Another one-trek wunder has made a cheap crossing of the Kokoda Trail and taken a cheap shot at one of the living icons, Ovoru Indiki, to justify his article ‘A wrong side to this track’ in the Sunday Telegraph on 14 March 2010. He wrote:

’A day walk took us to Naduri village and an audience with Ovoru Ndike (spelt wrongly), who at 104 years old is reputed to be one of the last surviving Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels – the men who carried supplies and wounded soldiers during the war.

’He is arranged on a wheelchair by his son Andy, who delivers an unimpressive speech that costs 10 kina a person for the privilege of deciphering. A 50-strong party from the Hawthorn AFL club later that day would have swelled the coffers’.

Adventure Kokoda donated the wheelchair that has been used by Ovoru for the past few years. It would be interesting to know what this bloke left behind! Less than 100 trekkers crossed Kokoda in December. Not all of them go through Naduri. If everybody paid K10 for a photograph Ovoru would have earned a maximum of K750 (around $350)  for himself and his extended family- this would have to last them until April when the trekking season recommences after the wet season. Some of this money goes to his church and most of the rest goes to pay school fees for his grandchildren in Port Moresby.  Nevertheless it would average out to about K40 (or $20 per week) which is a small price for a one-trek wonder to pay for his memento of the trek!

I agree that Ovoru is more likely to be in his mid-to-late 8Os – and I agree that his son Andy is a bit of an entrepeneur – but we should keep in mind they don’t have a welfare system in PNG and there are often long spells between trekker arrivals in their village – but so what!

‘Trouble is none of the neighbouring villages believes for a second that Ovoru is an Angel. The facts are hazy, they say: Ovoru was never on official lists of Angels; he was a scared boy who hid in the jungle; his real age is more like 80-something; his son Andy is milking the tourists’.

This is uninformed drivel!  I first met Ovoru 19 years ago when he wore just one medal – the PNG Independence Medal. I have also sighted the brown card he has which records his service as a wartime carrier. I’m sure he would have made this available to Kitchin if had asked.

‘A more practical clue comes from one older Efogi villager, who points out that Ovoru has no great-grandchildren. According to the rhythm of village life, if son Andy is 40 and has just started his family, it is inconceivable that Ovoru is old enough to have been an Angel. “Maybe his father, but definitely not Ovoru,” he says, sucking air through his teeth’.

More uninformed drivel! Ovoru Indiki has grandchildren attending the University of Papua New Guinea. I have met a number of them a number of times during my treks across the trail. They are proud of their grandfather and of the fact that his service as a wartime carrier has finally been acknowledged.

As a one-trek wonder, Kitchin would probably not be aware of the intense jealousies that exist between villages and between clans within villages. It is common knowledge that some of the older villagers from other clans are jealous of the attention Ovoru Indiki receives from trekkers because of his status as a village constable prior to independence, a luluai or chief of his clan and wartime carrier. It takes more than  a couple of treks to pick up on these nuances within and between village clans.

‘Apart from unconfirmed Angels, there are few obvious remnants from the war on the Track. A few three-man Japanese trenches and one-man Australian foxholes are dug into positions; one dump of rusted grenades, mortars and shells; one bullet jacket; one crashed American supply plane – and that’s about it.’

Kitchin either trekked with his eyes shut or didn’t venture off the easier eco-trail. I don’t know where he found the three-man Japanese trenches – the only ones I know of have individual firing bays connected with a communications trench. He obviously did not see the Australian delaying defensive position south of Eora Creek, the weapon pits to the east and west of Imita Gap, the US Army P40 kittyhawk at Myola, the Japanese Zero up from Isurava, etc, etc.

Kitchin’s criticism of the social conditions in PNG is not helped by trekkers who exploit local guides. By his own admission he and his sister used one guide and two porters for their 8 day trek.

To save weight ‘we leave behind tents and sleep in huts built from bush materials – these were leaky and completely exposed to mosquito attacks.’

His porters would have been burdened with packs of around 40-50 kg because they carried 8 days food for Kitchens and his partner – plus their own food and gear – together with cooking pots, machetes, camping gear, etc. They would not have been able to carry tents and Kitchin was obviously not prepared to pay for additional porters.

This type of exploitation of local porters should not be tolerated and it is pleasing to see that the Kokoda Track Authority has now recommended a maximum limit of 25 kg for each carrier.

It’s interesting that Kitchin and stayed at the Crowne Plaza at the end of his trek – one of the most expensive hotels in Papau New Guinea. I would hope he left his guide and porters with some cake!