. Their deaths provided a timely reminder that Papua New Guinea was in danger of losing forever the vitally important stories of courage and sacrifice, of hardship and suffering, and of love and war that our bubus, our parents and grandparents, could tell us.

The Voices from the War project

Beginning in 2013, teams of Papua New Guineans, joined by researchers from Deakin University and RMIT University in Australia, have spread across PNG to record interviews with men and women in villages about their own, or their relatives’, experiences during the War.

In 2014, the project began with a pilot study that concentrated on the region traversed by the Kokoda Track, from Buna on the coast of Northern Province to Port Moresby on the south coast. This project was funded by the Australian Government under the Kokoda Initiative, and it encompassed recording interviews in nine locations in Central and Northern Provinces as well as the National Capital District. The research team comprised leading Papua New Guinean historians, journalists, and university students, as well as an Australian researcher and historian, Dr Jonathan Ritchie from Deakin University.

Following this initial project, and building on the experience gained from it, four more projects to record interviews with men and women about the War commenced in 2016, and continued into 2017.

Interview with the son of a carrier at Karakadabu on the Sogeri Plateau, July 2014
Interview with the son of a carrier at Karakadabu on the Sogeri Plateau, July 2014 (photo: C. Nolan)

Interviews were recorded in many different locations in the following Provinces:

By clicking on the Province’s name, you can listen to all, or some, of the interviews recorded by the research teams in that Province, as well as read and download the transcriptions of the interviews.

Thanks and recognition

PNG Voices from the War is supported through the Papua New Guinea-Australia Decentralisation and Citizen Participation Partnership. This support is very gratefully acknowledged.

Australian Government crest

The project has come together as a result of the vision and hard work of many people in Papua New Guinea and Australia.

Especially, it would not have been possible without the contributions by the people who have recorded the interviews, and those who helped to create this collection. Some of these include:

Mr George Anian
Mr Gregory Bablis
Dr Kirstie Close-Barry
Dr Anne Dickson-Waiko
Mrs Margaret Embahe
Mr Keimelo Gima
Mr Ferol Kavaiah
Mrs Clare Kokinai
Ms Catherine Nolan
Dr Jonathan Ritchie
Dr Lalen Simeon
Dr Ceridwen Spark
Dr Seumas Spark
Dr Victoria Stead
Mr Richard Taliva
Ms Elisabeth Taulehebo
Mrs Margaret Manuda Tongia
Mr Bao Waiko.

As well, staff members of the Deakin University Library have provided valuable support in assembling the collection and creating this website.