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PNG - A Case of Treason: The Digger Hangings -

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Tuesday 25 September 2007

STEVE MARSHALL: Hello, I'm Steve Marshall on the north coast of Papua New Guinea. I've come here to
investigate a disturbing untold episode of the Second World War.

The reminders are everywhere. Relics of a war that ended more than six decades ago. While the ranks
of those who lived through that time have diminished, the stories have not been lost. Now for the
first time these people are talking about events they have never openly spoken about before. It's
an unsavoury chapter of our own war history, a campaign of executions and cover-up by the
Australian Army.

BARRY JONES: Well it's an untold part of our history. It's profoundly mysterious. It's something
that's been airbrushed out of our history.

STEVE MARSHALL: This is the story of how Australian officials hanged dozens of Papuans during the
Second World War and why it was hidden from the prime minister of the day.

In the shadow of the sleeping Mount Lamington volcano, I'm on the trail to a lost town. Higaturu
was an Australian government station during the Second World War.

MACLAREN HIARI: It's a hidden mystery at the moment and very few Europeans have ventured into this

STEVE MARSHALL: My guide is historian Maclaren Hiari, who has spent the past 20 years investigating
what happened here in 1943.

MACLAREN HIARI: The majority of the Papua New Guineans who worked as fuzzy wuzzy angels did help
the Australian soldiers but we had Papua New Guineans who actually worked for the Japanese.

STEVE MARSHALL: Just as the Australian diggers relied on local Papuans to deliver supplies to the
front-line and carry out the wounded, so too did their enemies. The Japanese also built schools to
extend their influence.

It wasn't their war. The local Papuan people had little understanding, or interest for that matter,
in a battle between two empires. Yet they found themselves caught in the middle, dealing with the
demands of two foreign armies. Many superstitious Papuans saw the invading Japanese as their
returning ancestors and were more than willing to turn their backs on the Australians.

MACLAREN HIARI: They said "Okay, the Australians, white people, are not trying to look after us."
So when the Japanese came they said "These may be the people who can look after us." So they lent
their support, they gave their assistance to the Japanese.

STEVE MARSHALL: I've come to meet a man who saw first hand the consequences for those who helped
the Japanese.

Where are we right now, Wellington?

WELLINGTON KOGORA: We are in the spot where my father's brother was hanged.

STEVE MARSHALL: Your father's brother?


STEVE MARSHALL: Wellington Kogora was 10 years old when he watched as his uncle and four others
were hanged from a breadfruit tree.

WELLINGTON KOGORA: The first time he pulled up and then the officer cut the rope down, but he
didn't die. The second time, the same thing. The third time, he died. He cut the rope and he down
and died.

STEVE MARSHALL: An Australian military court had convicted the men of treason. They were
responsible for turning over to the Japanese fleeing Australian missionaries and stranded soldiers.
All of those betrayed met cruel deaths.

By any measure, the behaviour of the Papuans was treacherous. But the punishment marked the start
of a hanging campaign that would soon lead the Australians into dangerous territory.

The Australian authorities soon realised they'd need to punish more locals for collaborating with
the Japanese. They set out to make an example of those who'd betrayed the Europeans and their local
Papuan allies. The hangings then moved from a tree to something much more permanent.

JOHN FRANCIS IHARI: And then when I came very close to here, and I started crying ....

STEVE MARSHALL: As a 5-year-old, John Francis Ihari witnessed the unimaginable. He watched his
father hanged, along with 16 other men, on one day in September 1943.

The Australians had rounded up hundreds of villagers at Higaturu under the guise of attending a
traditional sing-sing ceremony. Even the condemned were coaxed into wearing traditional dress.
School children were led from their classrooms and made to watch the spectacle.

JOHN FRANCIS IHARI: My aunty escorted me up to where my father was standing. And he grabbed me and
he cried. He said "Sorry son" he said "I am leaving you." And then he called out to the people that
"I am not a murderer" he said "I didn't kill anybody."

STEVE MARSHALL: The convicted man had been accused of giving away the location of servicemen and
civilians fleeing the Japanese. Besides his plea of innocence, Mr Ihari's father claimed he was not
allowed to speak at his trial.

JOHN FRANCIS IHARI: I'm looking up and then in a minute I hear a big noise, you know nasty noise,
like something crashing. One of the officers pulled the thing up and then the two men coming down
at the same time with the ropes around their neck.

STEVE MARSHALL: The Australians hanged two men at a time, until all 17 were dead. Witnesses claim
an officer told the hundreds of school children gathered, "This is what happens if you work with
the Japanese."

JOHN FRANCIS IHARI: My Daddy and his best mate, they were hanged together and are buried together,
and then my Mummy was buried there.

STEVE MARSHALL: Death at the end of a noose delivered a new way of dying for the Papuans. Two weeks
later, John Francis's mother was to go the same way.

JOHN FRANCIS IHARI: And she put herself in her good ... her best clothes and went and hanged herself.
And they found her ... "Oh yes, because her husband died, she died because she can't live without her

STEVE MARSHALL: This is the only known photograph of the gallows at Higaturu. The Papuan man posing
with the Australian officers is said to be Parere Aukeri. He was an erratic man, a trouble-maker,
so to rid him, the villagers falsely accused him of murdering an American pilot. The Australians
executed him too, in a botched hanging that tore his head from his body.

RELATIVE OF PARERE AUKERI: They hanged him but he was an innocent man.

STEVE MARSHALL: A relative of Aukeri told me his death was a great injustice.

Did he understand English at all?

RELATIVE OF PARERE AUKERI: He did not understand English, he was a village man.

STEVE MARSHALL: So did he understand what was happening to him when he was arrested?

RELATIVE OF PARERE AUKERI: He understand, but he couldn't speak English and he did not say anything
but he just went up and hanged.

STEVE MARSHALL: Former federal minister, academic Barry Jones was outraged when he heard of the
hangings. An outspoken opponent of capital punishment, Dr Jones learned of the executions from a
war-time government advisor.

BARRY JONES: We don't know how the trials were conducted. We don't know whether each of the accused
had a defence counsel. We don't know what language the procedures were carried out. We don't know
whether the witnesses were cross-examined. We don't know whether there was an appeal proceeding

STEVE MARSHALL: Many Papuans who had contact with the Japanese escaped the noose, but couldn't
escape the cane. These photographs of flogged villagers were given to an Australian Army
intelligence officer in 1943.

MACLAREN HIARI: It's time we come out in public and tell the people of Papua New Guinea and tell
the people of Australia what has actually happen.

STEVE MARSHALL: This is the first time the aggrieved relatives of those hanged have come together.
Until now, their stories have been kept within the family and within the village.

Maclaren, what sorts of hurdles have these people overcome to be here today?

MACLAREN HIARI: They have walked over the past for the last 60 years-the sorrow, pain, agony. And
fifteen years ago I tried to interview one principal character, son of a principal character. He
boldly, blindly said "Get out before I physically assault you." Today that kind of attitude, that
kind of emotion has changed.

STEVE MARSHALL: These people claim that many of the executed men were innocent, and they accuse the
Australians of being too eager with the noose.

PAUL UARI: No justice was given, in fairness, because these people were still primitives and they
did not know what they were doing. I am looking forward that this thing has to be revealed to the
world and the Australian government. It is real and the truth.

STEVE MARSHALL: The old Australian government station at Higaturu has been swallowed by the jungle.
A volcano in 1951 buried many of its secrets. This single beam is all that remains of the old
gallows. But something else has been concealed from history. We may never know how many Papuans
were sent to their deaths by the Australians.

MACLAREN HIARI: Well, this is my private archives where I have been doing my research and keeping
all the stuff in here.

STEVE MARSHALL: Maclaren Hiari claims as many as 100 Papuans were hanged by Australian troops in
several locations during the war.

MACLAREN HIARI: The other hangings that took place are unrecorded. I know from the archives, from
reports that were made in 1945 that the records have been destroyed.

STEVE MARSHALL: But even more extraordinary is that the prime minister of the day, John Curtin, had
no idea what was going on. Field commanders didn't tell officials in Canberra that the hangings had
even taken place.

BARRY JONES: The whole idea that an army can operate on a frolic of its own, even under the
terrible war-time circumstances, and not tell the government that it's answerable to, I think
that's appalling.

STEVE MARSHALL: When federal cabinet was told of the hangings, it put a stop to them, and directed
that another 50 Papuans on death row should not face the noose. Then, in their explanation of what
happened, field commanders fudged the figures on the number of men who had already been hanged.

Professor Hank Nelson is an eminent historian on the Second World War in New Guinea.

HANK NELSON: It's difficult to say why the Army so grossly understated the numbers and misstated
the process by which the decision to hang them was arrived at. There are two possibilities: they
lied or they were incompetent.

STEVE MARSHALL: The brutality of the Japanese Army in the Second World War cannot be overstated.
The grandfather of these two men tried in vain to rescue two Anglican missionaries on the run. But
nursing sister, May Hayman and Queensland teacher, Mavis Parkinson were betrayed by their Papuan
hosts, and bayoneted by Japanese soldiers.

There's no disputing the legendary camaraderie between the Australian soldiers and the so-called
fuzzy wuzzy angels. But just off the Kokoda track, the Australians were dispensing tough justice.

HANK NELSON: The obligation that those people have really, is to survive, not to admit an
allegiance really to either Japanese or to Australians, but to survive, they've got to obey the
Japanese when they're there so dominant and armed.

STEVE MARSHALL: Do these people want any compensation, any money from the Australian government?

MACLAREN HIARI: Not direct compensation.

STEVE MARSHALL: Just an acknowledgement?

MACLAREN HIARI: Acknowledgment or any kind of apology to the people.

STEVE MARSHALL: Even in the fog of war, most Papuans were loyal to their colonial master,
Australia. The hangings in this isolated jungle put that friendship to the test. For the
descendants of the people who died here, it will take another chapter to complete the history