Military Heritage at risk on the Kokoda Trail

There is an urgent need for a re-assessment of Australia’s role in the protection of our military heritage along the Kokoda Trail.

The construction of conventional buildings at Owers Corner and steel wire rope swing bridges across creeks at significant battlesites is akin to desecration of the most significant symbol of our involvement in New Guinea during the Pacific War.

Whilst Australia’s assistance for the Owen Stanley Ranges to be listed as a World Heritage Area is a noble cause our commitment to the preservation of the military heritage of the Kokoda campaign is misguided. It is therefore urgent that responsibility for the development of Kokoda as a military interpretive trail be re-allocated to the Office of Australian War Graves.

This will allow the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts to focus on its area of expertise in assisting the PNG Government to achieve a world heritage listing for the Owen Stanley Range.

In the meantime the Australian Government should immediately withdraw from any planned projects between Owers Corner and Kokoda.  Any assistance should be limited to training local communities in appropriate social and community development in partnership with the PNG Department of Community Services.

Australian assistance in the short term should be restricted to the upgrade of the road between Sogeri and Owers Corner to all-weather capability and the upgrade of the Kokoda Airfield to accommodate a Dash-8 aircraft.

Owers Corner Road

The road between Sogeri and Owers Corner is a disgrace and unsafe in the wet – which is most of the time. The recent expenditure of trekkers’ fees on urgent maintenance was a waste of money and akin to a misappropriation of these funds. If anybody is half-serious about sustainable tourism in PNG then the upgrade of this road should be an urgent priority.

Kokoda Airfield

At the other end of the trail the airfield at Kokoda is also a disgrace. The terminal consists of a concrete slab with a metal roof without walls. There is virtually no seating and no toilets. The paying customer, i.e. trekkers, deserve better.

Since 2001 more than 20 thousand Australians have invested around $100 million to trek across the Kokoda Trail. The GST element of these funds would be sufficient to upgrade the road between Sogeri and Owers Corner and the airfield at Kokoda to safe and respectable standard.

The villagers between Owers Corner and Kokoda are now earning more income than ever before. More than $1 million a year is received in wages and campsite fees. The next important step is to teach them how to work together for the greater benefit of their local communities. The proper PNG agency for this work is the PNG Department of Community Services but thus far they have never been consulted or approached.

There is scope for the villagers to increase their earning potential through the maintenance of the trail in preparation for each trekking season. Such maintenance should not be contracted out, as currently planned, because local people along the trail are more than capable of completing this type of work on their land.

In the last budget the Australian Government allocated $10 million to the Office of Australian War Graves for the development of an interpretative trail in France and Belgium to honour the sacrifice of our World War 1 veterans. The work will be completed in time for the centenary of our ANZAC landings on the Gallipoli peninsula.

The Office of Australian War Graves has a proud record in regard to the development and maintenance of our war graves in foreign lands. The expertise they have, and will further attain as a result of the latest budget allocation, should be applied to the Kokoda Trail which is our World War 11 equivalent.

Conclusion

More detail is available in the following submissions which have been largely ignored this far:
http://niusleta.kokodatreks.com/documents/StrategicPlanfortheKokodaTrailNoPics_000.pdf
http://niusleta.kokodatreks.com/documents/ADiscussionPaperontheKokodaEcoTrekkingIndustryNoPics.pdf
http://niusleta.kokodatreks.com/documents/KTAReportbyPaulMitchell17November2006.pdf
http://niusleta.kokodatreks.com/documents/ManagementFramework-KokodaTrackbyPaulMitchell.pdf
http://niusleta.kokodatreks.com/documents/KTADiscussionPaperbyWarrenBartlettNovember2007.pdf

Action Required

PNG Tourism should commission a research agency to determine why people trek Kokoda and what they would like to see in regard to the future development of the Kokoda Trail.

The PNG Kokoda Track Authority should be required to develop a proper management plan for trekking operations across the Kokoda Trail. This includes the certification of trek operators and campsites, the issue of trek permits, a medical insurance plan for PNG guides and carriers, the identification of landowners, a dispute resolution system, a website that allows for trekkers to provide comment on their experience, etc.

The PNG Central and Northern Provincial Governments should provide a plan for the upgrade of the road between Sogeri and Owers Corner and the Kokoda airfield.

The PNG Department of Community Services should prepare a plan for the development of Community Learning Development Centres in villages along the trail.

The Office of Australian War Graves should commission an interpretative memorial plan for the Kokoda Trail.

The impending LNG project in PNG, together with ongoing mining operations, will create heavy demands for airlines and hotels in Port Moresby. These are already at a premium during the trekking season. Kokoda trekkers (and other adventure tourism) needs should be addressed by PNG Tourism if they wish to develop the industry on a sustainable basis.

Recommendations

1. The Office of Australian War Graves be allocated responsibility for the development of an interpretative trail between Owers Corner and Kokoda.

2. The Australian Department of Environment, Heritage, Water and the Arts continue to work in partnership with the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation to achieve a World Heritage listing for the wider Owen Stanley Ranges.

3. PNG Tourism commission a study into the capacity of local airlines and hotels to meet the demand of eco-tourism.

4. The PNG Department of Community Services develop plans for the development of Community Learning Development Centres in villages along the trail.

5. The PNG Kokoda Track Authority developing a proper management plan for the Kokoda trekking industry.

6. PNG Tourism and the PNG Department of Community Services facilitate workshops in selected villagers in Central and Northern Province to determine village community needs and develop short and long term plans.

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