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 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…]

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 new frontier for bucket-listers and chanting bogans

The jungles of Papua New Guinea can be a dark and foreboding place for the unwary. During the Kokoda campaign darkness came swiftly as the overhead canopy didn’t allow any form of twilight to penetrate below. Fires were forbidden because the glow of embers and the smell of dank smoke could betray a position to the enemy.

Before the transition to darkness each day soldiers would lie still during ‘stand-to’ in shallow pits lest the enemy used the cover to launch a surprise attack.  The silence in such an environment is deafening – until battalions of 6 o’clock crickets pierce the air with shrill buzzing calls lasting for up to half-an-hour.  For the first-timer in the jungle it is an unnerving sound but soon becomes part of the normal cycle of activity as they acquaint themselves with the sounds of nature.

Speak to any veteran of the Templeton’s Crossing campaign and they will quickly ask if the 6 o’clock crickets are still around. They are – but their status is under challenge from a new creature, the ‘chanting bogan’. [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

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…]

‘The Kokoda Trail’ – it’s about respect for Papua New Guinea and the men who fought across it!

 ‘The acceptance of the official name of the Kokoda Trail is a keenly contested point of debate in Australia.  Does it belong to the nation which retains sovereign ownership of the land between McDonald’s Corner and Kokoda i.e. Papua New Guinea?  Or to the 10 Australian Battalions and the Papuan Infantry Battalion whose battle honours are emblazoned with the name ‘Kokoda Trail’?  Or to modern day commentators who dislike the name ‘trail’ because of its American connotation?’

During 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 as anti-American sentiment grew amongst the commentariat 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.

This was in spite of the fact that all signage between McDonald’s Corner and Kokoda since the end of the war has referred to the ‘Kokoda Trail’.

The 70th anniversary offers an opportunity for a sober review of the debate. [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…]

Kokoda ‘Tricks’ and Hidden Extras

Negotiating the current plethora of Kokoda trek operator websites can be as challenging as trekking the trail itself.  Prior to 2003 there were only a handful of trek operators on the trail.  These companies specialised in the military history of the Kokoda campaign and had developed a good relationship with the local villagers by providing them with alternative source of income and support for local projects.

Since 2004 there has been an explosion in the number of operators claiming to be expert wartime historians, explorers, adventurers, anthropologists, etc.  Among them is the usual band of tricksters and carpetbaggers attempting cash-in on the market.

They do this by hijacking original material to create a perception that they are ‘genuine’.  They claim to be ‘passionate’ about our diggers, ‘expert’ in the history of the Kokoda campaign and ‘sympathetic’ to villagers. They claim to stay in the ‘village huts’, eat ‘village food’ and follow the original wartime trail for an ‘all-inclusive’ cost.

Prospective trekkers should therefore be warned that if it sounds too good to be true – it usually is. [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…]