New Guinea, located just north of Australia, is the world's second largest island with some 786,000 kmē of tropical land and an immense ecological value from 11,000 plant species: nearly 600 unique bird species, including the birds of paradise; over 400 amphibians; 455 butterfly species; and a hundred known mammal species. Most of these species are shared, at least in their origin, with the continent of Australia, which was until fairly recent geological times, part of the same landmass. See Australia-New Guinea for an overview.
Populated by nearly a thousand different Papua Melanesian tribal groups since 45,000 BC, it is the home of the world's oldest independent societies and a staggering number of separate languages.
In 1848, unable to establish a land base, the Dutch, British, and German governments declared unoccupied ownership of New Guinea. The first trading and administrative posts were established fifty years later and by time of the first ever successful hostile landing in 1945 by the Japanese military, the British had transferred responsibiltiy for eastern New Guinea to Australia, while the Netherlands assumed the control of western New Guinea. During World War II the Papuans gave vital assistance to the Allies by carrying equipment and injured men across New Guinea. In 1957 Australia and the Netherlands began plans for independence of a united New Guinea by the 1970s.
In 1961 a West Papuan Congress was held and a parliament or Nieuw Guinea Raad was established. Indonesia then invaded and later started the first of several racial cleansing operations to remove Papuans from areas which Indonesian settlers wished to occupy. To date an estimated 300,000 of the original 700,000 Papuans have died and approximately 800,000 Indonesians have moved into Irian Jaya (western New Guinea), in application of a policy called transmigration.
Their national flag is called the morning star and consists of a white star on a red field with blue and white horizontal stripes away from the flag pole; under Indonesian occupation it is punishable by execution to raise or be found with the national flag.
In 1975 Eastern New Guinea became the independent state of Papua New Guinea. The PNG flag has a yellow bird of paradise on a red diagonal field above the southern cross stars on a black field next to the flag pole.