The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society has been short-listed in the NGO Engagement category at the 2011 Public Affairs Asia Gold Standards Awards in Singapore. The Society is a long-standing pro bono client of Jackson Wells Pty Ltd, which nominated it for the award.

“This is worthy recognition of the hard work carried out by the Society’s members and the Jackson Wells team led by Chairman, Keith Jackson,” Jackson Wells CEO, Benjamin Haslem, said today.

“Keith and the Society’s efforts secured formal recognition by the Federal Parliament of Australia’s worst maritime disaster, which will be commemorated in the construction of a memorial to be constructed in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.”

The Society was formally established in 2010 by relatives of the 1,500 military personnel and civilians who died as a result of the Japanese invasion of the New Guinea Islands in 1942 – including 1,053 men who perished in the torpedoing by an American submarine of the prison ship Montevideo Maru.

Over the years, relatives had sought to interest politicians in the issue only to be told – in one form or another – the government had done what it could. For many hundreds of people, there was no recognition of the sacrifices made and no closure. In 2009, a handful of the relatives of men who had died on the Montevideo Maru approached Keith Jackson to seek his advice.

“They had no money but were determined that after seven decades it was time for resolution,” Mr Jackson said today. “We agreed to assist and an informal working group was established to plan what might be done.”

In early 2010, the group was formally established with the purpose of gaining lasting national recognition and greater community understanding of the war in the New Guinea Islands and the circumstances surrounding the sinking.

Keith Jackson – who was not personally related to the tragedy but had spent some years in Papua New Guinea – was appointed chairman, a position he relinquished in early 2011 although Jackson Wells continues to provide substantial pro bono support to the Society.

A Board including representatives of relatives, business and politics was appointed and Federal Minister, the Hon Peter Garrett AM MP, whose grandfather had died on the Montevideo Maru, accepted the position of Patron.

On 21 June 2010, both Houses of the Australian Parliament formally recognised the tragedy, paid tribute to those who had died, and honoured the relatives for their long forbearance, in a special resolution.

At the same time, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs announced a $100,000 grant to the Society as a contribution to constructing a memorial.  This was augmented last October when PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill visited the memorial site and presented the Society with a $100,000 contribution.

The total cost of the memorial will be about $400,000 and which is due to be unveiled on 1 July 2012, the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru.

The Public Affairs Asia Gold Standard Awards identify excellence and achievement in public affairs and communications. The winners will be announced in Singapore on 19 January.

The Society is one of several Jackson Wells pro-bono clients. “We are proud of our long history supporting not-for-profits and individuals in need of our expertise through our pro-bono program,” Mr Haslem said.

7 December 2011