PNG Tourism operating in a parallel universe

Kokoda Anzac 2011 032The proposed K200 visa fee for tourists without consultation reflects a disturbing ignorance of the reality of operating a tour business in PNG.

It comes at a time when the country has experienced the most negative international publicity in decades as a result of the PNG Kokoda Track Authority allowing two unprepared international tourists to trek Kokoda without a licensed tour operator.

PNG is primarily an adventure tourism destination for divers, trekkers, surfers, fishermen, birdwatchers and those with an interest in the cultural and environmental diversity of the country.

Adventure tourists have an abundance of alternative destinations in Australia, French Polynesia, Bali, Asia, Africa and South America. They are not queuing up to come to PNG.

Trekker numbers for the Kokoda Trail have declined by 44 per cent since the Australian Government assumed responsibility for the management of the Kokoda trekking industry in 2009.

Not one of the five strategies or 33 key performance objectives developed by Australian Government officials and contained in the KTA Strategic Plan 2012 – 2015 has been achieved.

Over the past decade some of the wealthiest and most influential people in Australia have been among the 40,000 trekkers who have crossed the trail. Many would be willing to travel to other PNG destinations as a result of their experience, but the KTA does not even maintain a database. They represent 40,000 lost marketing opportunities.

PNG has the opportunity to become the wartime tourism capital of the Pacific with markets in Australia, the United States and Japan. History records that adventure tourists and those with an interest in wartime tourism do not just ‘turn up’. They arrive as the result of individual marketing initiatives by tour operators in the industry.

PNG Tourism has operated in a parallel universe for many years. They are more concerned with the theory of tourism rather than the business of tourism.

The PNG Government would be better advised to get the basics right and support adventure tourism operators rather than trying ‘to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs’ with an opportunistic tax grab.

Charlie Lynn OL
Adventure Kokoda, Camden AustraliaTOURISM-CHARLIE LYNN-Post Courier-Wednesday March 9 2016-p11

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…]

Kokoda Trail: Who owns the naming rights?

The Kokoda Trail Book CoverDuring the 50th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign, Prime Minister Paul Keating, kissed the ground at Kokoda and awakened Australians to the significance of the Kokoda campaign.  His action generated much talkback noise about whether it was a trail or a track.  The noise increased in as anti-American sentiment grew after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  The voices eventually prevailed and on the 60th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign Prime Ministers’ John Howard and Sir Michael Somare opened the Isurava Memorial which had the word ‘Kokoda Track’ embedded into it. All signage between McDonald’s Corner and Kokoda referred to the ‘Kokoda Trail’ prior to this.

The 70th anniversary period offers an opportunity for a sober review of the debate.

The origin of the official name, ‘Kokoda Trail’, dates back to 1947 when an Australian Battles Nomenclature Committee was established to define the battles in the Pacific. Their final report in 1958 adopted ‘Kokoda Trail’ as the official Commonwealth battle honour which was awarded to 10 infantry battalions and the Papuan Infantry Regiment. [Read more…]

They weren’t all heroes . . .

Colebatch-cover-320x490Hal Colebatch’s new book, Australia’s Secret War, tells the shocking, true, but until now largely 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. His conclusions are based on a broad range of sources, from letters and first-person interviews between the author and ex-servicemen to official and unofficial documents from the archives of World War II.

Between 1939 and 1945 virtually every major Australian warship, including at different times its entire force of cruisers, was targeted by strikes, go-slows and sabo­tage. Australian soldiers operating in New Guinea and the Pacific Islands went without food, radio equipment and munitions, and Aus­tralian warships sailed to and from combat zones without ammunition, because of strikes at home. Planned rescue missions for Australian prisoners-of-war in Borneo were abandoned because wharf strikes left rescuers without heavy weapons. Officers had to restrain Australian and American troops from killing striking trade unionists.

[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…]

Battle Honour: ‘Kokoda Trail’

The Battle Honour ‘ Kokoda Trail’ was awarded for participation in operations in Papua along the path that ran between Ower’s Corner, outside of Port Moresby, and the village of Wairopi, on the west bank of the Kumusi River during the period 22 July 1942 – 13 November 1942. This path was known as both the Kokoda Trail and the Kokoda Track and the former was adopted by the Battles Nomenclature Committee as the official British Commonwealth battle honour in October 1957. The honour encompasses both the retreat from the north coast of Papua to Imita Ridge (July-September), and the advance from Imitia Ridge back to Wairopi (September-November). Subsidiary honours were awarded for seven separate engagements.

Reference: Australian War Memorial http://www.awm.gov.au/units/event_247.asp

NSW schools to commemorate 70th anniversary of the raising of the flag on Kokoda

Following is a speech delivered by Charlie Lynn, Parliamentary Secretary for Veterans Affairs, at the Anzac Memorial in Sydney to launch the NSW Schools Commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the raising of the flag at Kokoda on 3 November 1942:

“Good morning teachers and students,

Around 15 years ago I attended a commemorative service for the 8th Division in Martin Place.  The late Sergeant Stan Bryant was guest speaker.

Stan reminded us that 1942 was the most critical time in Australia’s history.

“In eight weeks the overpowering Japanese invasion forces had destroyed the United States Navy in Pearl Harbour and sunk the British battleships in the China Sea.  The Japanese had captured Hong Kong and half of China and forced the British Navy to abandon Singapore.  They had defeated the United States Army in the Philippines and defeated the British Army in Malaya.  They had occupied Indonesia and sunk the Dutch fleet in the Java Sea.

“Australians experienced the terrible fear of imminent invasion.  We faced the loss of our homes and our country.  Many had turned to prayer as a last resort for their safety. [Read more…]