Kokoda: Stop the bloody rot on the bloody track!

A recent proposal to mine part of the Kokoda Trail caused a public outcry that resulted in the Australian government entering into a ‘Joint Understanding’ with the PNG Government to protect the track and its environs from possible mining or logging activity.  Among the objectives is an agreement is to assist the PNG Government in undertaking a feasibility study for a possible World Heritage nomination.

The Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts was assigned responsibility for Australia’s role and responsibilities in regard to the ‘Joint Understanding’.

Whilst I believe the pursuit of a World Heritage listing is a noble goal it should not be at the expense of the historic military significance of the Kokoda Trail.

I believe the Kokoda Trail should be developed as a national memorial trail that reflects the military significance of the Kokoda campaign.

This should be separated from the feasibility study for a World Heritage nomination for the broader Owen Stanley Ranges and be reallocated to the Office of the Australian War Graves Commission.

Background

The Kokoda Trail had been virtually ignored by successive Australian governments since the end of the war in 1945. It was not until former Prime Minister Paul Keating attended the 50th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign in PNG in 1992 that it resonated again in our national consciousness.

Unfortunately the Department of Veterans Affairs had no vision and no plan for Kokoda at the time. On 18 February 2001 the Minister for Veterans Affairs, Bruce Scott MP, wrote: ‘It will come as no surprise to you then that the ‘Government Master Plan’ of which you inquire ‘for the development of the Kokoda Track as a national memorial park’ does not exist ‘.

In spite of this official apathy public awareness increased with the publication of a number of best-selling books on Kokoda and the screening of television features.

Villagers along the track soon began to agitate for increased benefits from the emerging trekking industry. Prior to 2002 they did not have a co-ordinated forum to express their concerns so they took direct action and blocked the track in various places.

During negotiations to re-open the track after a lengthy blockage at Kovello a trek permit system was implemented and a trek fee of PNGK200 was introduced. The purpose of the trek fee was to ensure that villagers received shared benefits from the emerging trekking industry.

The PNG Kokoda Track Authority was established in 2004 and an Australian expatriate and former Kiap, Mr Warren Bartlett, was appointed as Chief Executive on a salary of A$13,000. He was not allocated any staff.

A Board of Directors was appointed but they were not qualified for the role. The Board quickly became dysfunctional and more than a $1 million was misappropriated.

Neither the Australian nor PNG governments displayed any interest in the dysfunction of the Authority until a proposal to mine a section of the Kokoda Trail became public.

The resultant outcry caused an over-reaction from the Australian government. It was obviously decided that the best protection against any future applications to mine or log any part of the trail would be to have it listed as a World Heritage site.

The Heritage Division of the Department of Environment, Heritage and the Arts was allocated responsibility for working with the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation to bring this about.

A new Board was appointed by the PNG Government and Australian representatives from the Department of Environment, Heritage and the Arts were assigned to work with the Authority and the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation.

Joint Understanding

A Joint Understanding covering ‘both the sustainable development of communities along the Kokoda Track corridor, and protection and sustainable use of the natural and cultural resources of the broader Owen Stanley Ranges region’ was signed on 23 April 2008.

The first hint of our ‘big brother’ approach is our refusal to use the official name as recorded on the statute books of the PNG Government i.e. ‘The Kokoda Trail’ (PNG Government Gazette No. 88 of 12 October 1972, page 1362, column 2. Notice 1972/28 of the PNG Place Names Committee refers).

Of more concern is the fact that the Joint Understanding does not contain any references to the military significance of the Kokoda Trail. The words ‘Kokoda campaign – military history – memorials – battlesites – etc’ do not rate a mention in the entire document. I regard this as a serious omission.

Process

From my viewpoint – as a trek operator, a trek leader with 55 crossings of the trail over the past 18 years, the son of a New Guinea veteran, a Vietnam Veteran with 21 years army service, and one with a long term interest in the preservation of the military history of the Kokoda campaign – the process seems to be seriously flawed thus far.

There has obviously been a lot of activity at the departmental level as representatives have been assigned to PNG and others have flown into villages by chartered aircraft to familiarise themselves with their needs.

There has also been much talk – a conference with academics in Canberra, superficial meetings with trek operators, and discussions with other ‘stakeholders’. To date these have not yielded any identifiable outcomes along the track.

For example one of the objectives in the Joint Understanding was to ‘address immediate needs for the 2008 trekking season and create interim Kokoda Track management arrangements’.

I have trekked Kokoda six times since April 2008 and I can report that not a single outcome has been achieved in this regard – and we are now well into the 2009 trekking season!

Another objective was to conduct ‘an economic participation study to cover such options as agriculture, food services for trekkers, and participation in delivering development programs’.

Nothing has happened in this regard!

I have advised of the availability of an agricultural scientist who is fluent in Tok Pisin and Motu and has worked extensively in Melanesia. That person has written extensively on the needs of the Koiari and has previously worked for the (now-defunct) Koiari Development Corporation. He is currently living in semi-retirement in Australia and is willing and able to live in villages for extended periods of time to assist them with agricultural development and value-adding activities. He would also be able to provide valuable feedback on the cultural and environmental impact of the current trekking industry.

My requests to engage this person over the past 18 months have been ignored.

I understand AusAID has completed a survey of the Kokoda Trail but this has not been distributed to trek operators or villagers for comment. This is not conducive to an atmosphere of trust between the key stakeholders and the Department of Environment, Heritage and the Arts.

I could go on!

Outcomes

Whilst there has obviously been a great deal of departmental activity in regard to the Joint Understanding I can report that, after 15 months, there has not been a single outcome on the track. For example:

• There is no credible Trek Permit system in place
• There is no campsite booking system.
• There is no trek operator accreditation system.
• There is no standardised medical clearance form for trekkers.
• There is no co-ordinated system for medical evacuations in place.
• There is no campsite accreditation system in place.
• There is not a single environmental toilet between Owers Corner and Kokoda.
• There has been no attempt to identify clan leaders and landowners along the track.
• There has not been a single workshop in either the Koiari or Orokaiva areas on the track to identify villager needs.
• There is no minimum standard of pay and conditions for PNG trek guides and carriers.
• There is no training or development system in place to assist villagers to ‘value-add’ to the opportunities presented by trekkers passing through their villages.
• No action has been taken to identify (and make safe) unexploded ordnance along the trail.
• There is no plan to upgrade the road between Sogeri and Owers Corner to a safe all-weather standard.

The Australian Trekker

Australian trekkers make a significant commitment in both money and time when they decide to trek Kokoda. In return for this investment they need to be assured they will be safe and that they will learn about the military history of the Kokoda campaign; the culture of the Koiari and Orokaiva people along the track; and the physical environment.

They also expect to have hygienic toilet and ablution facilities at campsites along the trail.

Trekkers are the basic building block of a sustainable trekking industry along the Kokoda Trail. Without them there are no benefits for villagers to share. Unfortunately their needs have been ignored thus far.

The Koiari/Orokaiva Villager

The land in question is owned by traditional Koiari and Orokaiva landowners. The tracks connecting villages between Owers Corner and Kokoda have special significance to our military heritage because of the desperate campaign fought across it during the period 27 July to 2 November 1942.

Clans along the Kokoda Trail are the custodians of land sacred to our military heritage. They will protect and nurture our battlesites provided they receive benefits for doing so.

Villagers are currently missing out on significant potential earnings because they are yet to be taught the concept of ‘value-adding’.

Teaching them to wash and dry trekkers gear, brew coffee, bake scones and produce village billum bags is not PhD stuff. This year they will miss out on the opportunity to earn at least PNGK 1 million because of a lack of basic training in these areas.

The construction of interpretative memorials at significant sites on their land will also provide them with an incentive to further ‘value-add’ to a trekkers Kokoda experience.

Stakeholders

There are many people and organisations of goodwill who want to do good things as a result of their Kokoda experience.

If this is harnessed in a co-ordinated way the PNG government would not have to spend any funds along the trail for education or health services. This would allow them to work with Provincial and Local Level Governments to support Koiari and Orokaiva villages in remote areas off the trail.

Currently there is no plan – and there is no co-ordination. The end result is that inappropriate memorial structures have been erected; inappropriate structures have been build for health and education purposes; and village children are showing signs of tooth decay because of the amount of lollies handed out.

Two recent examples indicate the state of planning flux in the Department of Environment, Heritage and the Arts:

• During the last two weeks of this month a team from the Kokoda Track Foundation was dispatched to Kokoda to do a ‘livelihood study’ in villages along the track. It seems that the PNG Kokoda Track Authority did not know they were doing it until they arrived in country. The Kokoda Track Foundation is a registered charity – their lack of experience with villagers along the track means they were ill-equipped for the task. Nobody seems to have been consulted on the tender process, the terms of reference; or the desired outcomes for the study.

• On 31st March we received a request to assist a company who has been asked to tender for a ‘Condition Analysis’ of the 96 Km Kokoda Trail. We do not know if the tender refers to today’s popular eco-tourist track; the wartime trail, the original route of the 39th Battalion; the eastern side of the Yodda Valley where the 53rd Battalion fought; or the connecting tracks to and from Lake Myola 1 and 2. We do not know what the terms of reference are, or the required outcomes. The company has been given 5 days time to submit their tender!

These studies are a sham and are obviously motivated by the need to spend money before the end of the current financial year. Neither study is related to an assessment of the military heritage of the trail; the needs of the paying customer i.e. the trekker; or the needs of villagers who will shortly be getting fed up with the number of inexperienced and ill-informed consultants asking banal questions about their needs and lifestyles.

Non-government, community and charitable organisations not involved in trekking should also be encouraged to direct their goodwill to village areas remote from the Kokoda Trail as part of a strategy to ensure shared benefits are more widely spread.

The Kokoda Honeypot Effect

I first trekked Kokoda in 1991. In 1994 I submitted a paper on the need to develop Kokoda as a national memorial park. In 2000 I founded the Kokoda Track Foundation to develop a strategic plan for Kokoda. This was completed and presented to Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and the Australian Minister for Veterans Affairs in 2006.

My purpose has always been to develop Kokoda as a model that could be used for other Pacific War battlesites in PNG – the Black Cat Track, Shaggy Ridge, Buna/Gona, Rabaul, etc.

Unfortunately everybody has flocked to Kokoda. There are now more than 30 trek operators and a myriad of other stakeholder organisations seeking to do ‘good things’ along the trail. It risks being overwhelmed with goodwill while nearby villages off the track are neglected. This has the potential to lead to dissent and disruption in the longer term. For example landowners on Mt Victoria are continually sabotaging the VHF communications tower.

We therefore need a strategic plan to get a proper balance in our approach to honouring the legacy of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and coastwatchers throughout New Guinea during the Pacific War.

Ministerial Responsibility

In the latest budget an amount of $10 million was allocated to the Office of Australian War Graves Commission for the development of an interpretative trail in France and Belgium to honour the sacrifice of our veterans in WW1.

The same approach needs to be adopted for Kokoda which is our interpretative trail for WW11.

Conclusion

Kokoda is a national shrine. The trail between Owers Corner and Kokoda contains battlesites sacred to our military heritage. The expertise gained by the Office of Australian War Graves in the development and management of the interpretive trail in France and Belgium should be applied to Kokoda.

The Office of Australian War Graves should establish a close partnership with the Department of Environment, Heritage and the Arts who administer the Act that has Kokoda listed as an Overseas Area of Special Significance. The Department of Environment, Heritage and the Arts s also responsible for the broader long-term goal of working with the Government of PNG to achieve a World Heritage listing.

The Office of Australian War Graves should also work in partnership with PNG Tourism to develop models for visits and treks to other significant military historical sites throughout PNG.

Recommendation

I recommend that responsibility for the development of an interpretive trail between Owers Corner and Kokoda be transferred from the Department of Environment, Heritage and the Arts to the Office of Australian War Graves.

Charlie Lynn
Adventure Kokoda
PO Box 303
Camden
NSW 2570
charlie@kokodatreks.com.au

Comments

  1. Charlie,

    In response to your latest blog, here are just some of the some of the claims that you got wrong:

    • You say the KTA didn’t know that the Kokoda Track Foundation was coming to PNG to conduct the recent Livelihood’s Study -WRONG
    The Department of Environment had involved KTA during all stages of the tender process and KTA was informed that the Foundation was the successful applicant. The Foundation’s Executive Director then contacted the CEO of the KTA directly and they met on Sunday 17 May, prior to the field work commencing.

    • You say the Foundation’s “lack of experience with villagers along the track means they were ill-equipped for the task” – WRONG

    The Foundation’s Executive Director, Dr Genevieve Nelson, has walked the Kokoda Track 8 times and has visited the villages along the Track 4 times since September last year. Dr Nelson has extensive experience in the communities along the Track and has developed rapport with all villagers (including elders, chiefs, landowners, and key community leaders). She spent many weeks living in the communities along the Track (particularly Naduri, Efogi, and Manari villages) while completing her doctoral studies on education in these communities.
    One of the key members of Dr Nelson’s tender team was the very scientist you claim to have been promoting for the last 18 months, Sandy Lawson.

    • You say nobody was consulted on the tender process, terms of reference, or desired outcomes of the study – WRONG

    The Foundation responded to an open tender process and many organisations and individuals were invited to apply. A joint-venture, including the University of Technology Sydney and agricultural expert Sandy Lawson was the successful tender, under the banner of the Kokoda Track Foundation. They consulted many stakeholders – as per the initial tender document, the Foundation’s proposal, and the Foundation’s extensive connections on the ground in PNG. Consultations included: villages along the Kokoda Track (including both on-Track and off-Track villages), school and health representatives in villages along the Track, the KTA (CEO and chairman), AusAID (head of the Kokoda Development Program), DEC, DEWHA, Rotary, Warren Bartlett (former CEO of the KTA) and both Australian and PNG-based trek operators. (Charlie, did you forget that Sandy contacted you to receive input from Adventure Kokoda before the tender team left Australia for the PNG field-work?)

    • You claim that non-government, community and charitable organisations not involved in trekking are not directing “their goodwill to areas remote from the Kokoda Trail as part of a strategy to ensure shared benefits are more widely spread” – WRONG

    The Kokoda Track Foundation has been successfully pursuing this course for the past three years with a range of programs that directly benefit many of these off-Track villages, including Madilogo, Naoro 2, Kebara, Gorari, Buna, Dobodura, Martyrs, Ilimo, Edevu and others. This year, the Foundation has provided 125 primary and secondary students with educational scholarships (funding covers tuition fees, school boarding, uniform, food). Many of these students come from these off-Track villages.

    • In an earlier blog you dismissed Dr Nelson as an ‘armchair expert’ speaking from a ‘cocooned office in Sydney’ – WRONG

    Dr Nelson and two other Foundation board members were in fact walking the Track in March 2009, and therefore, witnessed first-hand the late wet season that PNG was then experiencing. That was the third time Dr Nelson had been on the Track since last September. And she’s just returned from another crossing.
    I trust you’ll have the decency to withdraw these claims and correct them.

    Charlie, isn’t it time that you showed some real leadership?

    Why not stop attacking individuals and charities like ours that are simply trying to help the people of PNG – with no commercial motives – and instead direct your energies positively?

    Why not take a lead in uniting the trek operators to achieve the goals to which we all aspire: a thriving eco-sustainable trekking industry that brings genuine benefits to the people living along the Track in particular and those in PNG generally?

    Patrick Lindsay, Chairman, Kokoda Track Foundation

  2. Patrick,

    My primary concern since the signing of the ‘Joint Understanding’ between Australia and PNG on 23 April 2008 is the failure to address the need for a memorial plan to acknowledge our military heritage along the Kokoda Trail.

    I am concerned that Kokoda Trek Operators have been excluded from the process of developing terms of references for studies that impact on villages and the many tracks that make up the Kokoda Trail.

    I am concerned that independent consultants with experience in PNG culture, many of them ex-servicemen with high level corporate management skills, seem to be excluded from the tender process for studies along the Kokoda Trail.

    I am concerned that local clans along the track do not have a co-ordinated forum conducted by professional facilitators familiar with Melanesian culture to allow them to express their views on the Kokoda trekking industry and their needs.

    I am concerned at the failure to conduct any type of survey among trekkers to determine why they trek Kokoda and what changes, if any, they would like to see along the track.

    I am concerned at the failure of the KTA to achieve a single management outcome for trek operators, trekkers and villages along the Kokoda Trail since the Joint Understanding was signed on 23 April 2008.

    Specific responses to your statement on our blog are contained below:

    YOU SAID:

    ‘the KTA didn’t know that the Kokoda Track Foundation was coming to PNG to conduct the recent Livelihood’s Study –WRONG’.

    MY RESPONSE:

    I had received information that the Department of Environment, Heritage and the Arts had commissioned a ‘livlihood study’ along the track. I felt that any initiative in this area should have input from trek operators. I called the Executive Officer of the KTA on Wednesday, 13 May and he advised that he was not aware of any such study. He also gave me an assurance that nobody would be visiting villages to conduct any such study.

    I can only assume he was as surprised as I was when the study group arrived in Port Moresby on Sunday, 17 May.

    YOU SAID:

    ‘You say the Foundation’s “lack of experience with villagers along the track means they were ill-equipped for the task” – WRONG’.

    MY RESPONSE:

    Perhaps I should have said that there are other people/consultants more qualified to conduct such a study. For example:

    • Colonel David Knaggs served in served with the PNG Pacific Islands Regiment and the Royal Australian Regiment during his 25 year army career. David was engaged by Templeton-Galt to conduct workshops in Sydney, Port Moresby and Kokoda as part of the process of developing a Strategic Plan which I commissioned in my capacity as the Founding Chairman of the Kokoda Track Foundation which can be accessed here: http://niusleta.kokodatreks.com/documents/StrategicPlanfortheKokodaTrailNoPics.pdf. David is conversant with Tok Pisin and has previously trekked Kokoda. He is an independent consultant and eminently qualified to conduct such a study.

    • Brigadier Phil McNamara served with the PNG Pacific Islands Regiment during his professional army career and is fluent in Tok Pisin. Brigadier McNamara is a former Commandant of the Australian Command and Staff College and Commander of the Australian Army Special Forces. More recently he was the Departmental Head of the NSW State Emergency Services. He has previously trekked Kokoda.

    • Lieutenant-Colonel Rowan Tracey served with the PNG Defence Force and commanded the Defence procurement agency which had a large staff, comprising mostly Papua New Guinean uniformed and civilian officers. He travelled widely through Papua New Guinea during his time there and developed a close understanding of the local culture and language.se communities. Rowan is a military historian and fluent in Tok Pisin. He first trekked Kokoda 30 years ago and has done it many times since.

    • Commodore Simon Hart served in the Royal Australian Navy for 33 years. During this time he held command appointments as Captain of two of Australia’s front-line destroyers, HMAS Hobart and HMAS Brisbane. He was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross for outstanding Leadership and Management as a result of these two command appointments. He retired with the rank of Commodore and now runs a farm. Simon has trekked Kokoda 13 times and is well aware of the trekker and villager needs along the track.

    • Major Chad Sherrin MM, is a decorated Vietnam Veteran and former jungle training instructor for the Australian Army. Chad is a prominent Legatee in Brisbane and has trekked Kokoda 31 times. Over the past two years he has spent more than 34 weeks on the track. He is well aware of the trekker and villager needs along the track.

    • Lieutenant-Colonel Ron Beattie served in the Australian Army for 21 years and held command appointments at platoon, company and battalion level. He later developed a second career, both nationally and internationally in logistic operations, Information systems and in Human Resources Development and was a member of the Federal Government’s Employment Skills Advisory Committee. He was also the Managing Director and Chairman of Solidity Technology. He is an active Rotarian and has trekked Kokoda 5 times.

    • Peter Davis served in the army reserve for 7 years and is currently studying for his Masters Degree in Military History at the Australian Defence Force Academy. Peter is an experienced bushman, has worked on Rotary projects in PNG over the past 10 years, and has trekked Kokoda 18 times. He has also explored areas well off the track and has climbed Mt Victoria.

    • John Nalder previously worked as a manager with Steve Irwin. He is an experienced climber and bushman who was involved in disaster management with the Queensland State Emergency Service He is a qualified instructor in both Vertical Rescue and Land search, and has instructed Police, medical personnel, helicopter crews and State Emergency Service personnel in these areas. John is a keen student of the Kokoda campaign and has trekked Kokoda 32 times.

    Other trek operators with detailed knowledge of trekker and villager needs include Frank Taylor of Kokoda Treks and Tours, Aiden Grimes of Our Spirit, and John Miles of Executive Excellence are also well qualified to be involved in any type of study along the Kokoda Trail. I am not aware if they were consulted or invited to tender but if they were ignored, as we were, then I regard it as serious omission.

    YOU SAID:

    ‘You say nobody was consulted on the tender process, terms of reference, or desired outcomes of the study – WRONG.’

    MY RESPONSE:

    I understand Open Tenders have to be advertised for any studies along the Kokoda Trail so that any interested person or organisation in the general community can submit a tender for the work. I am not aware of any tender being advertised. I would be interested know when and where the tender was advertised if it was an Open Tender process.

    If ‘many stakeholders’ were invited to apply as you advise then that is a Selective Tender process. If this is the case then I would be interested to know who was invited to apply and whether any trek operators or recognised consultants such as David Knaggs, Kelvin Templeton and Paul Mitchell on the Selective Tender list. If not – why not?

    It seems that trek operators have been deliberately excluded from having input into the development of the terms of reference for the study. I would argue that trek operators, particularly those who have Australian trek leaders on the track, are the most important group of stakeholders on Kokoda. Without them there are no trek fees, no campsite fees, no employment opportunities for PNG guides/carriers, and no trekker networks to support philanthropic support for subsistence villagers. A ‘livelihood study’ without trek operators and trekkers could be reduced to a single word – ‘subsistence!’

    I acknowledge that I have been lobbying for Mr Sandy Lawson to be engaged in assisting villages with agricultural development, meal preparation, value-adding opportunities and identification of social and economic needs. His qualifications in agricultural science, his experience in Melanesia and PNG, his fluency in Tok Pisin and Motu, and his willingness to live in villages for extended periods would provide considerable benefits for villagers along the track.

    I cannot understand why the Department has ignored Mr Lawson’s expertise over the past 18 months. It will be interesting to see if Mr Lawson is engaged to work in villages on a long-term contract. If he is not in-situ in Kokoda or Efogi before the peak school holiday period in July I would assume that he was used by Department to add a degree of credibility to an ill-conceived and un-necessary excursion.

    In the interests of transparency I would hope for clarification in regards to the tender process. I would also hope that terms of reference, budgets and reports will be distributed to trek operators for comment prior to any actions being implemented.

    YOU SAID:

    ‘You claim that non-government, community and charitable organisations not involved in trekking are not directing “their goodwill to areas remote from the Kokoda Trail as part of a strategy to ensure shared benefits are more widely spread” – WRONG’.

    MY RESPONSE:

    You have misquoted me – and misconstrued the meaning of what I said. I wrote:

    ‘Non-government, community and charitable organisations not involved in trekking should also be encouraged to direct their goodwill to village areas remote from the Kokoda Trail as part of a strategy to ensure shared benefits are more widely spread.

    Unfortunately everybody has flocked to Kokoda. There are now more than 30 trek operators and a myriad of other stakeholder organisations seeking to do ‘good things’ along the trail. It risks being overwhelmed with goodwill while nearby villages off the track are neglected. This has the potential to lead to dissent and disruption in the longer term. For example landowners on Mt Victoria are continually sabotaging the VHF communications tower.’

    I acknowledge and commend the charitable work the Kokoda Track Foundation, and other organizations such as Rotary International, are doing in ‘off-Track villages’. Villagers along the track earned approximately PNGK 1 million in campsite fees last year. When I first trekked Kokoda in 1991 I was advised that the combined income of all villages along the track was in the vicinity of PNGK20,000.

    The amount currently earned i.e. PNGK1 million, could be easily doubled if we provided assistance to villagers to value-add. Trek operators could be engaged to carry out this training during the wet season as they have first-hand knowledge of trekker and villager needs.

    YOU SAID:

    ‘In an earlier blog you dismissed Dr Nelson as an ‘armchair expert’ speaking from a ‘cocooned office in Sydney’ – WRONG’.

    MY RESPONSE:

    I have the utmost respect for Dr Nelson’s ability and her dedication to PNG. You will recall that she first trekked Kokoda as a student in one of my leadership programs and that I later sponsored her across the track as part of her tertiary research studies. You will also recall that I invited Dr Nelson to become a Director of the Kokoda Track Foundation in my capacity as Founding Chairman because I recognised her talent, her commitment and her work ethic.

    Unfortunately Dr Nelson’s comments in response to the deaths on Kokoda during the Anzac trekking period were ill-informed and caused much angst amongst trekkers’ kinfolk in Australia. For example Dr Nelson was quoted as saying, ‘Particularly this year there’s a very late wet season that’s just happened, and I’ve never seen the wet season so heavy and continuing so late.’

    I was on the track during the Anzac period. We had light afternoon/evening rain during my first trek and only the odd sprinkle during my second trek. I have trekked Kokoda in both wet and dry seasons, by day and by night, over the past 18 years and have a fair idea of the differences in the condition of the track during these times. In my opinion it was not nearly as wet as the previous year.

    I had assumed Dr Nelson was in Sydney at the time she made her comments but I am happy to correct the record if this was not the case.

    Dr Nelson’s call for a Code of Conduct for trek operators, as reported, was out of place as a code was developed and approved last year.

    YOU SAID:

    ‘Charlie, isn’t it time that you showed some real leadership?

    Why not stop attacking individuals and charities like ours that are simply trying to help the people of PNG – with no commercial motives – and instead direct your energies positively?

    Why not take a lead in uniting the trek operators to achieve the goals to which we all aspire: a thriving eco-sustainable trekking industry that brings genuine benefits to the people living along the Track in particular and those in PNG generally?

    Patrick Lindsay, Chairman, Kokoda Track Foundation

    MY RESPONSE:

    I’m not sure what else I can do at this stage.

    I wrote my first paper on the need to have the Kokoda Trail proclaimed as a national memorial park 15 years ago – and have taken a lead role in organizing meetings, conferences and workshops in Australia and PNG since then.

    As you know I established The Kokoda Track Foundation which was funded by my company, Adventure Kokoda, to develop a strategic plan for the Kokoda Trail. I presented the plan to the Prime Minister of PNG, Sir Michael Somare on 24 April 2006.

    You will recall the Foundation removed references to involvement with military memorials’ from its constitution. I later resigned so that I could pursue my objective of developing a strategy for the recognition and preservation of our military heritage along the Kokoda.

    I was disappointed that one of your first actions after succeeding me as Chairman of the Foundation was to remove my name from the website and remove all references to my company, Adventure Kokoda, as the founding sponsor.

    The public reaction to the proposal to mine part of the Kokoda Trail caused the Australian government to get involved.

    We then made a number of trips to Canberra to brief departmental personnel; we participated in workshops to develop a Trek Operators Code of Conduct; I offered to take departmental personnel across the track to share our knowledge; and we have provided numerous papers, reports and plans that we have developed over the years. All of these activities have been at our expense.

    I have attempted to encourage dialogue with other trek operators via the distribution of a discussion paper I distributed in September 2007 – see http://niusleta.kokodatreks.com/005-October_2007.html

    It is difficult not to be critical towards those responsible for the lack of consultation with trek operators in the development of terms of reference for various studies; the exclusion of trek operators from the tendering process; the lack of a proper trek permit system; the lack of a standardised medical clearance form; the lack of a campsite booking system; the lack of a minimum rate of pay for PNG guides and carriers; the lack of environmental toilets along the track; the lack of a campsite accreditation system; the lack of training to assist villagers in ‘value-adding’ to trekkers needs; the lack of a military memorial plan; the lack of village workshops; etc. etc.

    Last year Trek Operators paid PNGK1.2 million in trek fees to the KTA. I believe this entitles them to a courtesy copy of any proposals for the track and a seat at the table for any discussions relevant to trekking.

    My company, Adventure Kokoda, supports a number of charitable causes in PNG. We have almost restocked the library at Port Moresby Grammar School with our ‘Bring a Buk’ campaign; we have established a Kokoda Bursary Program to educate PNG students; we sponsor PNG students along the track with our groups; we have a successful ‘Yumi-helpim Pikinnini’ program where our trek groups deliver education and health supplies directly to villages; and we provide funds to the ‘PNG Friends Foundation’ supporting mothers with HIV/AIDS and the ‘Buk Bilong Pikinnini program’ which provides support to children in the TB ward at the Port Moresby General Hospital.

    We are doing our best to assist in the development of an eco-trekking industry that brings genuine benefits to villagers along the track and in PNG generally as you suggest. Last year we were one of the very few trekking companies to pay trek fees in full – and in advance – according to KTA records. Indeed, on one occasion we paid PNGK20,000 three months in advance of our Anzac treks, at the request of the KTA, because they had exhausted their funds and could not rely on any support from either the Australian or PNG Governments.

    I am sure you will agree that It is difficult to do much more from outside the loop of the Department of Environment, Heritage and the Arts – however we will persevere.

    Charlie Lynn
    Director and Trek Leader
    Adventure Kokoda

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