Blog post from Wednesday, 16 September, 2015

On this day, 16th September 1975, Papua New Guinea was granted full independence from Australia.

Papua New Guinea is positioned to the north of Australia and consists of the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, as well as numerous offshore islands,and it shares the island with the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

The first known European exploration began with the Dutch and Portuguese traders during the sixteenth century. The name ‘Papua New Guinea’ is a result of the country’s unusual administrative history prior to Independence. 'Papua’ comes from a Malay word, pepuah, used to describe the frizzy Melanesian hair, while 'New Guinea’ is derived from 'Nueva Guinea’, the name used by Spanish explorer Yñigo Ortiz de Retez.

In 1899 the German imperial government assumed direct control of the northern territory and was known as German New Guinea. In 1884, Britain had taken control of the southern half, annexing it completely in 1888, known as British New Guinea. After the Papua Act of 1905, the British portion was renamed to Territory of Papua. During World War I, Australian troops began occupying the island to defend the British portion. Once the Treaty of Versailles came into effect following World War I, Australia was permitted to administer German New Guinea, while the British portion came to be regarded as an External Territory of the Australian Commonwealth, though in effect still a British possession. The two territories remained separate and distinct as 'Papua’ and 'New Guinea’.

Following the New Guinea Campaign of World War II, the two territories were merged as 'Papua New Guinea’. Australia continued to administer the country until it was granted full independence on 16 September 1975. Since independence, the two countries have retained close ties.

These maps from the State Library of New South Wales, Dixson Map Collection (dated 1584 and 1639) depict New Guinea when it was believed to be part of the Australian continent. Read more Southern lands revealed