By Jacintha Kerry
In 1971, as independence approached; the people of Papua New Guinea were invited by the government to submit their designs for a competition to find the flag of Papua New Guinea. A committee of Parliamentarians from the Papua New Guinea House of Assembly toured the country inspecting the flag designs, hoping to find designs they liked. Many flags were submitted, most of which feature the Bird of Paradise.
Sister Joseph Mary, an art teacher at Sacred Heart Mission School on Yule Island, heard about the competition and asked her best student, 15 year old Susan Karike to design the flag. Susan, from Meil village near Kerema in the Gulf province agreed to try. She chose to designs her flag mainly in black and red because they are popular colours in Papua New Guinea. In the lower left corner, she placed five stars to represent the Southern Cross, and drew a yellow bird of paradise on the opposite corner. Some committee members visited Susan’s school and showed her designs. They compared it with the others they had collected and thought that Susan’s was the best.
However, it cannot become the national flag unless the majority of members of the House of Assembly agreed. A vote was taken and the result of the counting was the same, with 31 votes in favour and 31 against. It was up to the speaker of the House of Assembly, Dr. John Guise (after Sir John Guise) to make a final decision on the flag of Papua New Guinea. The decision became effective after it was published in the Government Gazette on 1 July 1971. Until the arrival of the Independence, the new national flag was flown together with the Australian flag at official ceremonies. Susan Karike’s name became known to thousands and she was asked to raise the flag on important occasions.
At one minutes past midnight on Tuesday, 16th September 1975, the Governor General Sir John Guise, declared Papua New Guinea’s Independence over the radio. Later that morning at 10:25 am, the new flag raised by representatives of the armed services at each corner, was marched up to Independence Hill at Waigani, Port Moresby. People in traditional dress gathered around the flagpole. As the national flag was raised, they beat the kundus (drums) and a mighty cheer went up from 20,660 people who were there to witness the historic event.
Prince Charles of the United Kingdom unveiled a plaque to commemorate the site of the new Parliament House and two planes flew overhead to show respect. Dancers entertained the crowd and later a canoe races was held near Ela Beach.
On 16th September 1975, Independence Day, the national flag was brought to Independence Hill to be hung. It was a great day of celebration for Papua New Guinea, but most proud moment for Susan Karike was when the flag that she designed was raised on Independence Hill to commemorate the birth of a new nation.
* Jacintha Kerry is from Eastern Highlands province and she’s in grade 7 (red) at New Erima Primary School.