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,
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
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 declinedby 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.
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:
‘I cannot say enough kind words about them. Throughout the entire trek I felt supported and knew that I could turn to them for help at any time. They were always in the right spot at the right time. They were so encouraging and only wanted to see me succeed. They have so much patience, I never felt rushed or scared because I knew they’d be there to help. They would encourage me to walk at my own pace and take as many breaks as I needed to succeed. Without them I would not have gotten as far as I did. I enjoyed listening to their stories about their families and knowledge of the trek and country.’
‘All of the Adventure Kokoda team where extremely professional. The boys worked so hard to make sure we always felt safe in situations that could sometimes feel scary. Our shovel man Nelson was just incredible, always checking to make sure everyone was okay. It was amazing to witness a group of people work so hard and efficiently as a team to get all of us (the trekkers) across the finish line.
‘Overall an amazing group of people and when they all sung their National anthem …chills and tears!! I miss them already.’
By Rhys Jack on Nov 09, 2019 03:00 am Sunday Telegraph, 10 November 2019
Described as the by-product of throwing Chuck Norris and Indiana Jones into a blender, this former Australian Army Major has been trekking across the infamous Kokoda trail for more than 28 years.
One of the most difficult things I’ve attempted in my life has to be trekking across the Kokoda Trail. Over 140 kilometres in length, and climbing up over 6,750 metres. It took nine days to hike from Owers’ Corner in the south of Papua New Guinea through the most humid jungles, across torrential rivers and over never-ending mountains that made me seriously question why the hell I was doing it. And finally, after being stretched to physical and mental limits, the trail winds down to the small village of Kokoda on the Northern plateau of the island where those who complete it can celebrate an incredible accomplishment.
In 2008 Adventure Kokoda was the only trekking company out of 37 licensed trek operators to pay all of their trek fees in full and in advance – something we are very proud of.
A discreet audit revealed that operators from the Australian Kokoda Tour Operators Association tried to sneak a total of 770 trekkers across the trail without paying trek fees – so much for their fake respect for subsistence villagers along the trail!
The Australian CEO then did a secret deal with each one of them which resulted in them all receiving discounts from what they owed. As a result Adventure Kokoda had to wear a heavy financial penalty for doing the right thing.
The following ‘Freedom of Information‘ request to the Australian Government cost us more than a $1000 which turned out to be the most expensive 7 sheets of paper we have ever purchased!
So much for transparency – and they wonder why nobody trusts them!!
Speech to the Parliament of New South Wales by The Hon Charlie Lynn MLC on 4 May 2006
Debate resumed from 2 May 2006.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN [4.32 p.m.]: The acknowledgment of traditional owners of the land seems to have been introduced around the time of the republican and reconciliation debates during the Keating Labor Government era. Left-wing academics, inner-city urban dwellers and doctors’ wives were among the comfortable middle-class voices calling for changes to our flag and our system of parliamentary democracy. They also wanted us to say sorry for historical wrongs over which we had no influence. As it turned out, the only thing that changed was the Government.
I would hope that these ideological warriors of the Left will come to understand that the wider Australian community will accept such changes to our systems, symbols and institutions only when they are treated as equals in the debate, not as a group of uneducated westies or rednecks. My view is that concentrating on so-called progressive issues for our indigenous people has done them more harm than good. The “feelgood” factor for the chattering classes in comfortable inner-city environments does not translate into worthwhile sustainable benefits for indigenous people in remote and isolated areas. It has taken the emergence of indigenous leaders such as Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine to get some balance back into the debate and to earn the respect of the wider community in the process.
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.
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 atotal 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.
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.