In 1992 Prime Minister Paul Keating opened a $2 million Kokoda Memorial Hospital and a Backpacker’s Hostel to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign.

They also built a new terminal at the Kokoda airfield however locals burnt it down days before it was to be officially opened. It turned out to be an omen of things to come with a well-intentioned aid policy inadvertently reinforcing a ‘cargo-cult’ mentality.

Six-months after the opening of the Kokoda Hospital a trek group I was leading was blocked at Kovello, about an hour south of our destination at Kokoda. The villagers were upset because Kokoda got a new hospital and Kovello got nothing. As a result, the Kokoda wan-tok clans got all the jobs.

They were therefore demanding a similar ‘hospital and backpackers’ hostel for Kovello.

We committed to helping build a new kindergarten and to employing some guides and porters from the village for our future treks. They then let us pass through.

Over the next decade we experienced similar blockades with similar demands.

It was soon clear to me that all they really wanted was a share of benefits from the increasing number of Kokoda tourists however neither of the two Provincial or Local Level Government’s had the capacity to assist at the time.

I therefore decided to fund the establishment of a ‘Kokoda Track Foundation’(KTF) as a philanthropic body to link our shared military heritage with community benefits across the Trail.

I invited a number of people who had trekked with me over the previous 10 years to join the Board and enlisted the support of Templeton-Galt to develop a strategy for the emerging pilgrimage tourism industry across the Kokoda Trail. Kelvin Templeton was CEO of the Sydney Swans who had committed to sending key players across the Trail as part of their development. He also had a keen interest in indigenous history and art.

Kelvin enlisted the support of two colleagues, Associate Professor Stephen Wearing from the University of Technology Sydney, a specialist in eco-tourism in Third World countries, and Mr. Paul Chatterton, Conservation Director of the the World Wide Fund for Nature in PNG.

After discussing our objectives for the Kokoda Trail to be developed as a sustainable eco-tourism enterprise for the benefit of traditional landowners across it all three volunteered their services towards developing a strategic plan on a pro-bono basis.

This paper is a record of the meetings, forums and workshops conducted by the KTF from 2003 until the time I resigned as Chairman on 30 June 2006. These were diligently recorded by a former trekker, Ms. Natalie Shymko, a political advisor in the NSW Parliament who also volunteered her services.

The enthusiastic commitment of PNG officials, local councillors, clan leaders and villagers is evident in the record of proceedings.

Our purpose was to provide a template for both governments in Australia and PNG to use as a model for the development of the Kokoda Trail as a National Memorial Park based on our shared military heritage for the socio-economic benefit of the traditional landowner communities across it.

We presented our Strategic Plan to PNGs Grand Chief and Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, at a function in Port Moresby on 30 June 2006, and to the Minister for Veterans Affairs, The Hon Danna Vale MP by mail.

In 2009 the Australian Government assumed responsibility for the management of the Trail under a Joint Agreement to assist PNG in obtaining a World Heritage listing for the area. Since then they have not conducted a single village-based workshop across the Trail; our shared military heritage has been relegated; no management systems have been implemented; and trekker numbers have fallen by 46 percent.

Perhaps it is time for PNG to reclaim ownership the model we presented to them 17 years ago.

The Hon Charlie Lynn OAM OL
3 November 2023