PNG’s Northern Province (often called Oro Province) encompasses the northern slopes of the central dividing range, the Owen Stanley Range, and the swampy, low-lying coastal plains that are split by several fast-flowing rivers.
Even before the outbreak of War in the Pacific, the lives of people from Northern Province – Northern District in that time – had been disrupted. In June 1940, the Papuan Infantry Battalion had been established, and many of its first soldiers came from around the Buna-Gona area on the coastal plains. This region was also the first part of the Territory of Papua to experience invasion, when elements of the Imperial Japanese Army landed there on 21 July 1942.
The fighting that followed spread rapidly inland as the Japanese pushed the outnumbered Papuan and Australian defenders back to Kokoda and across the Owen Stanley Range, on their way to Port Moresby. The tide turned later in 1942, with the Japanese retreating from the Australian advance along the Kokoda Trail, and later, with the arrival of American units, culminating in the Battles of Gona, Buna, and Sanananda.
From late 1942 until the War’s end in 1945, although the fighting had moved away from the Northern District, the large Allied bases at and around Oro Bay brought thousands of Australian and American servicemen and women. As well, the District received continuing attention from the Japanese who conducted repeated air raids on the airfields and dock facilities that were established there.
Many of the District’s men were recruited to serve as carriers or in other capacities for the advancing Allies, meaning that they were away from their villages for long periods, and the Northern District also furnished a substantial part of the Papuan Infantry Battalion’s complement.