Much to Repent over the Kokoda Trail

While the arrival of half-a-dozen Australian Government Ministers in PNG during their annual ‘Repentance Day’ holiday is coincidental it does provide a timely opportunity to offer some repentance of our own for the past few decades of paternalism in our relationship with our closest neighbour, former territory, fellow Commonwealth Member and wartime ally.

The delegation is obviously an outcome of the recent visit to Australia by Prime Minister James Marape who was accorded VIP treatment by our PM, Scott Morrison. Indeed it was the highest profile visit by any PNG Prime Minister for at least three decades and there is no doubt the two leaders have developed a close friendship.

I would hope the Ministerial delegation will include a visit to Bomana War Cemetery to allow them to pay their respects to the thousands of young Australian and Papuan soldiers who gave their lives in defence of the freedom we enjoy in both countries today.

One cannot visit Bomana without feeling an intense sense of pride in the work the Office of Australian War Graves do in maintaining such a sacred site. It was therefore disappointing to see our Minister for Veterans Affairs was not part of the delegation in view of the fact that PNG is the custodian of land sacred to our shared wartime heritage.

Bomana is not only a sanctuary for reflection on past sacrifice it is also a gateway for relationship building as increasing numbers of Australians are seeking pilgrimages to battlefields in Kokoda, Buna, Gona, the Black Cat Track, Shaggy Ridge, Milne Bay, Lae and Rabaul. Over the past decade more than 50,000 Australians have trekked across the Kokoda Trail which has generated more than $150 million for tourism income.

Unfortunately the mood of the delegation will change if they are venture beyond Bomana.

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Why Adventure Kokoda?

TripAdvisor has judged Adventure Kokoda to be the best trekking company on the Kokoda Trail in 2019 – for the 5th consecutive year.

The 560 trekkers we have led across the trail this year has generated the following benefits for PNG:

  • K1 million for Air Niugini
  • K200,000 trek fees for the KTA
  • K290,000 for food purchases at Port Moresby supermarkets
  • K260,000 for accommodation at Sogeri
  • K100,000 for bus/truck transport
  • K450,000 for charter aircraft between Port Moresby and Kokoda
  • K2.56 million in wages for our PNG guides and carriers
  • K400,000 for campsite owners
  • K130,000 for local purchases along the trail
  • K260,000 worth of school and medical supplies donated by our trekkers
  • K60,000 worth of clothing and equipment donated to guides and carriers at the end of their trek

This equates to a total benefit of K5.35 million for PNG from Adventure Kokoda this year![i]. In 1991, when Charlie Lynn first trekked across the Kokoda Trail the combined income of all the subsistence villages was estimated to be around K60,000 – we have come a long way together.

In addition to this Network Kokoda, a Not-For-Profit company established by Adventure Kokoda, has:

  • Built a Koiari Women’s Learning Centre at Sogeri
  • Developed community market gardens at Sogeri and Iaowari High School and Sogeri National High School
  • Built a Community Centre at Abuari
  • Assisted in the building of a TB Isolation Ward at Popondetta Hospital
  • Engaged a full-time agricultural graduate to provide assistance to school and villagers on the Sogeri Plateau
  • Developed a Commercial Fish Farm at Iaowari High School
  • Donated 4000 library books to Port Moresby Grammar School

Major Charlie Lynn’s work in establishing the Kokoda trekking industry was recognised in 2015 when he was honoured with his induction as an Officer of the Logohu by the PNG Government in their New Years’ Honours List ‘for service to the bilateral relations between Papua New Guinea and Australia and especially in the development of the Kokoda Trail and its honoured place in the history of both nations’ over the past 25 years.


Matthew Billy evacuated from Hoi for an emergency operation in Port Moresby
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An open letter to Sue Fitcher – Getaway Trekking

Dear Sue,

Your comments regarding a person you did not have the courage to name at the KTA Trek Operators Forum in Port Moresby have been forwarded to me,

I believe you addressed the forum in your capacity as President of the Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA) which was established to look after the interests of a small but vocal group of Australian based eco-tour operators.

According to the minutes of the forum you stated – some said it was more of a shriek – but I can’t comment because I wasn’t present:


‘It is time to call out those who would choose to damage and destroy the industry for whatever warped vested interests they have – who would know. We have talked about some of the claims and accusations that have been made earlier; it is interesting to note that are rarely if ever, are they made in person, but through others or from the safety of sitting behind a computer and ranting through social media. It does appear to confirm the adage that bullies are always cowards.

‘It would be easy to dismiss the negative comments and accusations thrown around as the bitter ramblings of someone, struggling with their declining relevance.  However, that would be to ignore the damage and destruction being caused to our businesses, our industry and the country we love.’

This is obviously an unfair smear against the 22 trek operators licensed by the PNG Kokoda Track Authority who do not belong to your small association which has just 8 active members.

I was somewhat relieved to think that you could not have possibly been talking about me because I put my name to everything I publish as you well know – a check of our Adventure Kokoda blog; a review of the articles I have written; and the numerous papers I have submitted will verify this.

However I do acknowledge that some of my blogs have been critical of your association because of the level of exploitation you tolerate in regard to the PNG guides and carriers you engage – and the fake research you use to justify it. I appreciate that there is a remote possibility that you could have been referring to me so I hope this blog post will clarify my concerns.

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$5 million hijack of Kokoda trekker payments by Australian-PNG Bureaucrats

More than $5 million has been hijacked from Kokoda trekkers by unaccountable Australian and PNG bureaucrats over the past decade. This money had been paid in good faith to meet their basic needs in the form of adequate campsites and a safe trail. The fees were also meant to provide for shared community benefits for villagers along the trail.

However, since Australian Government officials assumed control of the emerging Kokoda trekking industry in 2008 not a single dollar has been spent to improve campsites, toilets or management systems to meet the needs of the trekkers. Nobody knows where the money has gone because the bureaucrats involved have never produced an audited financial report. Nobody knows what they do because they don’t produce newsletters or answer emails. Not a single resolution from a forum has ever been actioned. Not a single workshop has been conducted at village level to see how the custodians of the land across the trail could benefit from the trekking industry.

In the meantime local PNG carriers continue to be overloaded, underpaid and poorly equipped. Local campsite owners are continually short-changed while villagers have been reduced to the status of spectators to a passing parade of trekkers.

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An open Letter to Wayne Fitcher – Getaway Trekking

Dear Wayne,

I’ve been told that you recently accused Adventure Kokoda of trekking into a village at night as part of your submission to the KTA Trek Operators Forum in Port Moresby – apparently you believe this was a ‘crossing of the line’.

You’re probably right Wayne.

As you know Adventure Kokoda specialises in the military history of the Kokoda campaign – it’s all we do. Our feedback indicates that trekkers join us because of our specialist knowledge in strategy, tactics, phases of war and the principles applicable to each phase.

In the mid-60s some of our trek leaders were trained as young officers by veterans who fought in the Kokoda campaign in 1942. They were aware of the old adage that ‘the jungle can be your best friend or your worst enemy’ and trained us accordingly.

Among our trek leaders is a Sword of Honour recipient from the Royal Military College, Duntroon. Another commanded two Royal Australian Navy battleships – they were both judged ‘Ship of the Year’ under his command. Two others have served in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This breadth of experience allows us to apply our collective knowledge to our presentations at significant battle-sites along the way and this inevitably leads to lengthy discussion amongst our trekkers which extends the amount of time we spend at some sites.

There are often times when eco-trekking groups such as your company, Getaway Trekking, pass by these sites with little more than a pause while their guide reads a chapter from a book. They then press on to ensure they reach their campsite early in the afternoon. (more…)

Call on KTF to return Trek Fees to the KTA

The recent revelation that the KTA donated K350,000 to KTF, an Australian NGO, to distribute cash disbursements to families on and off the Kokoda Trail is a serious misuse of trek fees.

The KTA was not established to support Australian NGOs’.

It was established in 2004 to provide for the development of campsites along the trail and to ensure local villagers received their fair share of benefits from the emerging trekking industry.

I know this because I initiated the idea and Adventure Kokoda funded its establishment with an advance of K25,000 to allow it to operate until trek fees started to flow.

Sir Peter Barter, Minister for Inter-Government Relations and Provincial and Local-level Government at the time acknowledged this when he wrote:

“Without Charlie Lynn’s dedication to the people of the Kokoda Trail, and Papua New Guinea in general, and his assistance in early negotiations in the establishment of the Authority, the establishment of the Kokoda Track Authority and its future plans for assisting the sustainability of the Kokoda Track Tourism Strategy and its heritage, there would be no special purposes authority – it would still be sitting in limbo.”

The KTA worked well for the first few years when it was run as a PNG enterprise by a former Kiap, Warren Bartlett. Trekker numbers increased rapidly by 255% from 1584 trekkers in 2004 to 5621 in 2008.

Since the Australian Government assumed control of the industry trekker numbers have declined by 46% and are now averaging a little over 3000 per year.

If we use 2008 as a benchmark this represents an annual loss of some K10 million for tourism in PNG and the loss of 4500 part-time jobs for guides and carriers each year.

The bureaucratic management system introduced by the Australian Government is now so dysfunctional the PNG Prime Minister ordered a review.  (more…)

Help Reverse the KTA Death Sentence for 14 Year Old Kokoda Schoolgirl

‘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 14 year-old daughter, Freda, has a serious heart condition – 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 is in excess of $100,000.

I first approached our friends in the Children’s First Foundation who did their best to assist but the cost of the operation was beyond their resources in view of their current commitments.

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

I wrote to the Minister for Health to see if he could check it out on our behalf but did not receive a response.

I then contacted the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) and suggested that they require 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 on an Exel Sheet – a practice that should have been put in place a decade ago to capture the contact details of the 45,000 Australians who have trekked Kokoda over the past decade.

This would have allowed the KTA to contact each of the 600 Australians who trekked Kokoda during the Anzac period to seek donations for Freda’s operation.

For reasons known only to the KTA they did not respond. (more…)

150 Kokoda Porters jobs lost over Anzac period

Up to 600 trekkers will be on the Kokoda Trail during the Anzac period over the next fortnight.

The Australian Tour Operators Association (KTOA) , established to protect the interests of their members, has refused to adopt the WW2 army standard of 18 kg as the maximum weight to be carried by the PNG wartime carriers in 1942. Instead, the KTOA has adopted a weight of 22.5 kg established by an Australian bureaucrat who had never trekked across the trail.

The 4.5 kg difference will lead to the loss of 150 jobs for local Koiari and Orokaiva villagers during the Anzac period (4.5 kg X 600 = 2700 kg ÷ 18 kg = 150).

Porters required to carry 22.5 kg by the KTOA for 138 km over some of the most rugged terrain on the planet will have a limited trekking career due to the heavy physical impact on their backs, hips and knees. Unlike professional footballers who have similar career limitations due to the physical impact on their bodies there is no post-playing career for them for Kokoda porters – just a lifetime dependency on their fellow subsistence villagers for physical assistance.

Shameless exploitation of vulnerable native populations used to be referred to as ‘blackbirding ‘ – a practice that was eventually outlawed in the early part of the 20th Century – it seems the KTOA is shamefully introducing a new strain of this abhorrent practice.

2019 Anzac ‘For Valour’ Speech for Network Kokoda

Network Kokoda –  a non-for-profit company established to honour our wartime heritage in Papua New Guinea – held it’s inaugural  Anzac ‘For Valour’ luncheon in Parliament House Sydney on 5 April 2019. Keynote speaker was former Major-General, Senator Jim Molan AO DSC. The following presentation by founding Chairman and current Director of Network Kokoda, The Hon Charlie Lynn OAM OL (PNG), outlines the reasons for the establishment of the organization’

Mr Chairman, trekkers and guests,

I’ve have been involved with Papua New Guinea for the past 28 years and I believe I’m just starting to learn about the place. If you listen to the negatives about the place you probably wouldn’t ever want to go there – but after you’ve been a couple of times it’s hard to stay away.

Papua New Guinea forms part of Melanesia – the island chain to our immediate north.

Melanesia is a Greek term for ‘Black Islands’. It comprises West Papua with 4 million people; Papua New Guinea with 8½ million; the Solomon Islands with ¾ of a million and Fiji with 1 million – a total of 14 million who live on almost 1000 islands speaking 1000 of the World’s 6000 languages and as close as 5 kilometres from our shoreline.

It’s a land immensely rich in natural resources but at the bottom of almost every international index in regard to human wellbeing.

According to one writer it’s a place where paradox prevails:

‘Where arse grass and penis gourds mix with Hugo Boss suits and rolex watches. Where some men mine the hearts of volcanos looking for gold while others worship the spirits of ancestral crocodiles. (more…)