Dennis Itari - Oral History interview recorded on 20 May 2014 at Hanau, Northern Province, PNG


Mr Dennis Itari tells the story of his grandfather, Soni Goto who worked as a carrier during the battle of Buna-Sanananda in 1942 when the famous George Silk photo of George Whittington and Raphael Oembari was taken.



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This is item number 7, the statement by Dennis Itari from Hanau village, thank you.

OK. My name is Dennis Itari, grandson of Soni Goto from Hanau village. He was employed by the Australian white man during 19.. to Second World War in Buna and Sanananda area. This is to inform you about Mr Soni Goto who was one of the carrier during the battle of Buna-Sanananda in 1942.
He is from the same village, Hanau, as the famous fuzzy wuzzy angel, Mr Raphael Oembari. And he was with Mr Oembari and the wounded soldier, George Washington.. George 'Dick' Washington, sorry. From Buna airstrip, to the aid centre, 25 December 1942.
The photo of Raphael Oembari and George 'Dick' Washington, the wounded soldier, was walking stick and on that time, the stick was given to him by the Soni Goto. The Soni Goto and Mr Raphael Oembari were in fact walking side by side, with the wounded soldier, George 'Dick' Washington. While they were walking, carrying.. Soni Goto went into nearest bush for relief, toilet. And that was how Mr Oembari and the wounded soldier were caught by the photograph.
This story is known very well by the villagers and the immediate family members of Mr Raphael Oembari. I, Dennis Itari, Goto and the great grandson of Asari Goto wish to bring this to your attention, that whatever benefit or the Oembari family will get from Australian government, or either any other organisation,
the immediate family of Mr Soni Goto should, as well, has the benefits. As benefit two, I would kindly like to bring this to your attention, is the true story of Mr Soni Goto. Thank you.

Dennis, can I just also add a few questions if you may allow me to ask you. During those days, when our young men were recruited as carriers, if one of them or two or a couple stepped out of line, what was discipline like? Were they punished?

No, they were not punished but they were all work under the instruction by the Australian soldiers' commanders, so something like that, they follow the instruction. Without instruction they might be dead.

Did your grandfather also tell you, were they well fed during the war, our carriers?


Did they sleep well? This was during time of fighting.

Sometimes they never sleep well, because during the war there's too many ammunition and guns. So there's a time when they have rest, and there's a time when they fight, but they are all kept in the place, as a the previous speakers said, they were all in a group.

Were they also called out at night to assist the allied forces?

If there is a need, you know they help, because that's how they used to native local villagers. They want to use them for their instruction for carrying the cargoes or the wounded soldiers or something, to the aid centres, to support them.

Did they operate behind the frontline or at times they went out into the frontline where there was fire.

No, they were at the back. They were instructed by the commanders, or the colonel, who were in that time, were leading.

Do you want to say something about this project that we have embarked on? Are you happy with this project?

Yes I'm happy with this project, but the I would like to add on here our grandfathers during that time, they were like employed or something like that, and they worked side by side with Australian soldiers, and after that they too many of our grandfathers, they contribute toward our nation.. but afterwards Papua grandfathers and we, the grandsons, we are not recognised.
Somehow .. Mr Raphael Oembari is the front man from this place, but we are just stay as before our grandfathers lived. So you can see here we got no iron buildings so something like that come in, so we just live what before our grandfathers live. We still use our own bush materials, and we live. That's what I always think, how could our grandfathers who come, the Australian government should know, about them during, they contribute no big, big or small or any other way, they support to fight to win the war, or battle.

Getting back to our story, how was your grandfather recruited?

He was man, he was acting man and big. And that man is strong man, he can carry things during that war time so they recruit him.

What about the Japanese.. where were they located, along the coast or?

Japanese were located on the other side of Sanananda, because why most people from here because this is the place where the Australians were based here, the captain, the place where I'm living is one of the Base Two. So that's why the Australian base here so the most you can see most carriers are from this place, around Barisari, both Hanau and Girua, that's how Raphael Oembari came, because you can see we have a many war relics from that side here. This place is the base of the Australian, they build their home here, you can see they're prayed for in my place.. that's how the most carriers is employed by the Australian
soldiers. So Japanese, they're on the other side of Buna, and the other side of Sanananda, because that their base. But our poor, our grandfathers, they did hard work, to reach Buna, the battlefield, because that's how they break through the war. And they reach the Buna. That's what I know.

Thank you, Dennis, for your story.

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“Dennis Itari - Oral History interview recorded on 20 May 2014 at Hanau, Northern Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed July 17, 2024,