When I first trekked Kokoda in 1991 I was both surprised and disappointed at the neglect of such an important part of our military heritage. The track bypassed the famous ‘Golden Staircase’ on Imita Ridge; major battlesites had been reclaimed by the jungle; ordnance from the campaign lay rusting in the mud, no official monuments or memorials had been erected; and the people who had supported us so selflessly during our hour of need had been forgotten.
It was evident that the Kokoda Trail had been ignored by successive Australian Governments since the end of the Pacific War in 1945.
In 1992 I wrote a paper calling for the PNG Government to recognise the benefit of developing Kokoda as an adventure destination:
‘In the short term PNG should focus its tourist development on its natural assets – the country and its people. And it should develop policies to cater for the niche adventure market.
‘The Kokoda Trail is an ideal model. The trail has a special aura because of its significance in the war. The rugged beauty of the Owen Stanley Range and the nature and disposition of the villagers along the trail are unique attractions to the adventure tourist.
‘Tourism along the trail will create social and economic benefits for the villagers. Local guides will be employed, food will be procured, accommodation will be used, and artefacts will be purchased.
‘The 50th anniversary of the campaign across the Owen Stanley Range is a unique opportunity to refocus international attention to the challenge, the rigours, and the people of the Kokoda Trail. It provides an opportunity for the government of PNG to establish a model for adventure tourism which would otherwise take many years to establish’.
In 1994 I submitted a paper calling on our Federal government to seek to proclaim the Kokoda Trail as a National Memorial Park:
‘Any plan that is developed should consider the fact that PNG does not have a welfare system and the Koiari and Orokaiva people who live along the track operate a subsistence economy. They are also the custodians of the land on which the battles that saved Australia were fought.
‘If we develop our long term plan around providing a regular source of income for them we can be assured that they will protect and honour the battlesite we restore, the educational memorials we build and the village museums we assist with.
‘The objective of the master plan should therefore be to develop a self-sustaining eco-adventure trekking industry for the Koiari and Orokaiva people who live along the Kokoda Trail.’
It was difficult to progress the idea as the responsibility for such a plan did not fit neatly into a single Ministerial portfolio. I was advised by the Minister for Veterans Affairs that the government did not have a master plan for the development of the Kokoda track. With the concurrence of the Minister I volunteered to develop one.
I enlisted the support of Kelvin Templeton of Templeton-Galt who later engaged Dr Stephen Wearing of the University of Technology Sydney and Mr Paul Chatterton of the World Wide Fund for Nature in PNG to conduct workshops in Sydney, Port Moresby, Efogi village and Kokoda.
In 2003 my company, Adventure Kokoda Pty Limited, funded the establishment of the Kokoda Track Foundation to raise funds for the strategic plan and to develop shorter term educational, health and sporting initiatives for the Koiari and Orokaiva people along the track.
We then engaged Colonel David Knaggs of Davendish Consulting to facilitate workshops and write the plan.
I am indebted to the Directors of the Foundation, namely Kelvin Templeton, Yahoo Serious, Peter Thomas, Patrick Lindsay, Paul Croll, Genevieve Nelson, Dr Michael Cooper, Andrew Schauble, Brett Kirk, Gillian Marks, Sue Hoopman and Tony Stewart who were generous with their time and expertise. We were ably supported by our Secretary, Natalie Shymko; our Treasurer, Tiffany Couch; our Solicitor, David Frecker and our Auditor, John Flynn who provided their services in an honorary capacity.
I am also indebted to the Chief Executive Officer of the PNG Kokoda Track Authority, Mr. Warren Bartlett and his Board Members; representatives of the PNG National Government, Central and Oro Provincial Governments; Koiari and Kokoda Local Level Government authorities; and the clan leaders, landowners and other stakeholders along the track who hosted and participated in our workshops in PNG.
I wish to thank the RSL and Services Clubs Association, the Victorian Branch of the RSL, Johnson and Johnson, Templeton-Galt, WWF, the University of Technology Sydney and Adventure Kokoda for their corporate support. I also wish to thank the numerous individual donors who have ensured that village students will now have a better chance of obtaining a proper education and that villagers along the track will benefit from some of the medical supplies and sporting equipment we have delivered to them.
This is the first step in the process of having the Kokoda Trail proclaimed as a National Memorial Park and achieving a World Heritage Listing. I commend it to the Australian and PNG governments and urge them to use it as a reference document in the development of Kokoda and other significant Pacific War battlesite as the basis of a sustainable eco-tourism industry for PNG.
You can view the Strategic Plan we developed at http://www.kokodatreks.com/docs/StrategicPlanfortheKokodaTrailwithAttachments_000.pdf
Lest we forget,