Upgrade for Kokoda fast-tracked

The following article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 5 September 2009:

The Federal Government will spend $1.8 million to speed up safety projects along the historic Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea – less than a month after a light plane crash in the area claimed 13 lives.

While the Airlines PNG crash is still under investigation, some of the funding will go towards enhancing safety at six of the nation’s airstrips, including new windsocks, cones and markers and a safety audit by PNG and Australian authorities.

The funds will also be used for urgent gravelling and drainage work on the busy Owers Corner Road. at the track’s southern end, upgrading nearby Sogeri Bridge Road, building footbridges at key points and identifying areas which may conceal explosives along the track.

Communications systems will also be improved, with a second radio channel for emergencies to be installed and an enhanced radio maintenance radio program for villages near the track.

In April two Australians died while trekking Kokoda, propting calls to upgrade emergency communications and more tightly regulate tour operators.

The Heritage Minister, Peter Garrett, said the spending which is in addition to the $14.9 million committed by the Federal Government, would be in partnership with the people and Government of PNG.

“This is an iconic, historically significant place for Australians,” he said.

Ari Sharp
Sydney Morning Herald


  1. We have been lobbying for the upgrade of the road between Sogeri and Owers Corner for the past 18 years. It is a pity that it took the loss of Australian lives in the recent tragic aircrash to focus attention on essential infrastructure projects to minimise the risk for Australians trekking Kokoda.

    We should try and avoid the charge that we continue to have a ‘patronising partnership’ with PNG by using the correct name for the Kokoda Trail as gazetted by the PNG National Government in 1972. Whilst our government – and our media – continue to use the unofficial title ‘Kokoda Track’ because of some hang-ups about an American connotation we will be seen as patronising partners in our relationship.

    The priority tasks have to be:

    1. The upgrading of the road between Owers Corner and Sogeri to all-weather standard.

    2. The upgrading of the airfield at Kokoda to accept aircraft that can carry 30 – 40 passengers.

    3. The establishment of a reliabe, all weather VHF radio communications system for villages and campsites along the Kokoda Trail.

    4. A safety audit and appropriate upgrades for existing village airfields between Owers Corner and Kokoda.

    5. The establishment and identification of helicopter landing zones between Owers Corner and Kokoda.

    The Australian government should not commit any further funding to ‘feel-good’ projects along the Kokoda Trail. There is enough funding going into these areas through trek and campsite fees to meet local needs at this stage.

    Australian governments have a pathetic record in the area of indigenous affairs because of the influence of politically correct Left wing idealogues within various Government departments. Indeed we could learn much from the structure and systems of village life within PNG today. One only has to compare the cleanliness and village ‘esprit de corps’ in villages such as Efogi, Menari, Kagi, Naduri and Alola to the squalor and despair in outback aboriginal settlements in the Northern Territory and other outback communities to understand that we should avoid creating a culture of dependency along the Kokoda Trail.

    The PNG Deparment of Community Development have not yet been consulted by any Australian officials working on the Kokoda project in PNG. I am not sure if this is ignorance or arrogance but either way it is unforgivable. If they were to get around to it they would discover that they have a Community Learning Development Centre concept that they have developed to encourage communities to work together, to identify opportunities to develop sustainable economic inititatives and to invest in the health, education and welfare of their own communities. It is a concept that could provide hope for our own indigenous communities.

    The Australian government should therefore limit its ‘partnership’ with PNG to the construction and upgrade of infrastructure projects that minimise risk for trekkers; call an immediate stop to ‘feel-good’ projects along the Kokoda Trail; introduce themselves to the PNG Minister for Community Development, Dame Carol Kidu MP; and respect the sovereign right of the PNG to name their own geographical features.

  2. Simon Hart says:

    This announcement by the Mininster goes some small way to moving in the direction that is required in the Kokoda Trail precinct.

    Given the current (and increasing) volume of Australian Trekkers and the consequent positive impact that this has on the tourist economy directly. Both Australian and PNG Governments should move quickly to start this activities while the ‘dry’ weather holds.

    Charlie Lynn has correctly identified the priorities based upon the greatest potential risk to those travelling the trail and its precincts.

    I have noticed that the airtsrips have been suffereing benign neglect over the past three years of leading teams across the Owen Stanley Range in both directions.

    This is evident by the fact that the strips are seldom mown to suitable length, the marker cones are not in an appropriate positions and and windsocks (where they exist) are often in poor repair.

    The length of grass is a direct concern since it makes the strips very greasy and create difficult circumstances for take off. I was on one aircarft that slithered its way down the Kokoda Airstrip for a very exciting but hairy take off! Strip surface, Cone placement etc are basic air safety administration which should be checked and mainatained regularly. This is not a costly exercise but is very important to overall safety.

    The VHF Network has not been working properly since April 2009 and remains unserviceable as I write. This network is the backbone fo safety/security (air and land) infrastructure along the track and plays an important part of the villages administrative, health management and emerging commercial activity.

    The road to Owers Corner is marginal, at best, in the dry season. In the ‘wet’ it is almost impassable on the clay in some of its steeper areas. This also creates its own adventure given the width of the road which seldom permits two cars/buses/trucks to pass one another! If allowed to continue to be neglected ( ie clay rutted road), it is possible that a vehicle will disappear over one of the ledges. This too is an activity which would take little to make a huge difference and reduce the risk!

    There would be some benefit in ensuring a collaborative approach with the respective villagers who must hold some owenership in this investment since they too will benefit. Trekkers contribution to this activity will continue through their payment of their respective trek permits to the Kokoda Track Authority. (We are assumimng that all Companies are contributing now of course!).

    Thank you Minister it is an excellent and timely announcement. We look forward to seeing the project implementation plan and schedule from the Department of Heritage and Environment in the very near future. There will be many stakeholders watching this carefully to ensure that unnecessary risks are reduced in a timely fashion. No more Kokoda Trail studies without follow up or substance please.

  3. Simon J Hart says:

    Australia committs 1.8 million to Kokoda Track Safety Boost
    Source: Government of Australia
    Posted on: 9th September 2009

    The Australian Government has committed $1.8 million to fast-track a range of safety projects along the Kokoda Track.

    Australian Heritage Minister, Peter Garrett, and Papua New Guinean Minister for Tourism, Culture and the Arts, Charles Abel, said this initial funding was the first part of a broader program of joint initiatives between the two governments.
    The initial $1.8m will be used to undertake safety enhancements at airstrips –including Kokoda, improvements to communications along the Track and maintenance work on the Owers Corner Road.

    Specific safety measures made possible by this funding are:

    Risk assessments and safety audits by PNG Civil Aviation Authority and CASA at
    Kokoda, Manari, Kagi, Melei, Efogi and Naduri airstrips.

    Installing safety equipment, including windsocks, cones and markers and provision of
    maintenance equipment at the six airstrips.

    Building sheds, including installing weighing scales, at airstrips.

    Providing regular maintenance works – mowing, clearing drains and repairing potholes – at all six airstrips.

    Carrying out urgent repairs to Owers Corner Road, including grading, gravelling and
    installing new drainage.

    Upgrading Sogeri Bridge Road

    Constructing footbridges at key points along the Track in consultation with communities and the trekking industry.

    Investigating if another radio channel for emergencies is feasible.

    Installing a second radio channel for emergencies and providing training and additional radio equipment along the Track.

    Implementing a rolling replacement program to provide and maintain additional radios in villages near the track

    Enabling initial work to identify areas where there are explosives on the Track and how to best address this issue.

    A second tranche of measures is currently being developed by governments, communities

    and stakeholders to identify further, major works needed to improve roads, airstrips and communications. These will be informed by the results of technical studies.
    Minister Garrett said this investment builds on work already being done to address safety issues.

    “The recent tragic plane crash has reinforced the need to continue this work to address infrastructure and safety issues along the Track identified by local communities, government and the trekking industry.

    “This assistance will help the Papua New Guinea Government to continue to deliver services to local communities and ensure a safer trekking experience on the Kokoda Track.

    ”Minister Garrett said that with every facet of the Australian Government’s Kokoda Initiative, it is vitally important to move in partnership with the people and Government of Papua New Guinea.

    “We will build on the strong relationships we have with communities, the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) and the trekking industry to ensure improvements in safety are there for the long term.

    “This is an iconic, historically significant place for Australians –the number of people walking the Track has increased significantly over the past several years and the Kokoda Track is now Papua New Guinea’s major visitor attraction,” Mr Garrett said.
    The funding for the second tranche of measures will be jointly provided by the two governments.

    Mr Abel said transport infrastructure such as the Owers Corner Road and the Kokoda airstrip are important to Papua New Guinea and we have committed to providing the majority of funding for these upgrades, with some assistance from the Australian Government.“

    These safety measures are complemented by a raft of initiatives already being delivered by PNG’s Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA) and the KTA.
    “The KTA, with the advice and support of the Central and Oro Provincial Governments, TPA and PNG’s Civil Aviation Authority, will continue to drive this program and build on successes gained so far,”

    Mr Abel said.Mr Abel said the investigation into the 11 August plane crash is a separate process that may result in specific safety recommendations that also need to be addressed by the Papua New Guinea Government, with assistance from Australia.

    Actions to improve safety infrastructure announced today builds upon the $14.9m already committed by the Australian Government under its existing Kokoda Initiative to assist Papua New Guinea with the protection of the Kokoda Track and the Owen Stanley Ranges and improve the livelihoods of the local communities.

    We have seen this announcment ! The dry season is limited we look forward to seeing the IMPLEMENTATIUON PLAN on acheiving PROGRESS on each of these activities.

    I respectfully submit that the KTA should focus onthe operations of the track and that a collaborative group of PNG and OZ govt, PNG stakeholders and Kokoda trekking industry (and KTA asa stakeholder) create a steering group to oversee the projects outlined.

  4. The KTA had releaesde a newsletter … fabulous ..

    KTA has let a contact to maintain the track September to November to the CVA.

    This on the face of it is postive but what alarms me is the fact that there is a lack of transparency to the activity by the KTA and lmited access to thse that may contribute to the projects and apply for participating in the activity.

    Jobs for the boys ? Hmmm time will tell. It is hoped that thisis not the case. But on the face of it one could be excused for thinking this was the case. Bill James and Soc Keinzle for example are knowledegable people but have a potentially significant conflict of interest due to commercail interests in the region.

    It would build huge confidence in all those in the trekking industry if the KTA embraced the Australian principles of proper governace and greater transparency forthe benefits of all stakeholders. Failure to adopt these principles undermines confidence and risks alienation of experienced and valuable contributors to this venture.

    We will know the operations manager is ‘fair dinkum’ about the consultation when he involves and facilitates a wider circle of stakeholders in a legitimate fashion and not just a small band of ‘mates’.

    Notwithstanding some of the governance concerns about the KTA process, which the KTA will need to address to provide confidence to all key stakeholders, the work by the CVA appears to be doing some good in making some marginal track areas safer around the larger villages. This activity does provide contribution to the Trail by those who may not have the physical attributes to walk across the Owen Stanley’s but may wish to contribute in another way.

    In terms of the safety project .. congratulations on getting this on the funding agenda. The proof of its success, however, will be its sustainability over the trekking season and how it is manged to manintain these facilities throughout the season and at the peak times.

    It has made a fabulous start. In my recent trek across the Owen Stanleys the communications worked well, the airfields were in the best order this year and the Sogeri Road had been graded flat and wider. Let hope the weather is kind so these can be completed before the wet closes in. Thankyou

    It would be of benefit for the KTA Operational activity now to perhaps develop some process to prevent the recent strong arm/extortion activities of destroying commercial viability of campsites in the southern areas of the trail. As te KTA continues to develop we encourage the commitment and demonstration of proper governance, wider transparency, adoption due processs in these activities.

    Visa requirements for trek operators. Does anyone know who is representing the Trek Operating Companies on this issue ? I wonder where this is going ?

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