When we first submitted a proposal for the Kokoda Trail to be proclaimed as a National Memorial Park in 1992 and included some suggestions as to what could be done to develop it is such a way that future trekkers would be able to appreciate the historical significance of the various battlesites we thought it would be readily embraced by the Federal Government.

 Unfortunately we had not reckoned on the limitations of Ministers without leadership or vision or the negative influence of  their departmental bureaucrats.  The following extracts from proposals we have submitted over the decade between the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the Kokoda campaign provides an insight into their indifference towards the Kokoda Trail and everything it represents:

4 November 1992
‘While the proposals you have outlined in your letter of 25 August (1992) to the Prime Minister have undoubted merit, I can give no undertaking that anything of that nature would fall within the scope of the commemorative measures now under consideration’.
The Hon Ben Humphreys MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs

22 February 1995
‘The Government’s philosophy is to commemorate and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War 11 with activities here in Australia. The only specific events relating to ‘Australia Remembers’ planned for overseas are three small pilgrimages of Australian veterans.’
The Hon Con Sciacca MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs

24 June 1997
“As a result it is not possible to award the Civilian Service Medal to the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’ at this distance in time.’
The Hon David Jull MP
Minister for Administrative Services

10 November 1997
‘Your suggestion to form a small working group has merit.  However, I do not recommend proceeding in this way at this time.’
The Hon Bruce Scott MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs

11 December 2000
‘Your proposal to develop the Trail is unfortunately outside the scope of the Australian aid program.”
Senator Kay Patterson
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs

7 December 2000
‘With these limitations in mind, I regret I am unable to offer any prospect of achieving the all-of-government approach you seek in the time frame you propose.’
The Hon Bruce Scott MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs

13 January 2001
‘I believe you have presented to the Government an excellent proposal and initial plan to establish the Kokoda Track (or Trail) as a National Memorial Park – long overdue!’
Stan Bisset AM MC
President, 2/14th Battalion Association

7 February 2001
‘Because of the above reasons and in consultation with the Chiefs of the villages along the Trail, I demanded a compensation of A$2,000,000.00 for developments along the Trail.  This was not for Oro Province as a whole.  However, after receiving your letter, I held discussions with the Chiefs and Councillors from the area and explained the contents of your letter in which I must say, all leaders from the area are happy with your efforts in going as far as preparing a proposal which is now before the Australian Government to develop a Master Plan for the development of the Kokoda Trail as a National Memorial Park.’
The Hon Sylvanus Siembo MP
Governor, Oro Province

At this stage of the process it was clear that the Department of Veterans Affairs were not going to entertain any new ideas or plans for commemorative developments across Kokoda.  We then thought it would be good to know if they did in fact have any sort of master plan for the track.  After a number of requests the Minister made the extraordinary admission that no such plan existed – and that they had no desire to develop one!

18 February 2001
‘It will come as no surprise to you then that the ‘Government Master Plan’ of which you inquire ‘for the development of the Kokoda Track as a national memorial park’ does not exist . . . I regret that I am unable to satisfy your demand for such a large scale approach to this issue.
The Hon Bruce Scott MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs

8 March 2001
‘The Australian High Commission in Port Moresby welcomes Mr Lynn’s enthusiasm and commitment to develop the Kokoda Track.  We acknowledge the contributions he has made in the past and note that he is highly regarded in a number of communities for his assistance.  Like many Australians, he has a strong belief in the Track’s historical importance and can see its potential as a source of revenue for local people and of education and personal development for young Australians in particular.  My staff and I have met with Mr Lynn on a number of occasions during his visits to Port Moresby, and we accept that he is pursuing his proposals in order to advance what he believes is in the best interests of the Kokoda Track and its people.’
H.E. Nick Warner
Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea
Letter to Mr Duncan McLennan, Office of Australian War Graves

19 March 2001
‘Your interest and commitment to the development of the Kokoda Track reflects your strong desire to improve the living conditions of its communities.  In this regard our High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea greatly values your interest and suggestions, especially with respect to small-scale projects that might fit into their preferred strategy currently being developed.  I trust this letter will be useful in finally resolving the issue of why my Department will not promote the creation of a National Memorial Park.’
The Hon Bruce Scott MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs 

At this stage of the process all correspondence to Ministers was forwarded to the Minister for Veterans Affairs for a response.   It was clear that it was regarded as a Veterans Affairs issue – nobody has yet been able to grasp the important contribution other government (Australian and PNG) departments such as education, arts, environment, defence and foreign affairs can make towards the development of the Kokoda Trail.

We then asked for a meeting with Ministerial and relevant departmental representatives.  The meeting was chaired by the Head of the Australian War Graves Commission and attended by the Department’s chief historian.  Patrick Lindsay, producer of the television documentary ‘Kokoda: The Bloody Track’ and author of ‘The Spirit of Kokoda: Then and Now’ and I attended the meeting.  Patrick had walked the track in 1992 and I had been trekking across it for a number of years.  None of the other departmental representatives, Ministerial advisors or the ‘expert’ historian had trekked across it.  The meeting lasted for a couple of hours and every idea we proposed was rejected.  After the meeting Patrick Lindsay remarked ‘I have never attended a meeting with such a pervading sense of negativity’.

We then arranged for a meeting with Prime Minister John Howard who supported our concept for an interdepartmental to be established and directed the Department of Veterans Affairs accordingly.  This was great news however we had not reckoned on the ability of senior departmental bureaucrats to sabotage the idea.  In a classic ‘Yes Minister’ style the Department satisfied the Prime Ministers instruction by developing a terms of reference that had little relevance to what we wanted to achieve.  The proponents of the idea were never invited to participate in any subsequent meetings or discussions nor were we ever advised of any outcomes.

The major problem we faced was getting anybody in Canberra to understand the impact of the Kokoda experience on people.  We explained that it was an experience that had to be experienced to be appreciated and proposed that a team of interdepartmental advisors be established to trek across Kokoda with their counterparts in PNG and prepare a joint Australian/PNG report on their experience and their views to the various Ministers.

We therefore decided to lobby individual Ministers for support and advised that we had received positive reactions from senior Ministers in the PNG government for the proposal. 

9 May 2001
‘I have noted your advice that the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Minister for National Planning is enthusiastic about your proposal.  However, I believe the master plan you seek is a document most appropriately compiled by the Government of PNG.  The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs may be interested in contributing to such a process that would provide aid and development initiatives to provinces along the Kokoda Track.  But it is a matter for the Government of PNG to decide if a master plan is appropriate and what organisations might be represented on any committee brought together for the preparation of such a document.  Consequently, I trust that you will understand why I will not be selecting staff from my Department to participate on your project team.’
The Hon Bruce Scott MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs

17 May 2001
 ‘In view of the current situation on the Kokoda Track it would be inadvisable for the Australian Government to promote a proposal for the Track’s development.  The subject of Mr Lynn’s proposal is a matter, in the first instance, for the Government of PNG.  It would be inappropriate for a group of Australian bureaucrats to walk the Track and develop a master plan in isolation to the situation on the ground..’
The Hon Bruce Scott MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs
‘in response to The Hon Dr Brendan Nelson MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence

17 May 2001
‘Thank you for your e-mail of 24 April 2001 to a number of Members of Parliament, Senators and others, regarding your proposal to create a Kokoda National Memorial Park in Papua New Guinea.  I have previously explained why I do not support your proposal at the present time and trust that you will refer to my earlier letters on this matter.  Mr Nick Warner, Australian High Commissioner to PNG, has provided advice that your proposal is premature and inappropriate at this stage.’
The Hon Bruce Scott MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs 

30 May 2001
‘This headband that I have put around your head is a symbol of a chief and is sacred.  It is only worn by chiefs in the Oro Province.  This headband you wear marks you as one of the chiefs of the Orokaiva people because of your hard work to my people in our endeavours to reaching a lasting solution to the famous Kokoda Trail closure.  This headband and necklace that I presented to you today marks our brotherly relationship and a lasting memory to live on in future generations to come.’
The Hon Sylvanus Siembo MP
Governor of Oro Province
Presentation to Charlie Lynn at Kovello Village

16 July 2001
‘Having discussed this matter with representatives of the Papua New Guinea Government I have found no support for a park along the lines you have suggested.  Other options were discussed but, in view of the social problems in the area associated with the Track, these alternatives have not been developed.’
Senator Robert Hill
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

10 August 2001
 ‘As far as I am aware, the social problems associated with the track are continuing.  Until such a time as these can be resolved by the people and Government of Papua New Guinea, and there is official PNG Government support for a memorial park, I am unable to consider expending resources and staff to work on a project team as you suggest.’
Senator Robert Hill
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

18 September 2001
‘In previous correspondence, I have stated clearly that no such trek will be taking place while the security situation in the area remains uncertain and current High Commission travel advisories are in place.  Further, officials and advisers on this issue have no need to embark on such a walk at public expense to capture the obvious importance of appropriate memorials being established along the Track.  All members of the committee have a comprehensive understanding of the significance of the Track and what it means to the Australian community . . . the intend of the inter-departmental committee is to consider all proposals for the Track and to develop a co-ordinated response for consideration by this Government.  Therefore and trek along the lines that you have proposed would be inappropriate, unnecessary and could be deemed as prejudicial to the deliberations of the committee.’
The Hon Bruce Scott MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs

28 September 2001
‘I appreciate that there would be a great deal of planning required for such a trek but wish to reiterate that no such trek will be taking place while the security situation in the area remains uncertain and current High Commission travel advisories are in place.  Further, members of the committee are already aware of the significance of the Track and the importance to the Australian community.’
The Hon Bruce Scott MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs

17 October 2001
‘With regards to the trek, I wish to reiterate that the IDC is aware of the significance of the Kokoda Track and that as I advised previously, no such trek will be taking place while the security situation in the area remains uncertain and current High Commission travel advisories are in place.’
The Hon Bruce Scott MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs

At this time we were leading groups from the University of Western Sydney across the track as part of a leadership program.  Many of the participants were young female students and at no stage did we ever feel threatened.  Indeed the opposite was the case and all the students commented on the warm hospitality they experienced throughout their visit.  It was my firm view that the ‘travel advisories’ put in place by the Department of Foreign Affairs in PNG were nothing more that ‘a cover your arse bureaucratic exercise’.

26 October 2001
‘The IDC currently has no plans to take part in a trek across the Track.  All members of the committee have a comprehensive understanding of the significance of the Track and what it means to the Australian community.’
Dr Peter Poggioli
Chief of Staff to the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs

29 October 2001
‘Thank you for the recent information you sent regarding your proposals for the ‘big picture’ plans for the track and I wish you well.  I agree that the Minister for Veterans Affairs is a hard person to deal with having spoken with a lot of the veterans and also seen the problems we have had.  Good luck with getting politicians to cross the track . . . The problem I see is that without a co-ordinated approach, everyone goes off doing their little bits and it all gets confusing.  A lot of people aren’t aware of the problems that occur in PNG in trying to achieve outcomes, etc.  After 3 years living there, the real problems of corrupt and unintelligent government members, cronyism, wantokism, compensation and cargo cult become very apparent.  Anyway Charlie, I wish you luck and if there is anything I can do to assist, please let me know.’
Ian Hopley
Australian Police Advisor in PNG
Executive Committee Member and Trustee, 2/14th Battalion Association

27 November 2001
‘I am pleased to advise that the National Executive of the RSL has endorsed the proposal to establish a master plan for the development of the Kokoda Track Memorial Park.  Thank you for taking the time to address our National Executive and for the personal effort you have put into promoting this concept.’
Major-General Peter Phillips AO MC (Retd)
National President, Returned Services League

A Ministerial reshuffle saw Bruce Scott get shuffled to the back bench.  Enough said.  We had high hopes that the new Minister would take charge but it soon became apparent that she would continue to be a puppet of the Departmental of the War Graves Commission, Air Vice Marshall Beck.

25 January 2002
‘Thank you for your letter of 6 December 2001 congratulating me on my recent appointment as Minister for Veterans Affairs. . . In response to you invitation to discuss your proposal for the development of the Kokoda Track as a National Memorial Park, I wish to endorse the comments of my predecessor. The inter-departmental committee (IDC) on Kokoda is currently considering all proposals for the Track and developing a co-ordinated response for consideration by this government. ’
The Hon Danna Vale MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs

We continued our efforts to try and establish what the ‘inter-departmental committee’ was doing and what were the outcomes of their deliberations.

 30 July 2002
‘I do however wish to draw your intention to the fact that the inter-departmental committee report was established to examine Australia’s interests in Kokoda Track Development and to determine ways to enhance public recognition of its importance to Australians.  Whilst the IDC included provision in the longer term for outlining a process for cooperative development, its purpose was not to develop a master plan for the future development of the Kokoda Track. . .’
The Hon Danna Vale MP
Minister for Veterans Affairs

A potential backlash to a proposal to mine the southern section of the trail for gold and copper in the mid-1990s caused the Government to do something – unfortunately responsibility for it was allocated to the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts instead of Veterans Affairs who are responsible for commemoration – and after 10 years insite – and an expenditure of more than $50 million there is still no Master Heritage Plan for the trail.