Kokoda Reinterpreted through the Prism of Political Correctness

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Expensive taxpayer funded interpretative design panels recently placed at Owers Corner by ‘The Interpretative Design Company’ on behalf of the Department of Environment on 16 May 2016 are a shameful slur on the memory of our Kokoda veterans. The panels are a not-so-subtle attempt to whitewash the history of the Kokoda campaign.through the prism of political correctness.

There does not appear to have been any consultation between the Department of Environment and the custodians of our military history i.e. the Australian War Memorial; or representative bodies of our veterans such as the Returned Services League of Australia. This is evident in the following observations:

[Read more…]

Official Launch of the Sirinumu Dam Women’s Association

We were proud to host the official launch of the Sirinumu Dam Women’s Association at our Network Kokoda Community Learning Centre on 14 April 2016.

This dynamic group is led by Mrs Kila Jonah, one of the most inspirational women I have met over my 26 year involvement in PNG – humble, intelligent and strong – as you can see from her speech below.

The official guests at the opening included:

  1. The Hon Kila Haoda:                       Governor of Central Province
  2. The Hon Peter Namea Isoaimo:    Member for Kairuku Hiri
  3. The Hon Charlie Lynn OL:             Chairman, Network Kokoda PNG
  4. Mr Ogi David:                                    President, Koiari Local Level Government
  5. Mr Avana Korohi:                             Ward 11 Councillor
  6. Mr Geno Waruna:                             Ward 12 Councillor
  7. Mr Kareki Karimu:                            Ward 13 Councillor
  8. Mrs Veva Tom:                                   Member for Central Province Womens Representative
  9. Mrs Mauri Bavea:                              President, Rigo Women in Agriculture
  10. Pastor Oscar:                                      Nafoka SDA Church
  11. Rev Avoa Homoka:                           Bovedabu United Church
  12. Miss Nancy Kwarame:                     Manager for Community Services – PNG Power
  13. Warren Bartlett:                                Sogeri Enterprises
  14. Oggie Erehe:                                       Network Kokoda PNG

Traditional dances were conducted by student groups from local high schools at Sogeri. [Read more…]

Agriculture – the gateway to community development

Kokoda Anzac 2011 032One of the major challenges we have faced over the years is getting individuals and clans to work together.  This is understandable in a country where more than 80 per cent of the population rely on subsistence agriculture and have limited educational opportunities.

Informal research at the boarding schools we support on the Sogeri Plateau has revealed that students do not regard agriculture as a preferred subject – they see it as a subsistence necessity. They prefer subjects that will enhance their employment opportunities in Port Moresby.

A major impediment to agricultural development in remote villages along the Kokoda Trail is limited access to markets. When we first became engaged with the area in the early 1990s Milne Bay Air since rebadged to Airlines PNG) used to operate a thrice weekly ‘milk-run’ between Port Moresby-Menari-Efogi-Kagi-Kokoda to transport local produce to markets in the nation’s capital. Village airfields were crowded with people and produce on the scheduled flight days.

Mining and gas developments over the past decade have diverted PNG airlines towards meeting the more lucrative demands of resource industries.  Kokoda Trail villagers have therefore reverted to subsistence crops to meet the needs of their local clans.

The Sogeri area used to be the food bowl for our troops in Port Moresby during the war. It has great potential to meet a greater share of the increasing demand in the National Capital tomorrow if local communities can be encouraged to work together. [Read more…]

Kokoda Day – Time for Recognition

‘Kokoda Day’ could be a source of intense pride for all Papua New Guineans. It has the potential to emulate the commemorative status of Anzac Day in Australia. It will also provide a strong incentive for Australians to visit PNG for the commemoration and all it represents. But more importantly it provides a status of recognition for the Papua and New Guinea wartime carriers – the unsung heroes of the campaigns they supported throughout Papua and New Guinea.

Australia was unprepared for the war in the Pacific in 1942.  Our faith in ‘great and powerful friends’ coming to our aid in the event of Japan entering the war was shattered with the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse near Singapore on 10 December 1941 and the secret deal struck by UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt for American aid to be directed to the European theatre of operations at the expense of the South West Pacific.

The defence of Australia and its mandated territory of Papua and New Guinea was dependent on untrained militia forces and a small band of New Guinea Rifles as our experienced AIF units were returning from Europe to meet the new threat. [Read more…]

What’s in a Sleeping Bag?

Anybody who has ever had to sleep in the bush when wet will attest to the value of a sleeping bag.

In the early days of trekking Adventure Kokoda had to rely on companies with a specialised knowledge of PNG to arrange for their logistic support. It was a trust exercise with a high degree of risk.

We had a group at Templeton’s Crossing when we were hit by a storm as we were setting up camp – there were no shelters in those days. When I checked on our PNG guides and carriers I found they were cutting palm leaves to lay across the mud and use as mattresses. I was advised that they were not issued with sleeping bags or mats. I was obviously not happy with this arrangement.

When I brought this to the attention of my agent after I returned to Australia I was advised that they didn’t issue sleeping bags to PNG guides because ‘they pinch them’!

I then ditched the agent and established a partnership with Warren Bartlett at the Sogeri Lodge to provide for our logistic support. We then purchased 200 sleeping bags and mats to issue to our guides and carriers.  These are issued to them at the start of each trek and returned at the finish. They are then washed, dried and stored for the next trek. [Read more…]

Time to think about the 75th Anniversary of the Kokoda Campaign

“With the economic boom attracting increasing numbers of visitors to Port Moresby, Owers Corner has an opportunity to be the most visited tourist attraction for the nation’s capital because of its historical significance.”

The 75th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign will be commemorated in 2017.  It will be the last significant anniversary with surviving veterans who are now in their early 90s.  It will be the last hurrah for a significant commitment to the Kokoda campaign by the Australian Government.

A Ministerial Statement issued by the Hon Stuart Robert indicates that the Department of Veterans Affairs does not have any plans to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign – click here for details 

Our surviving Kokoda veterans deserve better.

The following opportunities are available as a 75th anniversary initiative for this historic occassion:

  • Develop a Master Interpretative Plan to honour the military heritage of the Kokoda campaign;
  • Develop a Military Historical – Koiari Cultural Centre at Owers Corner
  • Develop a ‘Historical Military and Cultural Precinct’ on the Kokoda Plateau

[Read more…]

Kokoda: The Gateway for a Wartime Tourism Industry in PNG

Kokoda Anzac 2011 032The most relevant guide to the potential of a wartime tourism industry in PNG 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.

In just two years’ time (2017) Australia and Papua New Guinea will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign. This will be a historic occasion because it will be the ‘last parade’ for surviving veterans.

Two of the key objectives we wished to achieve when we proposed the establishment of a management authority for the Kokoda Trail in 2002 were:

  1. to establish ‘Kokoda’ as a model for a wartime tourism industry in PNG; and
  2. to ensure villagers along the trail received shared benefits from the emerging Kokoda trekking industry.

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 ‘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. [Read more…]

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…]