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Papua New Guinea

REALITY IS DANGEROUSLY ADDICTIVE

YOU may not feel it here. But get on a canoe and go anywhere in the world. Here are a few things that will give you a tingle or two. To see the bird of paradise on the tarmac in a foreign country stops your breath while something hot rushes from your guts and there are clouds in your eyes.

To see the red, black and gold raised in a foreign country and to hear the national anthem played produce the same gut feeling.

Knowing the words of the National Anthem and being unable to sing are two different things. But when you are struck by the power of reality and your jaws become numb, guess what moves you? It’s the words.

That’s 130 words so far. The eternal question will be in Friday’s special. But ready or not, indicated in 130 words is dangerously addictive. It is moments like this when reality sinks deep.

If you do not know the words of the anthem, just stand to attention, cross your heart using the right arm reaching across to the left breast. The anthem is our sacred song and we pay homage to ourselves. If it is played on other shores, we are being honoured. It is beautiful and it is graceful.

The colourful bird-of-paradise flutters its wings and the calls come from the lips of children to connect us to the land of our forefathers depicted in colours. That is the significance of what this is all about.

Whilst the story about the red, black and gold is famous, we know little about the way the anthem came around, especially the very human side of things. Superintendent Tom Shaklady, who was bandmaster of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary brass band, is credited for producing our national anthem. The crest was designed by government artists in the Office of Information.

These national symbols were important and had to be in place for an independent State. A law was created to give them meaning and dignity. These are our sacred objects and they must be protected.

But things were not always smooth sailing. Even though Independence came without bloodshed and we lovingly took down the Aussie flag, folded it and gave it to them before raising our very own, we had all kinds of funny incidents. Read more in Friday’s paper but here is your first; the issue of the anthem. There was no song to sing on I-Day, September 16, 1975.

No Song to sing on I-Day

Papua New Guinea’s popular image as a land of the unexpected has indeed come a long way. During the official opening of the 2015 Pacific Games in Port Moresby 40 years later, there was some criticism about the words of the anthem being tampered with.

Here is how the national anthem started its journey.

With only a week to go to Independence, Papua New Guineans did not have a national anthem. This caused problems in the districts that had been rehearsing for I-Day celebrations; the search for a Papua New Guinean national anthem had been launched several months ahead in a blaze of publicity.

The national anthem committee was set up in October 1974 and the public invited to submit entries for the national anthem. The committee which boasted a membership of the country’s “top – class musicians” eventually decided on five songs for further consideration. The songs were given frequent airings on the National Broadcasting Commission with the public being advised that they were the judges.

But the public response was largely critical, with the main complaint being that the songs were “unoriginal”.

In mid June of that year, the committee announced that it would have the songs re-recorded and ready for broadcasting within a fortnight. But no more was heard of this. The committee went quiet. But in fact an anthem had been decided on but awaiting Cabinet approval.

Meanwhile, all over the country, Papua New Guineans got busy, practicing “God Save the Queen”. If Cabinet approved a new anthem, Papua New Guineans had less than a week to learn it.

God Save the Queen, national anthem of Great Britain was the anthem for its colonies – Australia and Papua and New Guinea.

The old generation can have a sentimental journey singing it now and surprise the grandchildren. Here are the words:

God save our gracious Queen

Long live our noble Queen

God save the Queen

All saints victorious

Happy and glorious

Long to reign over us

God save the Queen!

In 1980 or thereabouts Papua New Guinea attended the 15th World Trade Fair in Japan’s second largest city, Osaka. On the morning of September 16, the public address system came alive when the words: Happy birthday Papua New Guinea was heard by the world as it ran throughout the massive pavilion.

When I led the PNG delegation, I took with me a spare flag and the music for the national anthem. These I gave to the Japanese police. For our independence anniversary banquet, we literally invited the world. Many tasted our beer for the first time and drank our coffee. Massive tiger prawns the world had never seen before were on the menu. What I did was; I contacted companies and agencies in PNG for a party and they all cooperated by sending me a planeload of stuff and our Japanese friends prepared it.

Ambassador Joseph Nombri came down from Tokyo and I briefed him. “Your Excellency,” I said. “Just seconds before the clock strikes the hour, we will emerge from behind the screen. I expect the crowd will rise. I’ve told the band master that when my eyes find him, he must start the anthem. The anthem must end at the same time the flag is pulled open. I will make my remarks first so I can introduce you. You will end with the words; ‘ladies and gentlemen let the party begin.’

The Japanese police band did a magnificent job of the anthem and so did the Boy Scout; a lad of no less than 8, who raised our flag.

I fought back tears as Sir Joe and I stood on the podium facing a sea of black coats. I fought back tears because I was young and here we were facing the whole world on foreign soil. My chest felt heavy and heat permeated from behind my ear. The anthem and the flag did their job and that is always something to be proud of.

us!