Network Kokoda: Honouring their Legacy

NK LogoIn 2008 Adventure Kokoda funded the establishment of Network Kokoda as a not-for-profit charity to honour the legacy of our Kokoda veterans and the PNG Wartime Carriers. Network Kokoda has since been approved as a Developing Country Relief Fund which provides allowable taxation deductions for donors.

We subscribe to the principles developed by the PNG Department of Community Development which, according to former Minister, Dame Carol Kidu DBE, are based on local communities working together to develop sustainable initiatives which generate income to invest in their future.

Network Kokoda initially engaged the services of Mr Sandy Lawson BSc (Agric) as a consultant to engage local community leaders in the Sogeri area and report on a proposal to develop Agricultural Learning Development Centres in the area. Mr Lawson has more than 25 years’ experience in agriculture in PNG and is fluent in both Motu and Tok Pisin.

As a result of Mr Lawson’s recommendation Network Kokoda engaged a young graduate of the Popondetta Agricultural College, Mr Oggie Erehe as a Field Manager. Mr Erehe was born in Kokoda and has a diploma in Tropical Agriculture from the University of Natural Resources and Environment in Popondetta. Network Kokoda are funding his ongoing studies to allow him to obtain his degree in Tropical Agriculture through the University of Technology in Lae.

The Australian Board is chaired by Brigadier Phil McNamara OAM (Ret).  The Executive Officer is Lieutenant Colonel Rowan Tracey (Ret).  Both served as officers with the Pacific Islands Regiment in Papua New Guinea during their army careers and are fluent in Tok Pisin.

The PNG Board is chaired by The Hon Charlie Lynn OL.  The Board of Directors includes The Hon Dame Carol Kidu DBE and Marianna Ellingson, Secretary to the PNG Minister’s Office of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

The most challenging task in the development of village learning centres is to encourage local people, clans and communities to work together. The initial phase involves much discussion, many meetings, trust, mutual obligation, partnerships and a path to local ownership.

We believe agriculture is the most effective gateway to community development along the Kokoda Trail.  We therefore aim to change the subsistence mindset of villagers to one of business entrepreneurship and have established a partnership with the Sogeri National High School and Iaowari High School to establish market gardens at each school to improve the nutrition of boarding students and to demonstrate the economic benefits of marketing produce to local communities. [Read more…]

INVITATION: Dinner with surviving Kokoda veterans

Our annual ‘Salute to the 39th Dinner’ will be held in Parliament House, Melbourne on Friday, 18th March 2016.

The dinner will be hosted by Victorian MP, Gary Blackwood, and each table will be hosted by a surviving Kokoda veteran.

Over the past 10 years many of our 39th veterans have passed and their numbers are dwindling. However this is the most important event on their calendar as they enjoy the company of trekkers who can relate to their service and sacrifice.  Our ‘salure dinners’ are historic occasions and as time steals the survivors from our midst we will look back upon them as giants of their era and will be honoured to have dined in their company.

The cost of the dinner is $165 per person (3 course meal, beer and wine) in the historic Queens Hall of the Victorian Parliament.

You can pay by using our ‘Donation’ page at https://www.networkkokoda.org/donate/ or by making a cheque payable to the ‘Kokoda Education Fund’ and posting it to:

Gary Blackwood MP
3/24 Mason Street,
Warragul  Vic 3820

Gary’s contact number is 03 5623 1960 or email at gary.blackwood@parliament.vic.gov.au

Proceeds for the evening will be directed to the education of village students along the Kokoda Trail. [Read more…]

Australia Day Tribute to a Vietnam Veteran

Today I was honoured to be guest speaker at the Kenthurst Australia Day ceremony. I decided not to enter the debate on whether it should be called ‘Australia Day’, ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day’ as the inner-city commentariat have crowded out that space. I therefore decided to focus on ‘An Australia Day Tribute to a Vietnam Veteran’ that I wrote nine years ago.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we celebrate Australia Day which marks the anniversary of the raising of the British Flag at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Philip 228 years ago.

It is also the 69th anniversary of the arrival of an 11 year old immigrant boy from Malta. His story epitomizes our Australian story.

We were soldiers in Vietnam where he was blown apart in the minefield protecting the Australian Army Taskforce Base at Nui Dat. He survived against all the odds. This morning I would like to share an Australia Day tribute I wrote after he survived an emergency operation on Anzac Day 2007:

‘Forty days before he woke from a landmine that blew his right leg into the Nui Dat minefield, blasted his right arm off, shattered his left arm, ripped his stomach to shreds, and peppered his body with shrapnel, Sapper John ‘Jethro’ Thompson mumbled to me: ‘I’m not getting out of the army mate – they’re gunna have to build a special dozer I can drive’.  ‘No worries Jethro’, I said ‘they’ll do that!’ [Read more…]

Kokoda Guides: What teenage girls really think

Two attention seeking wannabees recently set out to trek across the Kokoda Trail in the wet season without proper clothing, camping equipment or a local PNG guide. They achieved their five minutes of fame when they claimed to have been assaulted and robbed by ‘cannibals’ and ‘spear throwing tribesmen’.  They escaped ‘wild dogs’ and and survived ‘poison ivy’ as they ran semi-naked over jungle-clad mountain ranges in bare feet. The ‘hero’ of this epic jungle escape was a British ‘reality’ television ‘Tarzan’ – his ‘Jane’ was an amorous American waitress

In their quest for their five minutes of fame they attempted to denigrate one of the most fascinating countries on the planet – Papua New Guinea.

Anybody who has trekked Kokoda will attest to the fact that the Koiari and Orokaiva guides and carriers are truly masters of their environment and genuine ‘fuzzy-wuzzy angels’.  The following quotes from young Australian women who have trekked Kokoda – many from the RSL Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge – describe the reality of the nature of their PNG guides and carriers:

Rachel McCrae:
A tear comes to my eye when I think about our beautiful guides and porters. We were blessed with the most amazing group of gentlemen, and they made my trip. They took the time to walk with us if we were struggling, they were patient and understanding. They also had a great sense of humour and greeted us every day with a smile. I miss them more and more each day, and feel blessed that I got to meet and walk with such amazing people. 
[Read more…]

Reported Attack and Rape by Cannibals on the Kokoda Trail – Really!

Matthew Iovane, of Shoreditch, East London, met restaurant hostess Michelle Clemens last year while he was visiting her native Los Angeles.

The adventure holiday regulars agreed to meet in Sydney, Australia, and then fly to Papua New Guinea together.

They planned to tackle the arduous Kokoda Trail, a 60-mile hike through one of the last great unexplored wildernesses on Earth.[i]

On Wednesday, 6 January, Mr Iovane called Sogeri Lodge from the Port Moresby airport to book transport and accommodation for one night for him and Ms Clemens. They had sourced the contact details for Sogeri Lodge from their Lonely Planet book on Papua New Guinea.

The Lonely Planet contains the following warning in regard to trekking across the Kokoda Trail:

‘The Kokoda Track is not PNG’s most difficult trek but it’s no walk in the park.  You must be pretty fit and, if in doubt, aid to do it in nine days, not six.  Be sure to use local guides and carriers and never walk with less than four people. If there is an accident two can get help and one can stay with the injured. Most trekking companies carry a satellite phone or a two-way radio.  If you don’t have one and there’s a problem, no-one will hear the screams.  Most villages have radios but it could be a long walk to the nearest one. Conflicts among traditional landowners have led to the track’s closure in the past, but in recent years the situation has been fairly calm. Still, it’s worth keeping an ear open.

‘When to Trek
‘It could rain at anytime of the year, but between November and February it will rain, and most companies don’t operate because it is too dangerous and uncomfortable.

‘Guides and Carriers
‘If you’re trekking independently, don’t do it without a good guide.’
[Read more…]

The Story of Australia’s Flags by Major General Maitland

story_of_australias_flags__57889.1439364316.1280.1280This morning I had the honour of attending the official launch of Major General Gordon Maitland’s book ‘The Story of Australia’s Flags which was hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs in Sydney.  It follow on from his previous publication ‘Honours and Awards of the Australian Army. Both are published by Playbill Military Productions and are essential references to anybody with an interest in the customs and traditions of our Australian military forces.

In his dedication to his book Major General Gordon Maitland wrote:

‘Australians formally announce themselves by flying our flag or singing our National Anthem.

‘Sometimes we may do so more informally by flying a flag bearing an image of one of our unique fauna or by singing Waltzing Matilda.

‘Another favourite song is: ‘We are one, but we are many, and from all the lands on Earth we come, we share a dream and sing with one voice – I am, you are, we are Australian’. It was written by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton in 1987 and is owned by Telstra. I am biased and would prefer ‘flag’ to ‘dream’.

‘No doubt my upbringing contributed to my bias for I am of that generation which, at school, recited:

I honour my God; I serve my King; I salute my flag.

‘Like many of our wonderful ways it has been lost by progress [?] [Read more…]

The Kokoda Trail – Official Naming Rights

Kokoda Anzac 2011 032Ownership of the naming rights of the Kokoda Trail is a keenly contested point of debate in Australia.

Do they belong to the nation which retains sovereign ownership of the land between Owers Corner and Kokoda i.e. Papua New Guinea?

Or the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the 10 Australian Battalions who were awarded the battle honour ‘Kokoda Trail’?

Or the custodians of political correctness amongst the Australian commentariat who dislike the name ‘trail’ because of its American connotation?

Over the past decade almost 40,000 Australians have trekked across the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea. Most trekkers are motivated by the wartime history of the Kokoda campaign and this has led to a range of books and television stories on the subject. It has also led to some extensive debate about the official name of the trail.

Contemporary debate over the name evolved after former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating kissed the ground at Kokoda on the 50th anniversary of the campaign in April 1992. This was accompanied by much ‘talkback’ noise about ‘trail’ being an American term and ‘track’ being the language of the Australian bush (ignoring the fact that our bush is criss-crossed with fire-trails). This suited Keating’s agenda for an Australian republic at the time.

The debate suited those in the Australian commentariat who harboured a strong anti-American bias over their engagement in Iraq around the time of the 60th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign. As most of the commentariat had never served in the regular armed forces they could be excused for not appreciating the esprit de corps associated with a battle honour. This, however, does not excuse them for ambushing a name that doesn’t reflect their political bias.

‘Kokoda Track’ has since emerged as the politically correct term in Australia in spite of the fact that the battle honour ‘Kokoda Trail’ was awarded to the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the 10 Australian battalions who fought in the Kokoda campaign. It is also in defiance of the Papua New Guinea government who gazetted the name ‘Kokoda Trail’ in 1972. [Read more…]

Big stink on Kokoda

Kokoda Anzac 2011 032

One could be forgiven for thinking that questions about toilets along the Kokoda Trail are taboo.  It’s a question people would prefer not to ask in the hope that everything will be OK when the time comes – as it does for everybody at least once a day!

Our experience indicates that expectations are low. Female trekkers quietly hope that there will be at least one toilet at each campsite dedicated for them. They hope it will have a degree of privacy and will be clean. A seat would be an unexpected bonus.

Unfortunately the management authority has never conducted a survey in order to seek constructive feedback from their paying customers.

The Australian Department of Environment engaged a highly paid consultant to conduct two campsite surveys over a period of a couple of years. The consultant did not engage with trek operators or trekkers. The reports he published were crap with just more than a hint of a spell about the Department of Environment’s closed shop tender process. [Read more…]

Shame of Kokoda Battlesite

Kokoda Anzac 2011 032The shame of the Isurava battlesite as reported in the Sun-Herald on 26 July 2015 is the result of a flawed process that began with the planning of the memorial in 2001. http://www.smh.com.au/national/kokoda-track-landowners-demand-fee-for-access-to-battlefield-sites-20150725-gikclz.html

The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) commissioned the establishment of a memorial on the site of the battle for Isurava for the 60th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign in 2002.  It was to be opened by Prime Ministers John Howard and Sir Michael Somare.

Prior to this DVA has shown little interest in honouring the military heritage of the Kokoda Trail.

Unfortunately the Department was led by two of the worst Ministers ever to be appointed to Veterans Affairs – Bruce Scott and Danna Vale. Scott was an arrogant fool and Vale had been described by Alan Ramsay of the Sydney Morning Herald as a twit.  Both were obviously awed by their bemedaled departmental Director, retired Air Vice Marshall Gary Beck AO. One can only assume the department’s dealings with their PNG counterparts were influenced by Beck’s ignorance of local conditions and his arrogance. [Read more…]

Potential of the Kokoda Trekking Industry

Kokoda Anzac 2011 032The most relevant guide to the potential of the Kokoda trekking industry is the continued growth in Australians making the pilgrimage to Gallipoli.

Each year up to 9 000 Australians visit the Dawn Service at Anzac Cove.  Thousands more visit it at other times of the year. It is now becoming a pilgrimage for more than a million Turkish people also visiting Gallipoli each year.

Papua New Guinea has the potential to be a world class adventure-tourism destination but it has to address negative perceptions in regard to safety and reliability – particularly after the recent ‘Black Cat Track’ murders.  This will require a focused investment in national marketing and support for the development of niche adventures such as wartime pilgrimages, eco-trekking, white-water rafting, caving, bird-watching, diving, surfing, fishing and culture.

People who participate in these niche adventure activities are generally more aware of the sensitivities of culture and environment and do not expect 5-star accommodation and service. They are also more tolerant of ‘surprises’ that are often experienced in the ‘land of the unexpected’. [Read more…]