Kokoda: A Consultant Free Zone!

Kokoda Anzac 2011 032The most important asset in the development of a sustainable trekking industry along the Kokoda Trail is the client who pays for the journey. Without him or her there will be no trek fees, no employment for guides and carriers, no shared benefits for villages, no campsite fees – no sustainable trekking industry!

Of equal importance in a country with complex traditions regarding customary land ownership are local landowners.

Unfortunately the people in charge of dispensing government aid programs from Australia seem to have little appreciation of these essential basics. Of more concern is the fact that they disregard the advice of those who have invested risk, time, energy and resources to create a wartime trekking industry across the Kokoda Trail. They have achieved this by working at the grassroots level to establish local partnerships based on mutual obligation. [Read more…]

KOKODA: 2013 in Review

 Kokoda Anzac 2011 032The recent publication of ‘Australia’s Secret War’ by Hal Colebatch is a disturbing reminder that not all Australian’s supported our diggers as they fought and died along the Kokoda Trail and in other campaigns during World War 11.

Colebatch’s research has lifted the scab off the suppressed and hidden story of the war waged from 1939 to 1945 by a number of key Australian trade unions against their own society and against the men and women of their own country’s fighting forces at the time of its gravest peril. In a review of the book, Miranda Devine wrote:

“One of the most obscene acts occurred in October, 1945, at the end of the war, after Australian soldiers were released from Japanese prison camps. They were half dead, starving and desperate for home. But when the British aircraft-carrier HMS Speaker brought them into Sydney Harbour, the wharfies went on strike. For 36 hours, the soldiers were forced to remain on-board, tantalisingly close to home. This final act of cruelty from their countrymen was their thanks for all the sacrifice.”

‘Australia’s Secret War’ was published by Quadrant and is available at http://quadrant.org.au

It is a timely reminder that not all Australians were heroes as we approach the Centenary of Anzac in 2015 and the 75th anniversary of the War in the Pacific in 2017.

There is no doubt that the politically correct brigade will attempt to reinterpret our military history by exposing ‘Anzac myths’, denigrating the ‘glorification of war’, uncovering stories of ‘rape, pillage and plunder’ and attributing war to the evils of capitalism, Fortunately the majority of Australians will seek to commemorate these historical anniversaries with the respect they deserve. [Read more…]

KOKODA: Time for a Rethink . . .

 1942 Kokoda BadgePapua New Guinea is the custodian of our Australian Pacific War history.  A place where our wartime relics have rusted in peace in remote jungle clad mountains for the past 70 years. The names of hitherto unknown places are emblazoned on Army, Navy and RAAF Battle Honours every Anzac Day – Coral Sea, Milne Bay, Kokoda, Buna, Gona, Sanananda, Finschaffen, Lae, Wau, Shaggy Ridge, Bougainville and Wewak.

The Kokoda Trail is one of many jungles shrines littered with relics of desperate battles fought between Australian and Japanese soldiers in late 1942. It lay dormant in the minds of Australians for five decades after the war until Paul Keating became the first Australian Prime Minister to visit the village that bears its name.

Government interest in the preservation of the Kokoda Trail receded for another decade until Prime Ministers’ John Howard and Sir Michael Somare opened a significant memorial at the village of Isurava on the 60th anniversary of the campaign. The awareness of these two ceremonial occasions led to increasing numbers of Australians wanting to walk in the footsteps of the brave.

However it wasn’t until a public outcry over the threat to mine a large part of the trail that the Australian Government finally took more than a token interest in the area. The public were united in their opposition to the possible destruction of such an iconic part of our military heritage. [Read more…]

Boomerang Aid Failure on Kokoda

Charlie Lynn Kokoda WebOn a blog on this website on May 19, 2009 the incoming CEO of the Kokoda Track Authority, Rod Hillman, advised the KTA is ‘the day to day manager of the Kokoda Track and it is a KTA responsibility to develop systems to improve the trekker experience – whether through campsite bookings, itinerary planning and accreditation of Tour Operators or developing training programs’.

Hillman concluded:

‘Please judge the KTA on what it does in the future and not on what it used to do.  If in a year there is the same mistrust and concerns then I would have failed and I will be brought to account accordingly’.

A year later trekker numbers had plunged by 35 per cent. Mistrust had increased because of secret deals Hillman personally negotiated with rogue operators.  There is still no campsite booking system in place.  There is no management of trek itineraries.  There is no protection for the welfare of PNG guides and carriers.  There is no campsite accreditation system. There is no legislation to support the Code of Conduct or the integrity in the accreditation of trek operators. There is no day-to-day management of the Kokoda trekking industry. Indeed it is hard to find a single effective management protocol put in place during Rod Hillman’s tenure.

Hillman was paid an executive salary with tax free concessions and generous overseas allowances by the Australian Government. His total salary package was approximately 15 times greater than his PNG counterpart and successor!

Rod Hillman was a failure by his own admission but was never held to account.

Another example of the failure of boomerang aid to Papua New Guinea.

PNG: Wouldn’t it be great if ……

Charlie Lynn Kokoda Web

 ”PNG is one of our three top-priority foreign policy challenges, along with China-US relations and the future of Indonesia. The deep nature of the problems in PNG makes it perhaps the toughest we face. It is the one which probably places the biggest demands directly on Australia, and the only one we face largely alone”.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Wouldn’t it be great if, during the current election campaign, our political leaders took time out from faux debates,  shopping centre strolls, kindergarten raids and baby-kissing and and let us know what their plans are to address the challenges our Melanesian neighbours face within our ‘arc of instability’.

Wouldn’t it be great, if, they were to announce:

  • The establishment of a ‘Minister for Melanesia’ with a Department of Melanesian Affairs to focus on our relationship with the island nations in our region.
  • The introduction of ‘Melanesian Studies’ into our education system at Primary, Secondary and Tertiary level to provide a deeper understanding of the range and complexities of Melanesian culture.
  • The introduction of ‘Pacific Military History’ to encourage young Australians to visit the battlesites that helped forge our identity during World War 11. Build more bridges!
  •  A ‘Seasonal Work Plan’ that would marry up PNG ‘wan tok’ communities with Australian ‘Wan Tok’ farming communities e.g. Koiari with the Mallee; Orokaiva with The Hunter; Sepik with the Barossa; etc. etc. Included in the plan would be a compulsory educational component and a system of saving through remittance.
  • A ‘Melanesian Exchange Program’ for public servants in all portfolio areas to assist in changing the culture of poor governance in Melanesia.
  • Introduction of a ‘Melanesian Kiap Scheme’ to provide an opportunity for Australian graduates to live in villages and work in selected areas in partnership with PNG graduates for periods of up to two years.
  • A ‘Melanesian Peacekeeping Force’ which included provision for long term exchange programs with the Australian Defence Force.
  • Acceptance of a PNG National Rugby League Team into the Australian Rugby League competition (nothing would do more to unite the various PNG ‘wan-tok’ cultures than this initiative). [Read more…]

Government desecration of Kokoda battlesite condemned

Charlie Lynn Kokoda WebThe recent desecration of a significant wartime site along the Kokoda Trail by the Australian Government is a blatant act of historical vandalism.

The site I refer to is an abandoned mortar position adjacent to Lake Myola about halfway across the trail. I found the position approximately 10 years ago whilst I was investigating this particular area with a local landowner. It was off the side of a remote track that was used by local hunters. It was part of an ammunition storage system that supported the mortar baseplates out on the lakebed of what is called Little Myola. The mortars would have been positioned to support the Australian hospital and logistic support bases on Big Myola.

The position comprised a large ammunition storage pit and a large quantity of mortars, M36 grenades, clips of .303 ammunition, detonators and fuses. Lying around the area were rotted army boots and a couple of rusted shovels. The ammunition was stacked in rows beside the pit and covered in moss that had gathered over the past 60 years. This gave the position a haunting appearance in what is known as the moss forest. I reported the discovery to the PNG Kokoda Track Authority but at that stage it was operated by an expatriate manager and a part-time secretary and there was little interest in the preservation of historically significant sites along the Kokoda Trail.

It was not until a public outcry over the threat to mine a large part of the trail in 2006 that the Australian Government finally took more than a token interest in the area. Unfortunately, the Howard Government miscalculated and allocated responsibility for the preservation of the Kokoda Trail to the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, most probably because the Heritage Division was responsible for the List of Overseas Places of Historic Significance to Australia. The status of Heritage’ has since been dropped from what is now the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Arts has recently been added to the Minister’s responsibilities but does not yet rate a mention in its acronym.

Since 2008 Kokoda has been used as a subterfuge for the department to pursue an environmental agenda in PNG. Its guise was to embed staff in the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation to assist PNG to develop a submission  for a World Heritage listing of the Owen Stanley Ranges including the Kokoda Trail. A joint agreement with an emphasis on global warming was signed with considerable fanfare. Terms relating to military heritage did not rate a mention. One can only speculate how ‘joint’ the agreement was in the framing process. Highly paid Canberra envirocrats with tax exempt salaries and generous allowances were dispatched to advise and assist the PNG Government to save the Kokoda Trail. For most of those involved, it was their first trip to PNG and the trail quickly became a lucrative honey-pot for a coterie of anointed consultants. They came; saw; held talk-fests; produced five-point plans; and left with a wallet full of booty. [Read more…]

KOKODA: A paper on the Kokoda Trekking Industry by Charlie Lynn

In September 2012, the Australian War Memorial convened a major international conference to mark the 70th anniversary of the Kokoda and Papuan campaigns in 1942.  Kokoda now dominates Australia’s popular memory of the Second World War and has become the focus for the war’s commemoration. Popular narratives of Kokoda, however, rarely discuss the campaign in the war’s broader context or pose new questions concerning its conduct. Bringing together military historians and emerging scholars from the world, the conference reassessed the principal battles fought in Papua and discussed the campaign from both an Allied and Japanese perspective.

Adventure Kokoda trek leaders, Rowan Tracey and Charlie Lynn were invited to speak at the conference – an abstract of all speakers can be found at this link: http://www.awm.gov.au/conference/2012/abstracts_speakers/

Following is the presentation by Charlie Lynn on the Kokoda Trekking Industry:

“Kokoda is a powerful word.  According to the Orokaiva ‘koko’ means place of skulls – ‘da’ is village.  The combination of syllables’ conjures up ‘adventure’ in the minds of sedentary beings. It makes sense.  Many early explorers and missionaries searching for gold in the Yodda valley ended up in cooking pots.

“Then came the war.  Kokoda was the first pitched battle fought against the Japanese.  It signalled the beginning of a campaign where Australia’s fate hung in the balance as our diggers fought a fanatical enemy, treacherous terrain, legions of deadly mites, malarial mosquitoes, venomous snakes, hunger – and fear.  [Read more…]

Trekkers heap praise on outgoing chief

The following article was published in the PNG National newspaper on Friday, 15 June 2012:

OUTGOING Kokoda Tracking Authority chief executive officer Rod Hillman has been described as a visionary leader and a man of infinite wisdom.

Kokoda local level government president John Kivo said Hillman had done a lot for the authority and villages along the track.

Authority chairman Reuben Maleva said the organisation had gone through tough times for the past three years. But the government had shown confidence in the organisation after Hillman took over as CEO.

He said Hillman’s leadership had achieved many things including setting up the TPA constitution, setting up ward allocation fees and helping in enhancing tourism and conservation programmes. [Read more…]

Removal or War Relics from the Kokoda Trail

Todays article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald regading the theft of war relics from the Kokoda Trail http://www.smh.com.au/national/trekkers-steal-kokoda-track-war-relics-20120120-1qa7n.html was addressed in our newsletter at almost 5 years ago and is repeated below:

‘There is a need for the Australian Government to work in partnership with the PNG Government to protect war relics along the track.  These relics have been rusting in the jungle for the past 65 years and are now being rearranged and removed as souvenirs.

‘According to some research conducted by one of our trekkers the recent announcement of Kokoda as a place of significant historical interest is virtually meaningless.

‘It seems that a section (390K) was inserted in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act in February 2007 as part of the most recent amendments to the EPBC Act (and further amendments are planned) to establish a list of important heritage sites overseas. [Read more…]

New Veterans’ website

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has unveiled a new website containing details and photos of overseas war memorials dedicated to Australian service personnel.

The Overseas Memorials Search website allows viewers to access details and photographs of over 110 official and privately constructed overseas memorials honouring Australian service.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Alan Griffin said the website would make planning a visit to an overseas memorial easier for Australians. [Read more…]