Celebrating Independence Day


A 19th-century trading lakatoi in the harbour at Port Moresby to celebrate Independence, with a 20th-century coastal trader in the background.

This blog is primarily about the old days in Papua New Guinea and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to post some photos of PNG’s first Independence Day, in 1975. It is a trip down memory lane for some of us old-timers, but the photos may also be of interest to today’s school children for their history projects. The 19th-century lakatoi in the photo above was built especially for the Independence Day celebrations and it honoured the country’s traditions and history. It also provided photographers with a rare, perhaps even unique, opportunity to encapsulate the country’s mercantile trading history in a single frame, as it sailed past  a 20th-century coastal trader. I have a particular interest in  maritime history so I love this photo, which was taken by the late Denis Williams.


Canoe racing off Ela Beach to celebrate Independence.

As part of the day’s celebrations, there was canoe racing off Ela Beach and the contestants came from a great many coastal villages and communities. It was very colourful and picturesque and if you had access to a boat or canoe, it was possible to get up close to the action.


Spectators watching the canoe racing.


Young sing-sing dancer, Independence night, 1975.

At night there was a huge sing-sing under lights at the Hubert Murray Stadium. This photo of a little girl was taken with an exposure of about one second hand-held. When it came off the long exposures produced photos that were much better than flash photography. We went down and sat on the grass with our blankets. Even our three-year-old daughter, Vanessa, managed to stay awake for most of the celebrations. No one wanted to go home.


Prince Charles with escorts, Independence celebrations, September 1975.

But of course we can’t overlook the official ceremony, with Prince Charles in attendance and representing his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.


PNG’s first Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, and first Governor-General, Sir John Guise, at the Independence Day ceremony, 1975.


The Australian flag is lowered for the last time.


An incredibly proud moment for these soldiers as a new nation is born.


Prince Charles making a speech at the opening of PNG’s parliament.


Port Moresby in 1975 with Hanuabada village in foreground.

The particular view above is a bit of a cliché but it does provide a good comparison between today’s very modern and sprawling metropolis of about 375,000 people, and the more country town atmosphere of Port Moresby in 1975.


Port Moresby street scene, 1975.

This street scene in 1975 shows the Burns Philp department store, with tower, and the adjacent sports store. And oh yes, a Volkswagen and a Mini Minor. Traffic was relatively light. Those were the days.


Teenage student and sing-sing dancer at Sogeri high school, circa 1975. Photographer Veronica Peek.

My favourite sing-sing head piece and I figure that’s a good enough reason to run this photo. Those white dots on the face are perfectly placed. As sing-sing costumes and face paintings go, a work of genius I reckon.

6 thoughts on “Celebrating Independence Day

  1. Isn’t it funny I don’t remember the lakatoi and canoe racing that day. It was so true that no one wanted to go home from Hubert Murray stadium that day – it had such an atmosphere and Independence Hill the next day was also wonderful albeit more “sober”…a sense of occasion in both.

  2. Hello Veronica, these are lovely images, would it be possible for me to republish them (with appropriate credit) on a profile I am doing on ABC broadcaster Caroline Tiriman who is returning to PNG to cover the 40th anniversary celebrations?

  3. Veronica
    A year or two ago I commented on a photo on this site regarding the chief justice of the time witnessing Sir John Guise signing documents on independence day. From memory John Haugie was also in the photo.
    I have searched, but can’t now find the photo on your website.
    Is the photo still there?
    Thanks – Arthur Smedley.

  4. Hi Arthur

    You will find it under the post Postcards from Port Moresby. I made it a private post for a time but I have made it available once again to the general public.

    Best wishes

    Veronica Peek

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