OWERS CORNER: How to convert a memorial junkyard into PNGs No 1 Tourism Asset

Air Niugini’s Paradise magazine describes a visit to Ower’s Corner, where ‘the road the road becomes a footpath that connects the start of the Kokoda Trail . . . just an hour and a half from downtown Port Moresby’.

Visitors who make the journey are bound to be disappointed. Rather than looking down on a traditional village with interpretive signage, maps and a local market they are confronted with memorial graffiti.

An abandoned campsite acts as a reminder of poor planning and consultation with local landowners.

A purple Ranger’s Hut with a galvanised iron roof stands as a bureaucratic monument to impeded vision. Four large steel girders representing some sort of monument clash with the spectacular vista of the Owen Stanley Rangers beyond. A lone 25-pounder gun under an iron roof without interpretation has been plonked in the centre of the area. Nearby are three panels with a politically correct version interpretation of the Kokoda campaign.

And to round it off Aid funded power poles now encircle the area as a final ‘up you’ to the surrounding environment.

A few locals sit around with some bilums, warm coca-cola and packets of twisties for sale. Visitors cast a cursory eye over their wares but rarely buy anything – they bring their own drinks and snacks and most have already brought bilums from the markets in Port Moresby.

To say they are underwhelmed when they depart is an understatement.

It is obvious that the $50 million spent by the Australian Government on the Kokoda Initiative has not had any impact on improving the livelihoods of the local Owers Corner community.

For reasons known only to Government officials Owers Corner doesn’t rate and the local community doesn’t matter.

But it doesn’t take too much imagination to realise the potential of the area.

Imagine the feeling among visitors on a mini-bus as it crested the top of the ridge at Owers Corner to reveal a gathering of traditional Koiari tree houses in the foreground of the majestic Owen Stanley Ranges.

Imagine an imposing granite wall with images of soldiers and ‘fuzzy-wuzzy angels’ with a memorial stone where visitors could lay a wreath or a poppy – and no need to bring them with you as they can be purchased from a stall build from ‘bush material’ in the local market. They could also buy a PNG brewed coffee and scone from an adjacent stall or cold drinks from their solar powered fridge. Traditional bilums with ‘Kokoda Trail – Owers Corner’ screened on them would be popular as would carved trekking poles. Visitors could observe these being made by locals sitting around their stalls.

Imagine a small museum with restored weapons – a .303 rifle; a bren gun, an Owen gun, a 3” mortar, M36 hand grenades, bayonets, mess tins, soldiers uniforms, pictures, etc adjacent to the 25 pounder gun. These could be obtained on loan from the Australian War Memorial as Papua was Australian territory in 1942 so it would be within the charter of the AWM to support it.

Imagine interpretive signs and maps that would provide visitors with an accurate historical understanding of the Kokoda campaign, the Koiari people and the local flora and fauna.

Imagine a traditional gateway through which trekkers pass to the beat of kundu drums as they depart from or arrive at Owers Corner – one that symbolises the arrival or departure of ground sacred to our shared wartime heritage with PNG.

Imagine a signpost that listed all the significant battlesites and villagers with the distances from Owers Corner.

Imagine having the opportunity to trek down to the Goldie River for a bar-b-que – or stay overnight in traditional village huts – or trek to Imita Ridge and back.

Such facilities and opportunities would warrant an entry fee of K15 per person.

Imagine how happy the Owers Corner community would be with that!

Adventure Kokoda Good2Give $10,000 to villagers along the trail

Adventure Kokoda is proud to announce a $10,000 (K25,000) donation to Network Kokoda to support our ongoing philanthropic work along the Kokoda Trail. This donation has been made possible through the support of those great Australians who chose to trek with us in 2018 – tenk yu tru olgeta!

We have also been advised that Network Kokoda has been approved as an authorised charity by Good2Give  – this means that if you work for any of the companies listed below you can make a small tax-deductable donation from your pay and the company will forward it directly to Network Kokoda – to sign in all you have to do is click here.

You might also like to contact the manager in charge of their workplace charities to see if they will seek donations from their employees as many will have a link to PNG or veterans who fought in the War in the Pacific.

If you don’t belong to one of the listed companies you can click on the Donate button on our Network Kokoda website.

This year we completed the TB Isolation Ward at the Popondetta Hospital in partnership with the Oro Development Project as well as a Commercial Fish Farm at the Iaowari High School in partnership with Richmond Rotary. We have also established a partnership with the PNG MiBank to run financial literacy classes for the women’s groups on the Sogeri Plateau. We have also established a partnership with the PNG Ginigoada Foundation to run classes for women in literacy, sewing, cooking and village agriculture. All the classes are conducted in the Womens’ Learning Centre we built next door to the Sogeri Lodge.

We have also been successful in obtaining approval from the Colombo Plan to fund 25 academics and students from the University of Western Sydney to be deployed to Iaowari High School for two week periods over the next three years.

Over the past 12 months we have evacuated three village families from across the trail for urgent medical treatment at the Pacific International Hospital.

We still have much to do but we need some regular donations to allow us to meet the demands for help from villagers along the trail. If all of our past trekkers were to donate the equivalent cost of a cup of coffee each day we would be able to meet most of these demands.

‘Can you spare us a cuppa Dig?’

(more…)

Wayne Wetherall – Kokoda Spirit Struck Out

A long running defamation case brought against The Hon Charlie Lynn OAM OL and Adventure Kokoda by Wayne Wetherall and his trekking company, Kokoda Spirit, was struck out in the Maroochydore District Court last Friday.

The case involved false claims made by Wetherall and plagiarism of the Adventure Kokoda website by Kokoda Spirit.

The court found that Kokoda Spirit and Wetherall had failed to prosecute their claims for defamation against Adventure Kokoda and Charlie Lynn within a reasonable time.

They had tried to blame their solicitor but the court found that they were to blame as well as the solicitor. In throwing out their claims, the court declined to make a finding that Kokoda Spirit and Wetherall had established reasonable prospects of success in their suits for defamation.

Charlie Lynn and Adventure Kokoda were awarded their costs of the 7 year proceeding to be paid by Wayne Wetherall and Kokoda Spirit.

 

A mother’s perspective of our 2018 Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge . . .

Hi Everyone,

I have put off writing to you, because I don’t know where to start or how to use the right words for what i would like to say.

Thank you so much for your amazing organisation and the opportunities you give people. My dealings with you all were fantastic and you never made me feel silly when I had a million and one questions I needed answered.

I was so lucky to have both of my twins go to Kokoda with you. I was a little nervous sending them both, but that’s just me.

We live 3 & 1/2 hrs from Sydney and i was surprised to have non stop chatter all the way home. they loved every moment of their experience, the good and the bad. They had so many amazing stories to tell and the friendships they have made will be with them forever. Lochie told us about being sick, and how they just had to keep going. The experience has made them appreciate their lives differently. I am extremely blessed to have the children I do, 99% of the time they are wonderful. Jake our youngest has CP and is in a wheel chair and has a communication device, the twins are amazing with Jake. He was so happy to see them on
their return that he burst into tears.

On the Saturday they were asked if they would do it again, both said yes, however Jacinta piped up and said “Not today”. Thank you for making her dream come true, she waited 2 years to be able to apply to do it.

Thank you doesn’t do justice to what you have done for Jacinta and Lochie, you have helped cement their values, qualities and characteristics that are making them into the wonderful young adults they are becoming.

They have both been put in situations since being home, where they have stepped out of their comfort zone to help others.

They both speak so highly of the experience and the people who helped them along the way, it will be something they will never forget.

Thank so so much.
From a very proud and grateful mum,
Mary Ballard

Adventure Kokoda and the RSL Services Clubs Association are very proud of you Mary and we look forward to keeping in touch and monitoring their progress. (more…)

Trip Advisor Ratings for Kokoda Trek Operators

RATING

TREK OPERATOR

EXCELLENT

VERY GOOD

AVERAGE

POOR

1

Adventure Kokoda

242

2

0

0

2

Escape Trekking

54

1

0

0

3

Kokoda Spirit

15

0

0

2

4

No Roads Expeditions

14

0

0

0

5

Kokoda Trekking

13

2

0

0

6

Backtrack Adventures

12

0

0

0

7

Getaway Trekking

12

0

0

1

8

Australian Kokoda Tours

9

0

0

0

9

Kokoda Historical

9

0

0

0

10

South Seas Horizons

7

0

0

0

11

Kokoda Trail Expeditions

4

0

0

0

12

100% Kokoda

2

0

0

0

13

Adventure Bound Tours

2

0

0

0

14

Adventure Professionals

2

0

0

0

15

Kokoda Campaign Tours

2

0

0

0

16

Our Spirit

2

0

0

0

17

Aurora Adventures

1

0

0

0

18

Epic Kokoda Adventures

1

0

0

0

19

Free Spirit Adventures

1

0

0

0

20

Heritage Treks

1

0

0

0

21

Investa Treks

1

0

0

0

22

Kokoda Brothers

1

0

0

0

23

Kokoda Courage

1

0

0

0

24

Kokoda Track Expeditions

1

0

0

0

25

Kokoda Trail Bushwalking

1

0

0

0

26

Peregrine Adventures

1

0

0

0

27

PNG Trekking Adventures

1

0

0

0

28

Unforgettable Adventures

1

0

0

0

Click here to review Trip Advisor Reports

Kokoda: Time to end the hijack

Executive Summary

The wartime heritage of the Kokoda Trail has been hijacked by Australian officials from Environment, Foreign Affairs and Trade.

This is evident in the fact that after 10 years and the expenditure of more than $50 million of taxpayer funds on their ‘Kokoda Initiative’ there is still no Master Plan to identify, protect, honour and interpret the wartime history of the Kokoda campaign.

Evidence now suggests the term ‘Kokoda Initiative’ is a misnomer and has been used to give relevance to consultants’ reports; compliant NGOs; and AusAID projects that would otherwise be unremarkable.

The recent departure of the PNG CEO of the Kokoda Track Authority is the last action in a chain of events that led to a complete collapse of the management system put in place by Australian officials from Environment-DFAT from 2008-2012.

Responsibility for the Kokoda Trail should now be transferred from DFAT to DVA – which is already responsible for our WW1 heritage at Gallipoli and the Western Front – and a new Joint Understanding should be developed with PNG to honour our shared wartime history at Kokoda and beyond.

The current ‘Kokoda Initiative’ should be rebadged as the ‘Owen Stanley Initiative’ to reflect their role in assisting PNG to develop a case for a World Heritage listing for the area.

Background

Our Kokoda heritage lay dormant in the jungles of Papua New Guinea for five decades until Paul Keating became the first Prime Minister to visit the site on the 50th anniversary of the campaign.

Apart from a few memorial plaques installed during pilgrimages by veterans over the years there was nothing to commemorate the sacrifice of the campaign which now rivals Gallipoli in our national folklore.

‘On this day through all those years we have repeated the words “Lest we forget” said Keating at Bomana War Cemetery on 25 April 1992.

‘And we have not forgotten.

‘The message has always been – remember their bravery and sacrifice, their willingness to lay down their lives for their country, and for their friends.

 ‘On the Kokoda Trail it was again the young and inexperienced militia men – this time of the 39th and 53rd battalions – later reinforced with soldiers of the 7th Division, who fought gallantly – and eventually won.

‘When it seemed that Papua New Guinea would fall, when it seemed it would be another Singapore, another Rabaul, these troops gallantly held out and finally drove the enemy back to the sea.

‘These were the heroic days of Australia’s history.’

Unfortunately Keating failed to match his rhetoric with action to ensure our future generations do not forget. No plans to protect the integrity of our shared wartime heritage across the Kokoda Trail were initiated and no interpretive memorials were dedicated.

It took another 10 years before Prime Minister John Howard converted Keating’s words into deeds by commissioning a solemn interpretive memorial at the Isurava Battlesite.

Since then the Kokoda campaign has been largely forgotten.

The rot began in 2006 when gold was discovered under the southern section of the trail. A proposal to mine the area created a backlash that saw the Australian Government rush into a ‘Joint Understanding’ with the PNG Government to develop a case for a World Heritage listing for the Owen Stanley Ranges.

The Joint Understanding created a second gold-rush – this time by government consultants to advise the Department of Environment of the challenges and opportunities in a new horizon across the Owen Stanley Ranges.

While ‘Kokoda’ was recognised as the gateway to their new horizon it presented a dilemma for the ‘envirocrats’ within the Department because of their ideological opposition to commemoration and the fact that wartime heritage is not a consideration for a World Heritage listing. Nevertheless it was recognised that the use of the word ‘Kokoda’ had more marketing appeal than ‘Owen Stanley Ranges’. ‘Kokoda’ was therefore hijacked to give resonance to Aid type projects that would otherwise be unremarkable.

The Kokoda Trail was soon redefined as the ‘Kokoda Corridor’ which then included national parks; Port Moresby’s water supply at Sirinumu Dam in Central Province; a 90 kilometre stretch of road from Kokoda to Popondetta; and two villages on the North Coast of Oro Province. The redefinition would dilute the military historical significance of the Kokoda Trail and provide a smorgasbord of opportunity for envirocrats and consultants in their loop.

Queries regarding the wartime heritage of the Kokoda campaign across the trail would be met with a patronising sermon about the ‘bigger picture’. Compliant media spin-doctors would be engaged to promote their propaganda and ward off any criticism.

Gratuitous taxpayer Aid funding would be used as a pacifier for local communities along the trail. How could they complain about new schools and health centres in their villages – even if they didn’t ask for them?  Any local complaints about the lack of school supplies and medicine could be easily handled by their media spin-doctors.

Australian officials embedded in PNG Government departments linked to Kokoda would provide a steady flow of intelligence back to Canberra. These emissaries soon learned that their PNG counterparts will sign off on any initiative with an Aid dollar attached to it. Canberra could then claim that their agenda was in line with ‘what PNG wanted’. Others would say ‘Yeah, sure!’ (more…)

Desecration of Owers Corner by DFAT ‘Kokoda Initiative’ now complete

The desecration of our military heritage at Owers Corner by DFAT is now complete with the recent installation of electricity poles around the unauthorised memorial graffiti on the site.

Owers Corner, located at the end of the 40 km road from Port Moresby, is the gateway to the Kokoda Trail. The hosting of APEC by the PNG Government next month provided a unique opportunity for the construction of a Kokoda Trail Visitors Centre to honour and interpret the historical significance of the place and to showcase the culture of the Koiari landowners.

It would have been a major attraction for the thousands of APEC delegates visiting PNG and would quickly become the country’s most popular tourism destination. It would have created a sustainable economic future for the Koiari people living on the Sogeri plateau.

But it was not to be because Australian envirocrats embedded in the PNG ‘Kokoda Initiative’ seem to be ideologically opposed to commemorating our wartime heritage. They will argue this is not the case but the facts suggest otherwise.

Australian Government officials from Environment and DFAT have been insitu for 10 years and have burned through more that $60 million in taxpayer funded aid. The management system they put in place for the Kokoda Trail has collapsed to such an extent the PNG Minister for Environment and Conservation had to establish his own ‘Kokoda Initiative Ministerial Committee’ to try and arrest the decline. Unfortunately he seemed to have been poorly advised by the Australian’s embedded in his Department and Prime Minister Peter O’Neill had to then call for a review to try and stop the rot. (more…)

END OF AN ERA OF KOKODA MISMANAGEMENT

Not a single management protocol was put in place by the Australian CEO during his three year tenure. There was no database; no campsite booking system; no trek itinerary management system; no campsite development program; no trail maintenance plan; no effective ranger system; or any development programs to assist local villagers in value-adding to the emerging industry.

The recent departure of the PNG CEO from the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) brings an end to a sorry saga of Australian mismanagement along the Kokoda Trail.

Prior to the arrival of Australian officials in 2008 the emerging Kokoda trekking industry was managed by Warren Bartlett, a former Kiap on a PNG salary of $12,500. During his tenure trekker numbers grew from 365 in 2002 to 5621 in 2008 – a massive increase of 1,440%. Bartlett had no staff but was assisted by a part-time local secretary.

Under a ‘Joint’ Understanding signed by the Australian and PNG Governments in 2008 Bartlett was replaced by an Australian CEO on an eye-watering six-figure salary by the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA).  He was provided with a 10-fold increase in staff numbers and a multi-million dollar budget.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), which has responsibility for our WW1 heritage at Gallipoli and the Western Front in Europe, was not included in the ‘Joint’ Understanding apart from the allocation of $1 million for unspecified purposes. There is no evidence of any of this money being allocated to the development of a Master Plan to protect and interpret our military heritage along the trail.

It is also remains unclear why DVA are responsible for our WW1 military heritage at Gallipoli and Environment/DFAT are responsible for our WW11 heritage at Kokoda.

After a decade insitu by DEWHA the results speak for themselves. Despite a conga-line of Australian environmental consultants and more than $60 million of taxpayers funds trekker numbers declined by 36% from 5621 in 2008 to 3597 in 2012. (more…)

Network Kokoda banks on PNGs MiBank

Network Kokoda has established a Memo of Understanding with PNGs MiBank to provide financial literacy training for the local community at our Sogeri Women’s Learning Centre.

MiBank is a grassroots financial institution licensed by the Bank of Papua New Guinea (BPNG) to provide a savings opportunity for subsistence villagers and small business people in the informal economy.

Our initial financial literacy course involved 24 women and two young men from Sogeri, Vesilogo, Owers Corner, Crystal Rapids and Sirinumu village areas.

Subjects covered included:

  • Savings: You can do it
  • Savings: What are they and why save?
  • Savings: How to set goals
  • Budgeting: Using money wisely
  • Importance of budgeting
  • How to make a budget
  • Mobile Banking: Understanding the benefits of MiCash

The course was facilitated by Mr Oggie Erehe, our Field Manager for Network Kokoda, and conducted under the auspices of Genevieve Daniels and Steve Ereman. Genevieve is the Manager – Digital Financial Services for MiBank. (more…)

Kokoda Day: A Tribute to Papua New Guinea’s Unsung Heroes

 

The bleached bones of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of nameless PNG wartime carriers lie where they fell in unknown locations in swamps, jungles and formidable mountain ranges during the New Guinea campaigns. To this day we don’t know who they were. We don’t know where they came from. We don’t know where they died. There is no record of their existence. No medals were ever struck to acknowledge their service towards the war effort.

It’s time to honour their sacrifice by providing a Spirit Haus for their souls and a day to commemorate their sacrifice.

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.

Resources were so scarce in New Guinea that young males were forcibly recruited to support the war effort[i].  Many of these men from remote mountain villagers had no idea of the war and were conscripted against their will.  They were told that men from Japan were the enemy.  For many of these men other villagers living in remote tribal lands were also considered ‘enemy’.  One can only imagine the fear and uncertainty they felt as they were forcibly marched away from their families and clans to fight in ‘our’ war against Japan[ii].

It has been estimated that some 10,000 PNG nationals served as Carriers in support of the Australians during the Kokoda campaign in 1942. A further 42,000 are estimated to have been indentured to support Australian troops in the Milne Bay and the Buna/Gona campaigns.  They were paid 10 shillings per month.

The issue of compensation remains a vexed issue more than 70 years after the war.  While the Australian government paid some compensation for property damage to PNG nationals between 1944 and 1957 the wartime carriers were excluded from receiving any such benefits under the prevailing legislation. In 1980 they were also deemed to be ineligible for the PNG War Gratuity Scheme for ex-Servicemen.

And they were deemed to be ineligible for a medal.  In the eyes of post-war bureaucrats they were both nameless and invisible. (more…)