Government apathy towards Kokoda

When we first submitted a proposal for the Kokoda Trail to be proclaimed as a National Memorial Park in 1992 and included some suggestions as to what could be done to develop it is such a way that future trekkers would be able to appreciate the historical significance of the various battlesites we thought it would be readily embraced by the Federal Government.

 Unfortunately we had not reckoned on the limitations of Ministers without leadership or vision or the negative influence of  their departmental bureaucrats.  The following extracts from proposals we have submitted over the decade between the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the Kokoda campaign provides an insight into their indifference towards the Kokoda Trail and everything it represents:

4 November 1992
‘While the proposals you have outlined in your letter of 25 August (1992) to the Prime Minister have undoubted merit, I can give no undertaking that anything of that nature would fall within the scope of the commemorative measures now under consideration’.
The Hon Ben Humphreys MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs

22 February 1995
‘The Government’s philosophy is to commemorate and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War 11 with activities here in Australia. The only specific events relating to ‘Australia Remembers’ planned for overseas are three small pilgrimages of Australian veterans.’
The Hon Con Sciacca MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs

24 June 1997
“As a result it is not possible to award the Civilian Service Medal to the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’ at this distance in time.’
The Hon David Jull MP
Minister for Administrative Services

10 November 1997
‘Your suggestion to form a small working group has merit.  However, I do not recommend proceeding in this way at this time.’
The Hon Bruce Scott MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs

11 December 2000
‘Your proposal to develop the Trail is unfortunately outside the scope of the Australian aid program.”
Senator Kay Patterson
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs

7 December 2000
‘With these limitations in mind, I regret I am unable to offer any prospect of achieving the all-of-government approach you seek in the time frame you propose.’
The Hon Bruce Scott MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs (more…)

The Kokoda Trail:  Official Naming Rights

Ownership of the naming rights for the Kokoda Trail has been contested in Australia in recent years.

  • Do they belong to the nation which retains sovereign ownership of the land between Owers Corner and Kokoda i.e. Papua New Guinea?

  • Or to the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the 10 Australian Battalions who were awarded the official battle honour ‘Kokoda Trail’?

  • Or to the custodians of political correctness amongst the Australian commentariat who dislike the name ‘trail’ because of its American connotation?

Over the past decade almost 45,000 Australians have trekked across the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea. Most trekkers are motivated by the wartime history of the Kokoda campaign. This this has led to a range of books and television stories on the subject. It has also led to some extensive debate about the official name of the trail.

Contemporary debate over the name evolved after former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating kissed the ground at Kokoda on the 50th anniversary of the campaign in April 1992. This was accompanied by much ‘talkback’ noise about ‘trail’ being an American term and ‘track’ being the language of the Australian bush (ignoring the fact that our bush is criss-crossed with fire-trails).  This suited Keating’s agenda for an Australian republic at the time.

The debate suited those in the Australian commentariat who harboured a strong anti-American bias over their engagement in Iraq around the time of the 60th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign. As most of the commentariat had never served in the regular armed forces they could be excused for not appreciating the esprit de corps associated with a battle honour. This, however, does not excuse them for ambushing a name that doesn’t reflect their political bias.

‘Kokoda Track’ has since emerged as the politically correct term in Australia in spite of the fact that the battle honour ‘Kokoda Trail’ was awarded to the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the 10 Australian battalions who fought in the Kokoda campaign and the name gazetted by the traditional owners of the land in 1972 i.e. the Government of Papua New Guinea. (more…)

Kokoda Conspiracy: World Heritage – Military Heritage?

In the world of commerce a 46 percent drop in profit would lead to serious analysis of cause and effect. Volatile AGMs would see Directors seeking to reassure shareholders of strategies to arrest the decline.

This is in stark contrast to Government which is unaccountable for results because of the craft of its practitioners and the complexity of its bureaucratic machinery.

Since Australian Environment officials assumed control of the Kokoda trekking industry in 2009 trekker numbers have declined by almost 50 percent from 5621 in 2008 to 3033 in 2018 – despite an injection of more than $50 million of Aid funding.

The official response to the decline inevitably refers to an aircraft crash in 2009 and a couple of deaths around the same period. The reality today is that whenever the scene of the crash-site is pointed out to trekkers the usual response is ‘what crash?’

Prior to the discovery of the $3billion Kodu gold and copper deposit on the southern slopes of the Kokoda Trail near Mt Bini there was no interest in the area or its people from either the PNG or Australian Governments.  The appearance of bulldozers from Frontier Resources in 2006 changed that. (more…)

KOKODA: Response to Class 4 Walking Trails Proposal

 

Hidden away in this newsletter, written by the Australian CEO assigned to the Kokoda Track Authority by the Department of Environment in Canberra, is the following innocuous paragraph:

Following are the Australian Parks and Wildlife Services specifications for Class 4 walking tracks and our response to each one.

Overview:
Opportunity for visitors with advanced outdoor knowledge to find their own way along often indistinct tracks in remote areas. Users can expect frequent opportunities for solitude with few encounters with others.
Response: This opportunity exists for eco- trekkers to use the Kapa Kapa track across the Owen Stanley Ranges to the east of the Kokoda Trail. Kokoda is not about ‘solitude’ and ‘few encounters’. It is a military historical pilgrimage that should not be restricted to elite bushwalking purists. (more…)

C’mon – show us your tat’s

Cooeee troops,

As we kick off our 2019 Kokoda trekking season it’s time to show us your tat’s.

The best 5 tat’s will receive a bronze Kokoda lapel pin – send them through to Tracie at tracie@kokodatreks.com.au

Nicola Gage: ‘Ego-tok’ for her ‘big walk’ across the Kokoda Trail

‘The porters are the unsung heroes of this trip. They cook all our meals, carry our belongings, pitch our tents and sing us songs’  
so gushed ABC journalist, Nicola Gage, as she recounted her trek across the Kokoda Trail in the recent Air Niugini inflight magazine (‘The big walk’ – Jan-Feb 2019).

Apart from this observation it was difficult to ascertain her motive for her ‘big walk’.

It wasn’t the history of the Kokoda campaign as it only received scant mention.

Nor was it the ‘fascinating cultural heritage’ of the Koiari and Orokaiva people along the trail as neither tribal group was acknowledged.

It couldn’t have been the desire to go where few had been as some 50,000 Australians had already beaten a fairly well-worn path over the trail before her.

It didn’t appear to be an attempt to validate any facts. For example the Kokoda Trail is not a 96 kilometre journey as described by Nicola – it is a 138 kilometre pilgrimage. Her estimate of 5000 trekkers a year crossing the trail was a big stretch. Since the Australian Government assumed control of the Kokoda trekking industry in 2009 trekker numbers have declined by 43 percent – a little more than 3000 now trek across it each year.

And it certainly wasn’t for the economic wellbeing of the porters she gushed over. (more…)

Marketing Kokoda’s Wartime Heritage

PNG has two choices for wartime tourism – it can continue to operate as a Third World destination with Third World management systems and Third World campsite facilities – or it can develop a marketing strategy aimed towards becoming the wartime destination of choice for First World international trekkers.

Executive Summary

The CEO of PNG Tourism requested feedback from Kokoda trek operators on issues discussed at a forum conducted by the Kokoda Track Authority in Brisbane on 28 November 2018.

One of the key topics covered at the forum was the subject of marketing Kokoda.

This response is based on the collective views of Adventure Kokoda trek leaders who have a combined total of 130 years professional army experience and who have led more than 520 expeditions across the trail over the past 28 years.

The response examines the potential of a wartime tourism industry based on the development of a successful management model for the Kokoda Trail. It examines the factors relevant to the Kokoda trekking industry over the past decade and suggests a marketing strategy based on Anzac Day, Kokoda Day, the development of Owers Corner, a Military Heritage Master Plan; and social media.

The response concludes that PNG can continue to operate as a Third World tourism destination with Third World management systems and Third World campsites/toilets – or it can develop a marketing strategy to become the wartime destination of choice for First World international trekkers.

It’s not about money – Kokoda is already sustainable. It’s not about meetings, forums and workshops – nothing has been achieved from these for more than a decade. It’s about vision, understanding, leadership and commitment. (more…)

Network Kokoda secures first Colombo Plan project for PNG in partnership with WSU and DFAT

Network Kokoda is proud to announce 20 scholarships for students from Western Sydney University (WSU) to allow them to participate in a 12 day study program at the Iaowari High School on the Sogeri Plateau in Papua New Guinea.

The scholarship program is a collaborative project in partnership with the Hawkesbury Campus of Western Sydney University, Richmond Rotary, Network Kokoda and DFAT. It is being funded by the Australian Government’s new Colombo Plan and is the first project of its kind in Papua New Guinea under the plan.

The scholarship provides WSU students from all disciplines with the opportunity to travel to PNG and will showcase and highlight our shared wartime history and the legacy of our veterans.  Students will connect with a diverse group of local organisations including Network Kokoda, Sogeri Community Resource Centre and Iarowari High School and work on local projects aligned to their area of interest and/or discipline for credit. These activities will include:

  • Australian World War 2 history including a day trek on the Kokoda Trail and an overnight camp on Goldie River
  • Cultural immersion activities, ‘Tok Pisin’ language lessons and community development workshops
  • Site tour of Varirata National Park for bird watching and war monuments
  • Week long internship/project with local partners: Sogeri Community Resource Centre, Iarowari High School and Network Kokoda

This new partnership is the culmination of a long association between Network Kokoda and Iaowari High School.

Our association with the school started with a chance meeting with a group of female teachers at the school in early 2010.  They had all studied agriculture but the subject was not taught at the school because they could not secure their gardens and their produce ‘kept going missing’ soon after the seedlings had matured. (more…)

Shame on the Australian Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA)

 ‘Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte’ wrote Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher, mathematician and physicist, in 1657. ‘I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter’ is the English translation

Pascal was trying to explain that his letter was longer than it needed to be, because he hadn’t worked out the correct answer.

The Kokoda Tour Operators Association used a similar approach in their latest 620 word diatribe to justify the ongoing exploitation of local PNG porters they engage.

Buried amongst a plethora of motherhood statements is the admission that they will continue to exploit their porters by overloading them.

What part of the fact that a 22.5 kg backpack is too heavy for porters to have to lug across difficult, muddy, mountainous terrain doesn’t the KTOA get?

The weight of 22.5 kg was imposed by an Australian bureaucrat under pressure from Australian trek operators who wanted to minimise their costs by having to employ fewer porters. The bureaucrat who made the decision had never trekked Kokoda and would have had difficulty lifting his 22.5 kg case onto aircraft luggage scales at any check-In counter.

The KTOA has a long history of lobbying – some would say bullying – the PNG Kokoda Track Authority (KTA).

At a PNG Tour Operators Forum in Port Moresby on 8 November 2017, sixty-three (63) PNG delegates representing Provincial and Local Level Government, landowners, trek operators and porters voted unanimously to reduce the maximum weight to 18 kg.

Three (3) KTA management officials, the CEO, the Operations Officer and the President of the PNG Guides and Porters Association were tasked with presenting the motion to the Australian Tour Operators Forum in Brisbane the following week.

For reasons known only to the KTA team the CEO did not table the motion and the President of the Guides and Porters Association went missing. The Minutes of the forum have never been produced despite numerous requests.

This has all the hallmarks of a cover-up and begs the following questions:

  • Why were the Minutes not tabled nor discussed at the Cairns Forum?
  • Why did the representative of the Porters and Guides Association absent himself from the meeting?
  • Was the motion discussed ‘out of session’ between KTA officials and the Kokoda Tour Operators Association KTOA)? and
  • Why have the Minutes of the Cairns Forum never been released?

Whatever the reason the KTOA was able to get away with the abhorrent practice of overloading their porters for another year despite the fact that one of their porters, who was allegedly overloaded, had died on the trail. According to a preliminary investigation by the Sogeri Police Sergeant, Max Maso: ‘It is evident that the group on this particular trip . . . engaged by . . . (KTOA tour operator) . . . were all overloaded in breach of the Code of Conduct stipulated under this code’.

Over the past year the KTOA has used fake research and dubious comparisons to justify the overloading of their porters in spite of the fact that the maximum weight allowable by both military and civilian authorities on the Kokoda Trail in 1942 was 18 kg.

They have been assisted by the fact that the current management structure put in place by the Australian Government from 2009 – 2012 has collapsed. The system is currently under under administration while a review, ordered by the PNG Prime Minister, is carried out.

Until then local PNG guides and porters will continue to be exploited by KTOA members until a mandated code of practice, with specific minimum standards, is put in place by the management authority – or until the KTOA accepts that the welfare of guides and porters should be in accordance with standards established during the Kokoda campaign in 1942. (more…)

Welfare of Kokoda Trail Guides and Carriers

The welfare of PNG guides and carriers has been a contentious subject for some years however the recent death of a carrier who was allegedly overloaded by an Australian trek operator has brought the issue of their exploitation to to the forefront of the debate.

A recent forum organised by the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) in Brisbane resulted in the CEO of PNG Tourism calling for a response to the issues that were raised – but could not be properly addressed due to agenda/time constraints.

Following is the submission by Adventure Kokoda on the issue of welfare for PNG guides and carriers engaged in the Kokoda Trekking Industry:

Preamble

This response to the draft Minutes of the KTA Forum conducted in Brisbane on 28 November 2018 is based on the collective views of Adventure Kokoda trek leaders who have a combined total of 130 years professional army experience and who have led more than 520 expeditions across the trail over the past 27 years. Our ‘experience’ in protecting the welfare of our local guides and carriers is in line with the conclusions reached by Dr Geoffrey Vernon, Regimental Medical Officer for the 39th Battalion during the Kokoda campaign.

The KTA Forum was conducted at short notice with insufficient time to prepare detailed submissions for discussion. As it transpired it was more of a briefing session. No Notices of Motions were provided, none were moved and the only substantive decision taken was to have another forum in May 2019!

The Minutes of the previous Tour Operators Forum held in Cairns on 14-15 November were not tabled nor discussed in accordance with normal protocols. These minutes have now been outstanding for more than a year and the fact that they have never been produced after trek operators went to considerable expense to attend is indicative of either negligent administration or a cover-up of some sort.

Our Adventure Kokoda response to the forum will be in two parts.

  • Part 1 will address the most important issue that can no longer be postponed because it concerns the welfare protection of the local guides and carriers for the 2019 trekking season..
  • Part 2 will address the other issues presented at the forum and will be submitted early in the New Year.

(more…)