Kokoda Trail: 75th Anniversary Funding Proposals

DVA Funds allocated for commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the end of the War in the Pacific should be restricted to honouring and interpreting the sacrifice of our troops in Papua and New Guinea from 1942-45.

As a key principle they should be directed towards projects that will assist in the generation of income earning opportunities for Papua New Guineans based on our shared wartime heritage.

Commemorative projects must remain separate from DFAT aid-funded activities relating to capacity building, mentoring, social mapping, community development etc along the trail. Programs initiated by Australian environmental officials in these areas, under the guise of a ‘Kokoda Initiative’ over the past decade, have been less than successful.

In the lead-up to the 70th Anniversary of the Kokoda campaign in 2012 Network Kokoda invested $70,000 in the development of a ‘Funding Proposal for a Heritage Interpretation Plan and Implementation Strategy for the Kokoda Trail’. Michael Pender of HPA Projects was engaged to develop the report which can be viewed on this link.

The report concluded: 

  • There is little interpretation of ‘Kokoda Trail’ Heritage; Natural. Cultural or Military on the site itself.
  • Most of the current interpretation is by private donors, is in poor condition and presents an ad hoc, incoherent approach to the stories, events, actions and environment.
  • An overall plan for interpretation on the Trail is warranted as one of the key means of safeguarding and protecting the sites heritage.
  • An interpretive strategy focused on the trail’s history, its heritage and its special nature is the first step to enshrining the Kokoda Trail for future generations of both Australians and Papua New Guineans.
  • Deploying permanent interpretation (consistent with an overall plan) will enhance the visitor experience whilst enshrining the environments core values and heritage.
  • Deploying permanent interpretation (consistent with an overall plan) provides (demonstrably) opportunities of sustainable long-term development for the traditional landowners.

The Pender report remains valid in the lead up to the 75th Anniversary of the War in the Pacific in 2020.

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Adventure Kokoda Funding Proposal for a Kokoda Trail Master Heritage Plan

Michael Pender, an accredited Military Heritage Architect from HPA Projects was commissioned by Network Kokoda to develop a Master Plan for the Kokoda Trail for the 70th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign in 2012. It was not accepted by Australian environmental officials who regarded the development of a World Heritage Listing of the Owen Stanley Ranges as a priority.

Since then a 2015 report from an Australian expert on World Heritage listings, Peter Hitchcock AM and Dr Jennifer Gabriel concluded that the Kokoda Trail does not meet the criteria for a World Heritage listing. A copy of their report: ‘World Heritage, Tentative Listed Sites in Papua New Guinea-Report on a Review of the Sites’ can be viewed on this link’.

The conclusions in the following Funding Proposal by Michael Pender remain relevant and should be considered for properly commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of the War in the Pacific in 2020:

  • The Kokoda Trail is an important heritage site for both Australia and Papua New Guinea.
  • The heritage values of the Kokoda Trail are unique and in evidence.
  • As custodian, Papua New Guinea is not able to protect or manage the heritage.
  • The Kokoda Initiative cites tourism as a key driver for development and the aspiration for World Heritage Listing.
  • There is no current Plan for protection/interpretation of the sites Heritage.
  • A trekking industry has developed that clearly demonstrates the key relationship between the sites heritage, tourism and sustainable long-term development.
  • There is little interpretation of ‘Kokoda Trail’ Heritage; Natural, Cultural or Military on the site itself.
  • The majority of current interpretation is by private donors, is in poor condition and presents an adhoc, incoherent approach to the stories, events, actions and environment.
  • An overall plan for interpretation on the Trail is warranted as one of the key means of safeguarding and protecting the sites heritage.
  • An interpretive strategy focused on the trails history, its heritage and its special nature is the first step to enshrining the Kokoda Trail for future generations of both Australians and Papua New Guineans.
  • Deploying permanent interpretation (consistent with an overall plan) will enhance the visitor experience whilst enshrining the environments core values and heritage.
  • Deploying permanent interpretation (consistent with an overall plan) provides (demonstrably) opportunities of sustainable long-term development for the traditional landowners.
  • Cost for development of a Heritage Interpretation Plan is in the order of $250,000.
  • Cost for implementation of the Plan is in the order of $2 Million.
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Chronology of Facts for the Kokoda Trekking Industry

Interest in the Kokoda Trail lay dormant for 50 years until Paul Keating became the first Australian Prime Minister to visit the area in 1992. It was heightened with the opening of a significant memorial by Prime Ministers’ John Howard and Sir Michael Somare on the 60th anniversary of the battle in 2002.

A proposal to mine the southern section of the trail for gold in 2006 saw the Australian Government react by establishing a Joint Agreement with the PNG Government to develop a case for a World Heritage Listing for the Owen Stanley Ranges.

Responsibility was allocated to the Department of Environment as they are responsible for our Register of Overseas Heritage Sites.

The Department of Veterans Affairs was not included in the Joint Understanding as wartime heritage is not a consideration for a World Heritage Listing.

The Australian Department of Environment assumed control of the Kokoda Trail in 2008. Responsibility was transferred to DFAT in 2015.

The Department of Veterans Affairs who are responsible for commemoration and overseas memorials have been sidelined in the bureaucratic process. (more…)

Apology to Kokoda Trail Villagers

In recent years the academics have discovered New Guinea. Grave, plump, portentous, they swarm north in their hundreds each winter, generally finishing somewhere near Goroka in the Eastern Highlands where at times they become so numerous that every bush and stone seems to conceal a lurking bureaucrat or anthropologist.  After a few weeks or a few months they return home to prepare brisk solutions for all the problems which beset the land.  Too often they see New Guinea coldly as an exercise in nation-building to be carried out as quickly as possible, with one eye on the taxpayer at home and the other on some ranting demagogue in the United Nations”.
Keith Wiley. Assignment New Guinea. 1965

Olgeta,

We met 28 years ago when you welcomed me into your villages on my first trek with Alex Rama in 1991. At the time you told me that few people trekked across the trail – probably less than 100 each year – and you only made a few kina selling your vegetables at markets.

The following year Paul Keating put Kokoda on the map when he became the first Australian Prime Minister to visit the plateau since the war. He was moved by the experience and his words resonated throughout Australia.

The first 20 trekkers I led across the trail to honour the 50th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign in 1992 were also moved by the significance of the occasion; the traditional welcomes you provided; and the support of your guides and carriers.

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Network Kokoda – Honouring their Legacy along the Trail

Network Kokoda was established by Adventure Kokoda who specialise in the wartime history of the Kokoda campaign. Their trek leaders have a combined total of 160 years professional military experience ranging from the Vietnam war to Iraq and Afghanistan. They have worn the uniform and are committed to the legacy of our Kokoda military heritage.

Our community projects across the Kokoda Trail continue to improve the livelihoods of the  subsistence villages who live along it.

Our objective, as the major philanthropic organization on the trail today, is to earn the respect of local landowners who are the custodians of land sacred to our shared wartime heritage.

We exist to honour the legacy of our Kokoda veterans the PNG wartime carriers.

As a result we have a different approach to normal civilian NGOs in PNG in that we use our networks to establish local partnerships. We don’t hand out funds on behalf of Government or other well-intentioned individuals as this inevitably leads to an attitude of Aid dependency.

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Kokoda 4 Schools

Adventure Kokoda Leadership Plus 4 Schools Program

  • Synopsis
  • Learning Outcomes
  • Essential Due Diligence Checks for School Principals
  • Why Adventure Kokoda
  • Trek Leaders
  • Testimonials

Synopsis

Our ‘Kokoda Leadership Plus 4 Schools Program‘ is based on the historical adversity of the Kokoda campaign. It’s not about victory or defeat – it’s about the ability of the human spirit to conquer adversity. It’s about understanding that their legacy is our liberty. It’s about the development of personal leadership.

‘If you want to discover new horizons you must be prepared to lose sight of land’. The Dalai Lama

Our Leadership Plus 4 Schools program does just that as students embark on a journey to the ‘land of the unexpected‘ – ‘a land with a thousand cultures’ represented by a ‘Parliament of a Thousand Tribes.

Papua New Guinea is also our closest neighbour; our former mandated territory; our wartime ally; and our fellow Commonwealth of Nations member.

Students will be supported by, work with and learn about two of the 850 cultural groups that comprise the island nation – the Koiari and the Orokaiva.

They will be led by experienced army veterans who have a combined total of 160 years professional military experience in combat zones from Vietnam, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan as well as peacekeeping duties around the globe. Their leadership text-book is based on their own personal experiences – and they know how to handle emergencies in remote areas.

OurKokoda leadership Plus Program’ is based on our collective wartime experiences and the evolution of Australian leadership from Gallipoli, where we fought for Britain and lost – to Kokoda where we fought for Australia, and won!

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Angels still exist in PNG

Early this year we were alerted to the plight of a 14-year old Kokoda schoolgirl who needed a a lifesaving heart operation – one that had to be performed overseas due to the medical complexity of her condition.

‘Our daughter’s health is our priority and the further delay of her operation has been a concern for us which is becoming desperate, thereby resulting in our plea for your assistance’ wrote Mrs Doreen Dumu, a nurse at the Kokoda Hospital on 29 January 2019.

Her daughter, Freda, has a ‘tetralogy Fallot‘ which is a serious congenital heart defect. The surgery she requires is not available in PNG and the cost of the operation and rehabilitation in Australia was in excess of $100,000.

We contacted the PNG Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) and suggested that they get every trek operator to submit the name and contact details of each of the trekkers they would be leading across the trail during the Anzac period – a practice that should have been put in place a decade ago to capture the contact details of the 50,000 Australians who have trekked Kokoda since then. Unfortunately numerous requests to establish such a database for fundraising purposes over the years have been ignored.

Their refusal to assist Freda was perplexing in view of an earlier decision by their Acting CEO to ‘donate’ $150,000 to an Australian NGO to hand-out as ‘educational supplements‘ to local villagers on and beyond the Kokoda Trail. Calls for those funds to be reimbursed have been ignored.

We also sought assistance from a close friend and supporter, Jeff Hudson, a Director of the Children’s First Foundation. Jeff worked tirelessly to help ‘create the miracle‘ for Freda but as it transpired it was beyond their resources.

We then tried Rotary Oceana Medical Aid for Children (ROMAC). They were also keen to assist but there seemed to be an issue with Children’s Hospitals in NSW accepting patients from the Pacific.

We wrote to the Minister for Health to see if he could check it out on our behalf but didn’t receive a response.

We also arranged for Emily Kleing from the Oro Community Development Project to assist us with any liaison necessary as she is now residing in Port Moresby, We had previously worked with Emily to help build a TB Isolation Ward at the Popondetta Hospital,

We then published a Facebook post to ‘help reverse the death sentence for a 14 year-old Kokoda schoolgirl’ and invited trekkers to contact the KTA to support our fundraising efforts but they continued to ignore her plight.

Just as we neared the edge of desperation an ‘Angel’ emerged from PNG:

Dear Charlie,
I am so very pleased to inform you that Pastor Dr Kirk head of  our Paediatric cardiology partners “ For Hearts and Souls” will be organizing free surgery for Freda in San Antonio, Texas USA.!! 
Dr Kirk and team have successfully provided minimal invasive approach to repairing congenital heart defect for 13 PNG children at our PIH cath lab and arranged treatment for 2 very complicated children at the Mayo clinic in the US. 
Freda‘s family prayers ensured  that I read your post on FB ( I don’t do FB regularly anymore) and was able to contact Dr Kirk before he and his team left  Moresby this afternoon, upon  completion of their second mission at PIH. 
We will contact the patient and you once we receive more information from US. 
I trust the Kokoda track foundation will be able support the travel expenses for the girl and a guardian.  
FB has received bad press recently for invasion if privacy and manipulations etc but I am glad it connected us to help this girl  and hopefully save her life!
God bless
Dr Amyna

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The Long Green March through our Kokoda Heritage

The long Green march through our Kokoda Heritage began when responsibility for the Kokoda Trail was allocated to the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) in 2008.

Since I wrote this letter to the First Assistant Secretary of DEWHA in 2009 trekker numbers have declined by 46% from 5621 in 2008 to 3033 in 2018 despite the expenditure of more than $50 million of taxpayers funds – not one of the issues we raised (apart from the upgrading of the road to Owers Corner) has been addressed.

Their failure to include the Department of Veterans Affairs and to engage an accredited Military Heritage Architect to develop a Military Heritage Interpretation Plan for the Kokoda Trail is indicative of their ideological opposition to commemoration.

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Kokoda: The Fallacy of World Heritage

The review of the Kokoda Trail for a World Heritage listing by the late Mr Peter Hitchcock, Dr Jennifer Gabriel and Dr Matthew Leavesley has exposed the myth of its relevance to our shared wartime heritage associated with the Kokoda campaign.

The threat to mine a $3 billion gold and copper deposit on the southern slopes of the Kokoda Trail in 1996 caused the Australian Government to head off a public backlash against the destruction of an iconic part of our military heritage.

For some inexplicable reason the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) was ignored and the task was passed to the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) to assist the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) to develop a case for a World Heritage nomination for the Owen Stanley Ranges. According to their preliminary report:

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