The Battle of Bitapaka

The beginning and the end of Australian governance


Equally stark is the contrast between the content of the formal Proclamation of Occupation and the tokpisin version read aloud to whoever of the New Guineans in attendance might have understood it.

The Formal Proclamation read:

Proclamation on behalf of His Majesty George the Fifth, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the Dominions Overseas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.
By Colonel WILLIAM HOLMES, D.S.O., V.D., Brigadier Commanding His Majesty's Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force.
WHEREAS the Forces under my command have occupied the Island of New Britain;
AND WHEREAS upon such occupation the authority of the German Government has ceased to exist therein:

AND WHEREAS it has become essential to provide for proper government of the said colony, and for the protection of the lives and property of the peaceful inhabitants thereof.
Now I, WILLIAM HOLMES, Companion of the Distinguished Service Order, Colonel in His Majesty's Forces, Brigadier Commanding the aforesaid Expeditionary Force, do hereby declare and proclaim as follows :-

(1) From and after the date of these presents, the Island of New Britain and its dependencies are held by me in military occupation in the name of His Majesty the King.

(2) War will be waged only against the armed forces of the German Empire and its Allies in the present war.

(3) The lives and private property of peaceful inhabitants will be protected, and the laws and customs of the colony will remain in force so far as is consistent with the military situation.

(4) If the needs of the troops demand it, private property may be requisitioned. Such property will be paid for at its fair value.

(5) Certain officials of the late Government may be retained, if they so desire, at their usual salaries.

(6) In return for such protection it is the duty of all inhabitants to behave in an absolutely peaceful manner, to carry on their ordinary pursuits so far as is possible, to take no part directly or indirectly in any hostilities, to abstain from communication with His Majesty's enemies, and to render obedience to such orders as may be promulgated.

(7) All male inhabitants of European origin are required to take the oath of neutrality prescribed, at the garrison headquarters; and all firearms, ammunition, and war material in the possession or control of inhabitants are to be surrendered forthwith, as is also all public property of the late Government.

(8) Non-compliance with the terms of this Proclamation, and disobedience of such orders as from time to time may be promulgated, will be dealt with according to military law.

(9) It is hereby notified that this Proclamation takes effect in the whole Island of New Britain and its dependencies from this date.

Given at Government House, RABAUL, this twelfth day of September, 1914.
WILLIAM HOLMES, Brigadier Commanding.
Witness - FRANCIS HERITAGE, Major, Brigade Major

Happily, the version of the Proclamation read to the audience in tokpisin survives; it illustrates the degree to which tokpisin has advanced in the 100 years over the version used by the ANMEF officer. The text discloses also the points upon which the incoming administration wanted to focus their new subjects’ attention.

Perhaps it is salutary to remember and constrast the manner in which the ceremony resulting in the lowering of the Australian flag, first raised in New Guinea in 1914, was conducted in 1974.

Sir John Guise, the first Governor-General of PNG, said at the flag lowering ceremony: "It is important the people of Papua New Guinea, and the rest of the world, realise the spirit in which we are lowering the flag of our colonisers. We are lowering the flag, not tearing it down."

At one minute past midnight on 16 September, the Proclamation of Independence was announced by the Governor-General in a radio broadcast, followed by the National Anthem and a 101-gun salute provided by the Royal Australian Navy.

At 9.30 am the flag-raising ceremony commenced. Prince Charles inspected the Royal Guard before taking his place on the VIP dais. Cultural groups then handed the PNG flag to the Governor-General who handed it to the Commander of the PNG Defence Force, asking him to raise it on behalf of the people of Papua New Guinea.