2019 Ralph Honner Gala Dinner - Veterans & PNG leaders keep the spirit of Kokoda alive

Over 350 friends of KTF came together in the magnificent Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney for the 16th Lt. Col. Ralph Honner Gala Dinner, commemorating the great sacrifices made by the Australian and Papua New Guinean soldiers and beloved ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’ during the battles of Kokoda in World War II, with special tribute to the leadership of Lt. Col. Ralph Honner, commander of the 39th Battalion.

Hosted by Channel 7 News presenter, journalist, and KTF Ambassador, Michael Usher, this year’s event reunited five surviving veterans of the Kokoda campaign who, in the true spirit of the special friendship forged between our two countries, were joined by visiting dignitaries, educators and future leaders from Papua New Guinea for a very special evening.

The amazing Arnold Forrester, Bill Ryan, Dick Payten, Reg Chard, and Lloyd Birdsall once again gathered for a special reunion.  Centenarian Arnold, who turned 100 last month, has attended the Ralph Honner Dinner every year for the past decade.

“I was alongside Ralph Honner at Isurava, 77 years ago. This dinner, and the relationship with KTF, keeps his legacy alive and I am so proud to be associated with them.”

Arnie, as he is affectionately known, is pictured in the iconic Damien Parer image that encapsulates the Kokoda campaign. Arnie is the only surviving veteran in the iconic image.  There was a reverent silence when Arnie said the ode and the last post sounded.

At 97 years young, environmental activist Bill Ryan is a living example of the spirit of Kokoda, fighting for his beliefs. Bill was wounded in action in Kokoda and then returned to fight in New Britain. Legally blind, Bill has been arrested on six occasions for protesting on issues important to him, including action on climate change.

Throughout the evening, the extraordinary Jeffry Feeger brought his passion to the canvas, completing the most beautiful live painting of Bill, which was auctioned in a thrilling live event by McGrath Real Estate’s Anthony Meaker for $10,000 of life-changing support of our work.

Michael Usher welcomed an incredible array of speakers to the stage. KTF Chairman Ian Kemish AM delivered the Leadership Oration harnessing the value of inspirational leadership, particularly in tough times. CEO Dr Genevieve Nelson then updated our supporters on the expansion of our work, achievements and challenges in the past year and Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Alex Hawke gave an insight into of our countries’ friendship today and in the future.

He was then joined by an extraordinary panel for a Q&A session, including Papua New Guinea’s High Commissioner John Kali, Archer Leaders Stephannie Kirriwom and Raylance Mesa and visiting educators from the remote provinces of Hela and Gulf, Joanne Puname and Gabriel Opa. Topics ranged from the challenges faced by teacher trainers to ensure a quality education is accessible to all, to gender inequality faced by girls and building seawalls to protect low-lying islands in Morobe province. Together, the panel painted a vivid picture of, and insight into, their beautiful homeland, culture and people.

It was a magical night to be remembered, capturing the true spirit of Kokoda. We are indebted to our special guests, amazing event partners, silent auction supporters and our incredible team and amazing volunteers. Click here for a full listing of those who made the evening possible.

Tenkyu tru to all who attended. We look forward to welcoming you again next year.

Anita Russell