It’s PNG’s hour of need, and time to pay back

A LOCAL man is calling for annual Anzac Day commemorations to be a reminder of the Papua New Guinean carriers who helped save lives in the Kokoda campaign of World War 2.

Heyfield RSL member Barry Stephens said he commended Sale man Jim Cook’s fundraising efforts for PNG earthquake victims, and hopes all Gippslanders will be inspired to donate generously to the cause.

“They helped us during the war, and in their hour of need, we should be doing more to help them,” he said.

Mr Stephens said Anzac Day should be a strong reminder of the generosity and support the Papua New Guinea ‘fuzzy wuzzies’ gave Australians during the war.

“Without the help they gave us to carry out injured soldiers and bring in supplies, it’s a distinct possibility that we may have lost that battle,” he said.

The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels were Papua New Guinean locals who were given that name — a term of endearment — by Australian soldiers during World War 2, after they were recruited to bring supplies up to the front and carry injured Australian troops down the Kokoda trail during the Kokoda Campaign.

The term ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’ was originally used by British soldiers in the 19th century as a name for Hadendoa warriors on the Red Sea coast of the Sudan, and referred to their distinctive hairstyles.

Although he enlisted, Mr Stephens was never called up to fight, but remembers well the hardship of the war and the sacrifices made by many.

“My generation’s fathers, uncles and brothers were there, and we owe a lot to the Papua New Guineans who helped us,” he said.

“Please, keep the Papua New Guinea earthquake appeal in mind during this Anzac Day, and help them in their hour of need,” he said.

Although considered by many veterans as too late, in 2009 the Australian government began awarding the Fuzzy Wuzzy Commemorative Medallion to living Papua New Guineans who assisted the Australian war effort.

Last week, the Gippsland Times ran an article about Jim Cook’s participation in last Sunday’s O’Keefe Challenge run to Heathcote, as part of a fundraising campaign he started to assist the PNG campaign.

Despite never having attempted a marathon, Jim completed the run in three hours, 20 minutes and 26 seconds, which placed him 13th out of 130 overall and seventh in his category.

Money raised through Jim’s Running for Relief GoFundMe campaign and another that he shares with Care Australia will all go directly towards providing urgent and ongoing humanitarian aid for the communities that have lost loved ones and livelihoods, and help restore the infrastructure that has limited earthquake victims’ access to food, water and communication with the outside world.

The 7.5 magnitude February earthquake has devastated the highlands region of Papua New Guinea, and in the first few days killed more than 150 people.

Landslides, disease, lack of shelter and food and water continue to take their take their toll.

One week after the quake, aid organisations estimated that whole villages had been wiped out, with at least 7000 people losing their homes and 150,000 people in urgent need of emergency supplies, especially food and clean water.

But ongoing aftershocks and lack of road access have exacerbated the problem, while lack of communication means the message is not getting out to the world in the way it did with Christchurch or Nepal.

Current estimates are that about 270,000 people have been affected by the disaster, and thousands are still homeless and starving, Jim said humanitarian aid workers were providing medical aid and food and water, but supplies were dwindling because of the huge demand, and there are shortages of everything from medical aid to basic necessities.

The effort is expected to take months, even years, and the next phase will be to restore roads, rebuild infrastructure and build up food crops, so that communities can survive and restore their independence.Jim expects to keep his GoFundMe page open for another week, and hopes to raise about $10,000 for the earthquake relief effort.

To donate to Jim’s fundraising, go to donate.grassrootz.com/careaustralia/our-fundraisers/running-for-relief-png.

People can also donate to CARE Australia, or contact the charity to receive a donation certificate through the mail.