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 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…]

Kokoda Trail still a testing ground

Despite the deaths Australians are drawn to take the challenge, writes Erik Jensen from the Sydney Morning Herald, who has just completed the RSL Services Clubs Kokoda Youth Challenge with Adventure Kokoda .

There are not the words in Koiari to ask about Kokoda’s spirit. That is an Australian construct, and a reasonably modern one: the sort that made Paul Keating bend down and kiss the earth at Kokoda in 1992, that wrote the word ”mateship” on the memorial built there a decade later, and sends almost 6000 Australians down the track each year. [Read more…]

Upgrade for Kokoda fast-tracked

The following article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 5 September 2009:

The Federal Government will spend $1.8 million to speed up safety projects along the historic Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea – less than a month after a light plane crash in the area claimed 13 lives. [Read more…]

Kokoda code on Track

The following article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 2 September, 2009:

The Government of Papua New Guinea will crack down on rogue tour operators on the Kokoda Track who are not paying taxes or taking proper safety percautions. [Read more…]

EXCRUCIATING,gruelling,torturous,gut-wrenching

by Sally McMillan – The Sunday Telegraph

EXCRUCIATING, gruelling, torturous, gut-wrenching …

Trekking the Kokoda Trail is all of the above – and more.

The cloying jungle seeps into you, radiating waves of body heat. The air is fetid, the dense canopy enveloping – at night ink-black.

[Read more…]

Heroism no longer required on Kokoda Track

The following article was written by Mick Ryan of Killara and published in the Sydney Morning Herald on August 20, 2009:

‘Surely I cannot be the only one to come back from the Kokoda Track and wonder what all the fuss is about. I do not dispute the bravery and sacrifice of the fallen, or the significance of the battles fought there. My concern is with the modern trekkers and the mythology being cultivated about what a superhuman feat it is to walk from Owers Corner to Kokoda in peacetime. [Read more…]

Military Heritage at risk on the Kokoda Trail

There is an urgent need for a re-assessment of Australia’s role in the protection of our military heritage along the Kokoda Trail.

The construction of conventional buildings at Owers Corner and steel wire rope swing bridges across creeks at significant battlesites is akin to desecration of the most significant symbol of our involvement in New Guinea during the Pacific War. [Read more…]

Wire bridges on Kokoda=Bureaucratic vandalism!

The Kokoda Track Authority has advised of a plan to construct permanent swing bridges with cables and metal thread with constructed anchor points capable of taking up to 8 – 10 persons at Eora Creek Crossing, (Dump 1) Eora Creek, Efogi River (between Naduri and Efogi 2), Elomi Creek (between Efogi 1 and Efogi 2), Ofi Creek and Goldie River.

I do not know where these ‘plans’ are coming from but I do know they are being done without any consultation at all with the paying customer i.e. the trekker.

The research we have conducted with a significant number of people who have trekked with Adventure Kokoda over the past 18 years indicates that they want the track left alone. They want to trek in the footsteps of our diggers as they did it. They do not want boardwalks and bridges. [Read more…]