Territory of New Guinea

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Territory of New Guinea[1]
StatusLeague of Nations Mandate of Australia
United Nations Trust Territory of Australia
CapitalRabaul (1914–1937)
Lae (1937–1942)
Capital-in-exilePort Moresby
Common languagesEnglish (official)
Austronesian languages
Papuan languages
English creoles

German creoles
GovernmentMandate, later Trust Territory of Australia
• 1914–1936
George V
• 1952–1975
Elizabeth II
• 1914–1915
William Holmes (first)
• 1934–1942
Walter McNicoll(last)[2]
LegislatureLegislative council
House of Assembly
Historical eraInterwar period
28 June 1919
CurrencyAustralian pound
Preceded by
Succeeded by
German New Guinea
Territory of Papua and New Guinea
Papua New Guinea

The Territory of New Guinea was an Australian-administered territory on the island of New Guinea from 1914 until 1975. In 1949, the Territory and the Territory of Papua were established in an administrative union by the name of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. That administrative union was renamed as Papua New Guinea in 1971. Notwithstanding that it was part of an administrative union, the Territory of New Guinea at all times retained a distinct legal status and identity until the advent of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea.

The initial Australian mandate, entitled the Mandate for the German Possessions in the Pacific Ocean situated South of the Equator other than German Samoa and Nauru, was based on the previous German New Guinea, which had been captured and occupied by Australian forces during World War I.

Most of the Territory of New Guinea was occupied by Japan during World War II, between 1942 and 1945. During this time, Rabaul, on the island of New Britain, became a major Japanese base (see New Guinea campaign). After World War II, the territories of Papua and New Guinea were combined in an administrative union under the Papua New Guinea Provisional Administration Act (1945–46).


In 1884, Germany formally took possession of the northeast quarter of New Guinea and it became known as German New Guinea.[4] In the same year, the British government proclaimed a protectorate over the southeastern quarter of New Guinea. The protectorate, called British New Guinea, was annexed by Britain outright on 4 September 1888. The territory was transferred to the newly federated Commonwealth of Australia on 18 March 1902, and British New Guinea became the Territory of Papua, with Australian administration beginning in 1906.[4][5]

World War I to League of Nations mandate[edit]

Mandates in the Pacific:
1. South Seas Mandate
2. Mandate of New Guinea
3. Mandate of Nauru
4. Western Samoa Mandate

One of the first actions of Australia's armed forces during World War I was the seizure by the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force of German New Guinea and the neighbouring islands of the Bismarck Archipelago in October 1914.[6] Germany administered several territories in the south and central Pacific which the British requested be captured by Australian and New Zealand forces. On 11 September 1914, a Royal Australian Navy force arrived off Rabaul with the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force and naval troops were landed at Herbertshohe and Kabakaul to search for German radio stations, facing some minor German resistance. Rabaul was occupied, unopposed, on 12 September. The German administration surrendered German New Guinea on 17 September. Australian troops and vessels were subsequently dispatched to occupy Germany's other territories including the New Guinea mainland, New Ireland, the Admiralty Islands, the Western Islands, Bougainville, and the German Solomons.[7] The colony remained under Australian military control until 1921.[4]

At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference following the war, Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes sought to secure possession of New Guinea from the defeated German Empire: telling the Conference: "Strategically the northern islands (such as New Guinea) encompass Australia like fortresses. They are as necessary to Australia as water to a city."[8]

Article 22 of the Treaty of Versailles provided for the division of Germany and the Central Powers' imperial possessions among the victorious Allies of World War I. In the Pacific, Japan gained Germany's islands north of the equator (the Marshall Islands, the Caroline Islands, the Marianas Islands, the Palau Islands) and Kiautschou in China. German Samoa was assigned to New Zealand; German New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and Nauru to Australia as League of Nations Mandates: territories "formerly governed [by the Central Powers] and which are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world". Article 22 said:[9]

There are territories, such as South-West Africa and certain of the South Pacific Islands, which, owing to the sparseness of their population, or their small size, or their remoteness from the centres of civilisation, or their geographical contiguity to the territory of the Mandatory, and other circumstances, can be best administered under the laws of the Mandatory as integral portions of its territory, subject to the safeguards above mentioned in the interests of the indigenous population.

The British Government, on behalf of Australia, assumed a mandate from the League of Nations for governing the Territory on 17 December 1920. The terms of the mandate were not received in Australia until April 1921.[10] This mandate was enacted and administered by the Australian Government through the New Guinea Act 1920 until the outbreak of the Pacific War and Japanese invasion in December 1941 brought about its suspension.[4]

World War II[edit]

Australian soldier, Private George "Dick" Whittington, being aided by Papuan orderly Raphael Oimbari near Buna on 25 December 1942

Shortly after the start of the Pacific War, the island of New Guinea was invaded by the Japanese. Most of West Papua, at that time known as Dutch New Guinea, was occupied, as were large parts of the Territory of New Guinea but the Territory of Papua was protected to a large extent by its southern location and the near-impassable Owen Stanley Ranges to the north.

The New Guinea campaign opened with the battles for New Britain and New Ireland in the Territory of New Guinea in 1942. Rabaul, the capital of the Territory was overwhelmed on 22–23 January and was established as a major Japanese base from whence they landed on mainland New Guinea and advanced towards Port Moresby and Australia.[11] Having had their initial effort to capture Port Moresby by a seaborne invasion disrupted by the U.S. Navy in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese attempted a landward invasion from the north via the Kokoda Track. From July 1942, a few Australian reserve battalions, many of them very young and untrained, fought a stubborn rearguard action against a Japanese advance along the Kokoda Track, towards Port Moresby, over the rugged Owen Stanley Ranges.[12] Local Papuans, called Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels by the Australians, assisted and escorted injured Australian troops down the Kokoda track. The militia, worn out and severely depleted by casualties, were relieved in late August by regular troops from the Second Australian Imperial Force, returning from action in the Mediterranean theater.

The Japanese on the Kokoda Track were ordered to retreat to the coast so the Japanese could focus their efforts on the Battle of Guadalcanal, and the Australians pursued them back to the Buna-Gona area. The bitter Battle of Buna-Gona followed in which Australian and United States forces attacked the main Japanese beachheads in New Guinea, at Buna, Sanananda and Gona. Facing tropical disease, difficult terrain and well-constructed Japanese defences, the allies finally achieved victory after experiencing heavy casualties.[13] The offensives in Papua and New Guinea of 1943–44 were the single largest series of connected operations ever mounted by the Australian armed forces.[14] The Supreme Commander of operations was the United States General Douglas Macarthur, with Australian General Thomas Blamey taking a direct role in planning and operations being essentially directed by staff at New Guinea Force headquarters in Port Moresby.[15] Bitter fighting continued in New Guinea between the largely Australian force and the Japanese 18th Army based in New Guinea until the Surrender of Japan to end the war on 2 September 1945. The New Guinea campaign was a major campaign of the Pacific War. In all, some 200,000 Japanese soldiers, sailors and airmen died during the campaign against approximately 7,000 Australian and 7,000 American service personnel.[16]

Administrative unification with Papua[edit]

After the war, civil administration of Papua and of New Guinea was restored, and under the Papua New Guinea Provisional Administration Act, 1945–46, Papua and New Guinea were combined in a new administrative union.[4][17] The Papua and New Guinea Act 1949 united the Territory of Papua and the Territory of New Guinea as the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. However, for the purposes of Australian nationality a distinction was maintained between the two territories.[citation needed] The act provided for a Legislative Council (which was established in 1951), a judicial organization, a public service, and a system of local government.[4]

Under Australian Minister for External Territories Andrew Peacock, the territory adopted self-government in 1972 and on 15 September 1975, during the term of the Whitlam Government in Australia, the Territory became the independent nation of Papua New Guinea.[18][19]


  1. ^ New Guinea Act, 1920 to 1945; Papua and New Guinea Act, 1949 (as to its official and commonly used name being Territory of New Guinea and not Trust Territory of New Guinea
  2. ^ McNicoll was the last administrator who ran a separate administration from Papua
  3. ^ As to the Territory of New Guinea having continued to have a legal existence as a distinct territory, separate and distinct from the Territory of Papua, note the following Recital to the Papua New Guinea Independence Act, 1975 "WHEREAS the Papua and New Guinea Act 1949 provided for the administration of the Territory of Papua and the Territory of New Guinea by Australia in an administrative union, by the name of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, whilst maintaining the identity and status of the Territory of New Guinea as a Trust Territory and the identity and status of the Territory of Papua as a Possession of the Crown".
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Papua New Guinea". State.gov. 12 December 2012. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  5. ^ Commonwealth and Colonial Law by Kenneth Roberts-Wray, London, Stevens, 1966. p. 132 where it is noted that "On 18 March 1902 Letters Patent [S.R.O & S.I. Rev. II, 1096] made for the purposes of section 122 of the Australian Constitution, placed the territory under the Commonwealth of Australia"
  6. ^ "First World War 1914–18 | Australian War Memorial". Awm.gov.au. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  7. ^ "Operations against German Pacific territories | Australian War Memorial". Awm.gov.au. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  8. ^ "Remembering the war in New Guinea - Why were the Japanese were in New Guinea". Ajrp.awm.gov.au. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  9. ^ Michael Duffy (22 August 2009). "Primary Documents - Treaty of Versailles: Articles 1-30 and Annex". First World War.com. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  10. ^ Commonwealth and Colonial Law by Kenneth Roberts-Wray, London, Stevens, 1966. p. 886
  11. ^ "Remembering the war in New Guinea - Rabaul". Ajrp.awm.gov.au. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  12. ^ "Kokoda Trail Campaign | Australian War Memorial". Awm.gov.au. 21 July 1942. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  13. ^ "Battle of Buna | Australian War Memorial". Awm.gov.au. 21 July 1941. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  14. ^ "Wartime Issue 23 - New Guinea Offensive". Awm.gov.au. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  15. ^ "Wartime Issue 23 - New Guinea Offensive | Australian War Memorial". Awm.gov.au. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  16. ^ "Remembering the war in New Guinea". Ajrp.awm.gov.au. 9 August 1942. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  17. ^ Papua-New Guinea Provisional Administration Act 1945
  18. ^ [1] Archived 4 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "In office - Gough Whitlam - Australia's PMs - Australia's Prime Ministers". Primeministers.naa.gov.au. Retrieved 24 June 2013.

Coordinates: 5°00′S 145°00′E / 5.000°S 145.000°E / -5.000; 145.000