Kokoda provided Wayne Wetherall an opportunity to transform himself from a suburban salesman into a self-proclaimed ‘adventurer, historian, explorer and philanthropist‘ with a ‘passion for our soldiers’ – until he was summoned to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission where he faced a sordid raft of accusations about the dark side of his character.
Accusations that related to bullying, harassing and intimidating his female staff; targeting of vulnerable female trekkers; soliciting of sexual favours from female staff; fathering of an illegitimate child in PNG; and his exploitation of guides and porters on the Kokoda Trail.
The exposure in the QIRC was the antithesis of the ‘Kokoda Spirit’ he shamelessly promoted.
All he needed to sell his story was a shameless ego, a silver tongue, and a large dose of bravado.
And it worked – until he was summoned to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission where he faced a sordid raft of accusations about the dark side of his character.
Accusations that related to bullying, harassing and intimidating his female staff; targeting of vulnerable female trekkers; soliciting of sexual favours from female staff; fathering of an illegitimate child in PNG; and his exploitation of guides and porters on the Kokoda Trail.
The exposure in the QIRC was the antithesis of the ‘Kokoda Spirit’ he shamelessly promoted.
An earlier court ruling against Wayne Wetherall for a failed defamation case against Charlie Lynn and Adventure Kokoda unwittingly exposed the mystery of the man behind the myth.
The case was initiated after the publication of a blog (Kokoda Spirit – an Oxymoron[i]!) which referred to spurious claims by Wetherall since he registered as a Kokoda trek operator in 2004.
His alleged discovery of Captain Sam Templeton’s body in 2009 was a shameless publicity stunt that caused great distress to the Templeton family – it was exposed on this link: Wayne Wetherall: Shameless publicity stunt for Kokoda Spirit!
Mr Wetherall’s claim for defamation was a clumsy attempt to silence critics however it was vigorously defended before being thrown out of the Queensland District Court for want of prosecution in 2018.
An unintended consequence of his defamation action was the exposure of the man behind the myth as a great pretender.
In army parlance it was akin to throwing the pin and holding onto the grenade!
So, “who is Wayne Wetherall? Where did he come from? Was he really a World Athletics Champion? Is he really an explorer? A historian? A philanthropist? An adventurer?”
Or is he just a silver-tongued fake?
If his early claims of his international athletic records were true he would have been a household name in Australia by the time he ‘discovered’ Kokoda in 2004. But they were fake!
According to his website on 11 February 2005 Wayne was already a national and international champion athlete. He claimed to have held a World record, an Australian record, 4 NSW State records, and to have competed in a Trans-Tasman championship, 26 State championships and a national cycling championship.
He should also have been well known throughout the wider veteran community with his international athletics profile and his proclaimed ‘passion’ for Australian soldiers and their history.
An inability to substantiate these claims led some to believe that Wetherall was a “hustler’ who never lets facts get in the way of a good story.
His transformation from a suburban salesman to a self-proclaimed Kokoda adventurer, explorer, historian and philanthropist, with a passion for our soldiers, is certainly a compelling tale.
In the beginning
According to Wetherall’s LinkedIn profile he was a suburban sales manager for companies dealing with refrigeration products at various levels until he ‘discovered’ Kokoda in 2004.
Kokoda was emerging as a popular pilgrimage after Prime Ministers John Howard and PNGs Grand Chief, Sir Michael Somare opened a significant memorial at the Isurava battlesite on the 60th anniversary of the battle in 2002. ‘
It was seen as the complete adventure experience for Australian baby-boomers and young adventurers in a ‘land of the unexpected’. It required physical stamina and mental tenacity. The wartime history evoked strong emotions. The unconditional care and support of local PNG guides and villagers is humbling. The environment is rugged, remote and pristine.
Increasing numbers of eco-trekking companies and opportunists were focusing on the opportunity it presented to meet the growing demand.
Among these were a couple of suburban hustlers from South Western Sydney, Wayne Wetherall and Frank Hasiuk.
To find out more about the Kokoda Trail, they booked a trek with Kokoda Treks and Tours in 2003, a company owned by Mr Frank Taylor. They chose carefully as Taylor was a long-term student of the Kokoda campaign and one of Australia’s foremost experts on both the campaign and the Trail due to more than two decades of research and trekking across it.
Within a short period, they had copies of all Taylor’s administrative documentation, his detailed trek itinerary, and historical information. All they then needed was some local assistance to operate in PNG.
One of the porters on the trek with Taylor was Defol Jabbar, a Research Officer in the National Parliament. During the trek Wetherall and his business partner, Frank Hasiuk, discussed the possibility of establishing a Kokoda tour company in PNG.
Upon their return to Australia, according to Jabbar, they communicated constantly with each other regarding the possibilities and opportunities for establishing a company to lead treks across the Trail and organise ‘wild-river’ rafting expeditions.
This led to Jabbar registering a company, Fuzzy Wuzzy Expeditions Ltd, with the PNG Investment Promotion Authority (IPA) on 27 January 2004 to organise treks. He then invited Hasiuk and Wetherall back to PNG to continue their discussions.
During this time Jabbar noted that Husiuk, a real estate salesman from Sydney, seemed to be funding their research.
In the meantime, Jabbar’s PNG company recruited two corporate groups to trek with him – one from the Port Moresby Rotary Club and the other from a Qantas group in Sydney via his local contacts in the Port Moresby office.
During Wetherall’s return visit to PNG in October 2004 he made contact with Colin Taimbari from the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority who reported:
‘In fact, rafting or whitewater rafting for that matter has never really taken my fancy until last week when two crazy, adventure seeking Australians strolled into the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority office in downtown Port Moresby. Businessman Wayne Wetherall and property developer Frank Hasiuk, both from Camden in south-west Sydney were eager and all excited about tackling the rugged Vanapa River in Central Province in a raft.’
Taimbari went on to report on their first rafting trip down the Vanapa River:
‘The first chopper lift had Wayne, local guide Allan Malewa, our ever reliable and experienced expedition leader Osborne (Bonn) Bogajiwai and the folded paddle boat raft, which can comfortably take eight people, once fully inflated. I was in the second lift off which also had Frank, TPA’s senior planning officer Nathan Kumin and Defol Jabbar of Fuzzy Wuzzy Expeditions (FWE). Bonn andAllan are also of FWE – a newly established local tour company running treks along the Kokoda Track. Our two-day mission starting that Wednesday morning was more for research, to see if after a 11-year absence, rafting on the Vanapa could be revived, more so as a tourist attraction.’
On Wetherall’s return to Australia he registered ‘Kokoda Spirit Pty Ltd with ASIC on 28 October 2004. Around the same time, he contacted the Qantas group after acquiring their details from Jabbar who assumed they had a partnership. Wetherall later arranged for the Qantas group to book through his Australian company and quietly recruited Osborne Bogajiwa from Jabbar’s company, Fuzzy Wuzzy Expeditions, without his knowledge.
He returned to PNG in early January 2005 to conduct a rafting expedition down the Angabanga River. Soon after, unbeknown to Jabbar, he visited LLLG Lawyers to arrange the purchase of a PNG shelf company, Kokoda Spirit PNG Ltd which was registered on 26 January 2005.
When Jabbar enquired about the status of the trek with Qantas staff in Port Moresby, he was advised they were dealing with another company in Australia. He was not aware of any further arrangements until he saw the group, with Bogajiwa and Wetherall, at Bomana War Cemetery after their trek on Anzac Day 2005.
The following month a rafting expedition organised by Neharot Expedition on the Watut River was led by Wetherall’s Chief Raft Master, Osborne Bogajiwa. The expedition turned to tragedy when three Israeli rafters were drowned. This created a diplomatic incident between Israel and PNG at the time and there were allegations that no reparations were made for the boats that were damaged on the expedition. This caused Wetherall to focus on the Kokoda Trail.
During the period 2003-2006, according to his Linkedin profile, Wetherall was the National Sales Manager for Refrigeration Equipment Supplies.
At the same time, according to his Kokoda Spirit website, his company was:
‘at the forefront of new adventures in PNG. . . We are also opening up trips to Alotau at Milne bay and Buna and Gona on the North Coast. Kokoda Spirit has offices in both Sydney and Port Moresby.
They were also running ‘small group trips to explore the history and sites of Sri Lanka , Thailand , Vietnam , China and Borneo’.
According to Annual Returns lodged with the PNG Investment Promotion Authority (IPA) for Kokoda Spirit PNG Ltd at the time the company had NIL employees.
In Australia, until March 2006, the Australian office and operations comprised two people, Wayne Wetherall and Frank Husiuk. The post advised they were both:
‘passionate about the Kokoda Track, the Australian history, the people and the culture’ and were ‘setting up trusts to supply much needed supplies of School (sic) books and equipment.’
In June 2006 Husiuk ‘passion’ seems to have evaporated as he was replaced by Wetherall’s wife Michelle, who was described as:
‘the boss of Kokoda Spirit, her enthusiasm, organisation and administration skills ensure that all facets of the business run smoothly . . . She has a wealth of knowledge about the Kokoda Track and travels frequently to PNG.’
In the early stages of his business in PNG, he proved to be ruthless in his engagement of PNG head guides. According to Jabbar, ‘he dumped Bonny then used Gideon, Alan and Jeff. Then he dumped Gideon and ran with Alan, Jeff and Sai. Now he dropped Alan and Jeff and he is running with Sai Lami as a head guide’.
Wetherall then declared:
‘Kokoda Spirit is passionately committed to the legacy and Spirit (sic) that our Australian Soldiers (sic) and their Papuan (sic) New Guinea Brothers (sic) have left for us on the Kokoda Track (sic). The Courage (sic), Endurance (sic), Mateship (sic) and Sacrifice (sic) on this sacred track have become legend. Kokoda Spirit are dedicated to providing our Trekkers (sic) and Rafters (sic) with the Experience (sic) of a Lifetime (sic), to Experience Adventure (sic), to Experience (sic) the Spirit (sic), to Experience (sic) the Culture (sic) and Experience (sic) the People (sic) this wonderful, fascinating and awe inspiring country provides’.
Apart from his mangled prose he has never explained the connection between the ‘legacy and spirit’ of the trail – and rafting! Or even his own connection with the spirit of Kokoda. Many trekkers are inspired by a family connection – a grandfather, an uncle, a ‘friend of a friend’- or a desire as the result of a book, a documentary or a teacher. In the case of Wetherall, it would seem that this ‘passionate commitment’ was related to the business opportunity it presented.
The boast that they were ‘setting up trusts to supply much needed supplies of School (sic) books and equipment’ proved to be the first of many unverifiable claims (some of these alleged to be bogus). There are no records of any ‘trusts’ ever being established in PNG or Australia (nor registration of charities with the ACNC in Australia).
Wetherall’s sales and marketing skills were paying dividends as Kokoda Spirit emerged as the leading trekking company on the Trail.
In 2010 he established a separate business, True Spirit Adventures, with one of his female trekkers from Melbourne – together they ‘identified an opportunity in the market to provide Elite (sic), life-changing and empowering adventures for Charity (sic), Corporate (sic), Teams (sic), Defence Forces (sic) and Schools (sic)’.
The business partnership and their relationship ended acrimoniously around four years later.
In the meantime, he was also running his other company, Kokoda Spirit, with his wife Michelle, from the Queensland Sunshine Coast.
‘Wayne and Michelle had a dream to share the story of the courageous and heroic diggers on the Kokoda Track with fellow Australians’ he gushed on his website. ‘Immerse yourself in the cultures of traditional village life, marvel at the size and magnitude of the rainforests and mountains, enjoy the adventure of crossing swift flowing rivers to discover waterfalls, and people living in harmony with their land. Come with us on a journey to experience the Spirit of Kokoda and Papua New Guinea.’
Their business partnership ended after the break-up of their marriage in 2013.
Marketing ‘Without Borders’
As trekker number increased rapidly from 2005 Wetherall appeared to take advantage of the fact that PNG authorities did not have the expertise, resources, or interest in monitoring copyright transgressions or truth in advertising (conduct that would be referred to as “misleading and deceptive” under Australian consumer law) – there were no borders!
His marketing strategy was therefore based on creating his own myth, plagiarising material from other websites, and making fallacious statements (the veracity of which were never proven) to enhance his reputation. Whenever he was called out, or questions were asked, he would simply amend or remove the information, and move on!
In early 2005 he published details of an athletics record that should have made him a household name in Australia for his accomplishments:
‘Wayne has enjoyed athletics his whole life and in addition to being an adventure athlete he has also achieved considerable success in the world of athletic competition:
- 1 world athletic record
- 1 Australian athletic record
- 4 New South Wales athletic records
- 1 Trans-Tasman athletics championship
- 26 New South Wales athletic championships
- 1 Australian cycling championship
- Climbed Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo 4100m’.
He then modestly claimed ‘You might say Wayne is a pretty fit bloke!’
These claims were published from 2006-2007.
Around the same period, he advertised the imminent arrival of his Kokoda Spirit book, ‘In the footsteps of Hero’s–In the footsteps of my Brothers’ which would include:
‘Stories of our Australian Soldiers(sic) and the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels who assisted them during World War II; Trekking the Kokoda Trail information, pictures, maps, past trekkers information and advice, personal experiences; and a close and personal look at the ancestors of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels their triumphs, challengers (sic) and opportunities.’
He modestly advised:
‘This book is a must for those that have an interest in PNG, the Kokoda Trail and our PNG brothers. Sign up here! and we will notify you when Kokoda is available.’
By the end 2007 Wetherall’s aggressive marketing strategies had paid dividends as Kokoda Spirit emerged as the leading trek operator on the Kokoda Trail. He was then able to quietly remove his fake claims as an international athlete and dispense with the advertisement for his book, which never materialised, as the myth had now been established.
His marketing bravado was boundless as he then claimed to have assisted in ‘opening up’ Long Tan in Vietnam (purportedly to enhance his credibility with the veteran community).
A fact check revealed that access to Long Tan had been negotiated by veterans from the 6th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment who had fought in the battle.
Wetherall was not involved in any of the sensitive diplomatic negotiations which resulted in the erection of a Long Tan Cross at the battlefield on 18 August 1969 and its restoration in 2000. It is interesting to note that Wetherall was born on 3 May 1965, a year after the battle. He was just 4-years of age when the Long Tan Cross was first dedicated in 1969; and a 35-year-old manager for a suburban refrigeration and air-conditioning company when access to the site was granted by the Vietnam Government in 2000.
When these facts were revealed, he amended his fake claims, and moved on!
He also claimed to have assisted in ‘opening up’ the Sandakan death-march route in Borneo.
A fact check revealed that this had been achieved decades earlier by acclaimed author, official historian, and Sandakan tour leader, Mrs. Lynette Silver AM who was incensed at his brazen claim.
Later in 2008 he announced the establishment of a Kokoda ‘Spirit Foundation’ that
‘The Spirit Foundation will also be providing funding for educational programs and resources to selected secondary schools. The secondary schools that the Spirit Foundation will sponsor provide education to more than 2800 students throughout the Oro and Central provinces whilst the primary and elementary schools service over 800 local village children when the schools are operating effectively.
‘The Spirit Foundation will fund a new scholarship program for students that show outstanding potential in education and leadership. This sponsorship will carry on throughout their senior high school and university years and they will be given a number of leadership, educational and community oriented opportunities. The aim of this new project is to discover and foster PNG’s future leaders.
‘The Spirit Foundation is committed to ensuring that the people of PNG and predominantly the people along the Kokoda Track have an ongoing opportunity for access to education and vocational training. These opportunities are essential for the ongoing development of social and economic change along the track and in PNG.’
It was a brazen marketing initiative that sought to establish his reputation as a philanthropist on the Kokoda Trail.
However, a fact check with the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) revealed the Spirit Foundation did not exist. After this was exposed Wetherall simply removed the fake claim from his website and moved on!
He then claimed to be a ‘Gold Trek Operating Partner’ to the Kokoda Track Foundation.
A check of this claim revealed there was no record of any type of partnership – gold, silver, bronze or co-delivery listed on the Kokoda Track Foundation website. He then removed it and moved on!
Over the next two years he went on to make spurious claims to have rediscovered Kokoda’s Forgotten Battlefields (one may posit that they’ve never been forgotten). It appeared these claims were being made to position Wetherall as a historian. Further claims were made of Wetherall ‘discovering’ original sections of the trail with an apparent objective of claiming some sort of ‘explorer’ status.
After it was found these fake claims could not be validated they were removed from his website and he moved on!
‘Had the 39th Battalion and Templeton’s men in B Company failed in the initial fighting at Awala, Wairopi, Gorari (sic) and Oivi, then the course of the Kokoda Trail Campaign and Australia’s history could be very different. They took on the might of the Japanese Army and inflicted physical, logistical and psychological wounds on them that would eventually become terminal to the Japanese’.
This is a complete and egregious misstatement of historical fact.
The 39th Battalion were gallant in their actions between Kokoda and Isurava from 29th July to the 26th of August 1942, and later at Buna and Gona during the battles for the beachheads.
However, their initial contacts with the Japanese advance party forward of Kokoda did nothing to stop or delay their advance towards the Trail. To suggest that they ‘took on the might of the Japanese Army and inflicted physical, logistical and psychological wounds on them that would eventually become terminal to the Japanese’ is a gross misrepresentation of the facts according to Kokoda military historian, Lieutenant Colonel Rowan Tracey.
In 2010 Wetherall claimed to have solved ‘the 68-year-old mystery of the disappearance of Captain Sam Templeton’. The claim caused significant distress to the Templeton family and resulted in the hospitalisation of his then elderly son, Reg, after it was the subject of a national television story. An analysis of the validity of the claim is outlined on this link.
The Army Unrecovered War Graves Unit, within the Department of Veterans Affairs, investigated the claims. They were aware that two formal army investigations had been conducted into the disappearance of Captain Templeton soon after the war and both were inconclusive. They examined Wetherall’s claims and concluded that he did not provide any additional evidence to cause them to reopen the case. This did not appear to concern Wetherall. On the basis that the claims could not be substantiated (and were unable to be by the Army Unrecovered War Graves Unit and Department of Veterans Affairs), it appears these claims were purely for publicity.
By now the claims of Wayne Wetherall as an ‘explorer’, ‘adventurer’, ‘historian’ and philanthropist, obsessed with a ‘passion for our soldiers, had been made (although not justified), and his trekker numbers continued to increase exponentially.
Kokoda: The New Black!
Within five years of Wetherall’s claimed ‘discovery’ of Kokoda, trekking across it had become the fashionable ‘new black’ for Australian bucket-listers and baby-boomers with numbers increasing by 255% – from 1,584 in 2003 to 5,621 in 2008.
The management authority put in place by the PNG Government in 2004 was limited to a CEO with a part-time assistant. The office was soon overwhelmed with their responsibilities for licensing new trek operators; issuing trek permits; developing campsites; maintaining the trail and meeting the increasing demands of traditional landowners.
The CEO of the authority, Warren Bartlett, was a former Australian kiap. He had worked in PNG for 40 years as a Government Administrator, was fluent in tok-pisin and understood the complexities of Papuan culture. The feedback he was receiving from villagers along the trail in 2008 indicated there were many more trekkers than trek permits (although this feedback was anecdotal).
Bartlett quietly appointed a local ranger, Mr Landy Noel of Efogi village, which is half-way along the trail, to audit the number of trekkers with each company as they passed through. Noel used a simple technique of seeking information from the local guides and carriers in tok pisin then relaying the figures back to Bartlett via VHF radio.
When Bartlett reconciled the figures at the end of 2008, he discovered that Wetherall’s company, Kokoda Spirit, had applied for 378 trek permits – but Noel counted 855 trekkers!
Wetherall later claimed on his website that he led more than 1000 trekkers across the trail which indicates that either Landy Noel did not count them all – or Wetherall inflated the figure as a marketing ploy.
At the end of 2008, the Australian Government assumed responsibility for the Kokoda Trail under a Joint Understanding signed with PNG.
Mr Rod Hillman was appointed as CEO to replace Bartlett. It was Hillman’s first trip to PNG and the defaulting on payment of trek fees by Australian operators was the first issue he had to resolve.
Rather than advise operators who had defaulted on their payments to pay up, the KTA (under Hillman’s leadership) entered into a series of confidential settlement agreements which resulted in undisclosed discounts and payments to the rogue companies which included Kokoda Spirit.
Wetherall’s persuasive sales skills came to the fore during his negotiations with Rod Hill and they became close friends. So close that Hillman wrote a letter advising that Kokoda Spirit ‘had no outstanding trek fees in 2008, 2009, or 2010’.
There was no mention whether these amounts related to the full amount of unpaid fees identified by the Kokoda Track Authority audit, or any reduced amount negotiated as part of a confidential settlement with the KTA.
It was noted that Hillman did not write a similar letter to any other trekking company (including the one company that was compliant with payment and those in near compliance).
At the end of Hillman’s term as CEO he joined Wetherall’s company, Kokoda Spirit, on a trek across the Kokoda Trail, and wrote a glowing reference as a parting gift on Thursday, 28 June 2012:
‘Wayne and Michelle,
‘Please accept my apologies, belated thanks and appreciation for assisting me to join your trek last year. The trek was brilliant and allowed me to spend time with my two sons focused on them instead of organizing/ leading my own trek.
‘Kokoda Spirit’s organization and implementation was a credit to you both. The trek flowed well with competent (obviously well trained) staff who enjoyed their work. From our first meeting on Brigade Hill with the porters performing a welcome dance to flying back to Port Moresby and dinner at the Yacht Club we were treated extremely well. The relationship one of my sons developed with your porter Billy was a highlight.
‘Cameron is excellent. He has a genuine passion for the subject and I thoroughly enjoyed his commentary and leadership of the group.
‘This was my first experience as a ‘trekker’ on the Kokoda Track as all the other times it was work and a very different experience. It was a great insight to the experience trekkers get when they join a tour operator and if everyone supplies the experience Kokoda Spirit does then the Industry is in safe hands.
‘Once again my congratulations and my thanks. Cheers
According to a signed statement by Hillman on 8 November 2018, Wetherall advised him that the ‘thousand trekkers’ he claimed to have led across the Trail in 2008 was just a fake ‘marketing statement and not actual figures’.
In 2016 the Australian High Commission went a step further and wrote a personal letter congratulating Wetherall for the ‘great work he was doing on the Track’:
‘By way of introduction I am responsible at the High Commission for the Australian government work in the Kokoda region.
‘I’d welcome the opportunity to meet with you if you have time next time you’re around Moresby Always keen to hear and learn more about the Track, and discuss the Australian government approach, including to some of the challenges.
‘Counsellor, Australian High Commission – Port Moresby’
The Australian High Commission failed to write to other trekking companies who had built community learning centres, initiated agricultural projects, and provided generous support to local schools and health centres.
They obviously did not have the charm that Wetherall oozed when he needed to.
The Australian High Commission was obviously unaware that Kokoda Spirit was not (according to the PNG Investment Promotion Authority (IPA), operating in accordance with PNG legislation.
Wetherall’s powers of marketing and persuasion are also evident in his Linkedin endorsements for ‘management’, ‘strategic planning’ and ‘program management’ by the Australian ‘Strategic Management Advisor’ for the DFAT Kokoda Initiative, Mark Nizette.
It is instructive that DFAT agencies responsible for ensuring good governance in the management of the Kokoda Trail i.e., the Australian High Commission, the DFAT Kokoda Initiative, and the PNG Kokoda Track Authority, have provided written and published endorsements of an Australian company that, according to documentary evidence available, has failed to pay substantial trek fees (resultingly cheating villages of their entitlement to shared benefits), making continued unjustified and unsubstantiated claims on their website, failing to operate in accordance with PNG legislation, and who have avoided their taxation obligations.
The Last Word from one of his trek leaders – a former army lieutenant, decorated during the Vietnam War:
‘I led two dry season Track crossings for Wayne in 2009. The first, comprising a group of some six clients, went reasonably well. An overall assessment suggested to me that, prima facie, Wayne had his shit in order.
‘The second crossing for Wayne later that year, was however, an unmitigated disaster, and suggested to me that Wayne was flying by the seat of his pants, and that his organisation was a major accident waiting for a time and a place to happen. I forwarded a comprehensive assessment of the trek and his organisation to him and received in return only a brief acknowledgement of that report. Since that time, I’ve had essentially no contact with him.
‘It was very clear to me before, during, and after that second trek, that every facet of his organisation essentially failed to meet even the most rudimentary of common, garden variety trekking standards. It didn’t matter whether the issue was pre or post trek administration; support staff selection, management, development, competence and accountability arrangements; trek safety; or logistics: all seemed to perch precariously and consistently on a narrow knife edge, where the potential for significant problems to emerge were so obviously and consistently in evidence.
‘I concluded that report to Wayne with the following advice: “If it is your wish that KS continues to operate, and to prosper, professionally, on the Track, it is my opinion that a significant review of your Company’s philosophy, your standards and modus operandi is urgently required.‘
It would be well beyond any possibility that I would trek for or with him again, nor would I in any way recommend any potential trekker to join his expeditions. I would not allow myself to be associated with him or his organisation.
‘My anecdotal-based overview of WW, gained inter alia, from a number of reputable sources whose opinion and judgement I would trust, and over the past seven years, is that he is a bullshit merchant of some standing, whose principal position in life seems to be based on a carefully planned programme of self-aggrandisement and self-promotion. Notwithstanding his clever self-marketing skills, his trekking “exploits” both on and off the Track appears to me to lack any real credibility, He seems somehow to survive on a predetermined network of manipulative exploitation of, at best, half-truths, something akin to a shonky second-hand car salesman!!’
- Queensland Industrial Relations Commission Judgement:
Kelly v Workers’ Compensation Regulator  QIRC 366
- Brisbane Times: |
Kokoda Tour Employee Wins Appeal over claims boss spat on her during outbursts
Fact Check re Wayne Wetherall
Chronology of transition from suburban salesman to Kokoda ‘Big-Man’
Date of Birth: 3 May 1965
NSW Technical Sales Manager, Kirby Refrigeration
NSW State Manager, Kirby Refrigeration
NSW State Manager, Actrol Pty Ltd
Actrol is a wholesaler of parts to the refrigeration, air conditioning and allied industries.
National Sales Marketing Manager, Reliance Grou0/TubeFit
‘TubeFit’ does not generate any results in the Reliance Group Search Engine – it is not possible to gauge the extent of Wetherall’s ‘National’ responsibilities in this position.
National Sales Marketing Manager, RES (Refrigeration Equipment Supplies)
RES does not have a website – it is therefore not possible to gauge the extent of Wetherall’s ‘National’ responsibilities in this position.
Kokoda Spirit Pty Limited (ACN:111 575 378) registered with ASIC 0n 28 October 2004.
Kokoda Spirit (PNG) Limited (1-47149) registered in PNG on 16 December 2005.
The following is an extract from the first Kokoda Spirit website on 11 February 2005:
‘Kokoda Spirit is passionately committed to the legacy and Spirit (sic) that our Australian Soldiers (sic) and their Papuan New Guinea Brothers (sic) have left for us on the Kokoda Track (sic). The Courage (sic), Endurance (sic), Mateship (sic) and Sacrifice (sic) on this sacred track have become legend. We at Kokoda Spirit are dedicated to providing our Trekkers (sic) and Rafters (sic)with the Experience (sic) of a Lifetime (sic), to Experience (sic) Adventure (sic), to Experience (sic) the Spirit (sic) and to Experience (sic) the Culture (sic) and the People (sic) this wonderful, fascinating and awe inspiring Country (sic) provides.
‘At Kokoda Spirit we are always at the forefront of new adventures in PNG. We have successfully explored and opened up 3 new rivers in PNG. We can also organise treks to Mt Wilhelm and Mt Victoria. We are also opening up trips to Alotau at Milne bay and Buna and Gona on the North Coast (sic). Kokoda Spirit has offices in both Sydney and Port Moresby. This allows us to provide you with local contacts in Australia, while our strategically based Port Moresby office provides all the advantages of local knowledge and local infrastructure. This support network ensures your trekking or rafting adventure is enjoyable and trouble free.
‘Our Australian office and operation is run by Wayne Wetherall and Frank Hasiuk. Both these men are passionate about the Kokoda Track (sic), the Australian history, the people and the culture. Both Wayne and Frank have accompanied “Ossie” on the Kokoda Track (sic) and his explorations of the PNG rivers. They have established strong bonds with the local villagers, setting up trusts to supply much needed supplies of School books and equipment. Wayne and Frank’s expertise in Business (sic), IT and Tourism (sic) provides the professional support and infrastructure to the team in Papua New Guinea. Wayne Wetherall has an intimate knowledge and passion for the Australian war history on the track and is our Chief Australian Guide. He has also written a number of stories on the history and his experiences on the track. His enthusiasm and knowledge will give you an insight into the Kokoda Tracks (sic) history.
‘Kokoda Spirit has also run small group trips to explore the history and sites of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Borneo. (Details on request.)
‘Wayne Wetherall achievements in Brief:
‘Kokoda Spirit is the only Trekking/Rafting Company (sic) in PNG. Kokoda Spirit is also the only commercially operated Rafting (sic) company in PNG. Kokoda Spirit can offer you rafting at the completion of your trek – either on the Kumusi River near Kokoda or on the Vanapa and Angabanga Rivers near Port Moresby.’
Kokoda Spirit ventures into white-water rafting in PNG ended after three Israeli rafters were drowned on one of their expeditions in May 2005.There is no record of Wayne Wetherall and Frank Hasiuk ‘setting up trusts to supply much needed supplies of School books and equipment’ for local villagers in 2005.There is no record of Wetherall publishing ‘stories on the history and his experiences on the track’ prior to 2005.There is no record of Kokoda Spirit organising or leading ‘small group trips to explore the history and sites of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Borneo’ prior to 2005.Prior to 2004, Frank Hasiuk worked in Real Estate in South-Western Sydney. According to a PNG guide on his first trek across the Kokoda Trail in 2004 he provided the funding for Wetherall’s initial ventures into PNG. He was mentioned on the Kokoda Spirit website for a short time before being removed.According to Wetherall’s LinkedIn profile he was employed as the National Marketing Manager with Refrigeration Equipment Supplies from 2003 until December 2006.
Celsius Journal: Vol 34. No 5. May 2006. Page 14. Industry News – The Official Journal of the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association of Australia
‘Wayne Weatherall is the National Sales Manager for RES. Wayne has been a great help assisting us with Worldskills.’
It is difficult to understand how Wetherall could have been ‘at the forefront of new adventures in PNG; exploring and opening and opening up new rivers in PNG; and opening up trips to Alotau, Buna and Gona whilst he was employed as the National Sales Manager for Refrigeration Equipment Supplies at the same time in 2005-2006.There are no known records of his ‘exploring’ and ‘opening up’ of ‘new adventures’ in any of these locations – it can therefore be assumed that he made them up to enhance the myth he was cultivating in the early years of his involvement with the Kokoda Trail.
According to an interview with the Sunshine Coast Daily newspaper on 15 April 2009 he informed the reporter, Anne Lousie Brown, that he was:
‘a building industry sales executive, but “had a nagging need” to make his Kokoda Spirit dream come alive.’
There are no known records of Wayne Wetherall’s engagement in the building industry as a sales executive. He has not mentioned this fact in his Linkedin profile or any other forum.
It is possible he might just have been trying to impress the young female reporter.
THE AWCI 66th Annual Conference:(Association of Wall and Ceiling Industries)
Reef View Hotel, Hamilton Island, QLD: 6-9 November 2011
Motivational Speaker: Wayne Wetherall
‘Wayne Wetherall is currently the owner and Managing Director of Adventure companies, Kokoda Spirit and Wild Spirit Adventures. Wayne had a very successful career in the corporate world as a National Sales and Marketing Manager and General Manager, until in 2004, he walked the Kokoda Track in PNG; a life changing experience that he has turned into a passion and lifestyle.
‘In 2007 he took on the fulltime role as Managing Director of his own company Kokoda Spirit, which quickly became Number One operator of adventure treks across Kokoda and PNG, escorting over 4000 trekkers across the track. Wetherall’s adventure company has now expanded into Borneo, Africa and Nepal, with his passion to deliver life changing adventures.’
Wayne Wetherall established his myth on the pillar of his international, national, and state athletic records which were listed on the Kokoda Spirit website on 11 February 2005.
They were quietly removed from the website after the aura of the adventurer, explorer, and historian with a passion for our soldiers had been established. If Wetherall’s athletic records were true it is fair to assume they would have featured in his profile as a ‘motivational speaker’ of some note at the AWCI 66th International Conference in 2011 – that’s what motivational speakers do!
Wayne’s expertise in Adventure tourism, Business, Management, Leadership, Motivation and Life changing experiences, provides the professional support and infrastructure to the team in Papua New Guinea. Wayne has had a very successful career in the corporate world as a State Manager, National Sales and Marketing Manager and General Manager.’
According to Annual Returns submitted for Kokoda Spirit PNG, Wetherall did not have a ‘team in Papua New Guinea’ as the company did not employ any full-time or part-time employees.
‘Founded in 2004 by adventurer, Wayne Wetherall, Kokoda Spirit began with an earnest desire to experience a legendary track that was once all but forgotten to time until a small band of Soldiers trekked into the interior of Papua New Guinea and fought back an invading Japanese force during World War II. This formidable frontier became known as the Kokoda Trail Campaign.’
It is a stretch to relate the term ‘adventurer’ to the various suburban sales manager positions listed on his Linkedin profile prior to 2004!
According to Wayne Wetherall’s Linkedin profile he has also ‘thrown himself out of a perfectly good plane skydiving 4 times’, and ‘caged dived with the Great White sharks off Port Lincoln’.
Wetherall did not actually ‘throw himself out a perfectly good plane skydiving 4 times’ as claimed. According to Skydive.com.au a parachutist must have completed nine AFF training stages which involve assisted jumping ‘with two instructors holding on to you’ before one is permitted to jump solo. This FB post indicates that Wetherall participated in a ‘tandem jump’ firmly attached to a qualified parachutist in the same fashion as this 95-year-old skydiver.
According to Shark Diving in Port Lincoln: ‘Our crew strive to ensure all groups get a similar experience in the cage, based on shark interaction . . . Please remember that the day isn’t just about being in the cage as there is also ample viewing opportunity from on board the vessel while waiting for your turn to dive’.
Trolling for the Truth
Trolling for the truth regarding Wayne Wetherall’s claims on the Internet Archive is a difficult, time-consuming exercise which leads to the conclusion that he either has mathematical dyslexia, a poor memory, or he makes spurious claims with no justification.
|YEAR||KOKODA SPIRIT WEBSITE CLAIM||COMMENT|
|2010||Reference (18 November 2010): Kokoda Spirit led 3000 trekkers|
|2011||Reference (11 January 2012): Kokoda Spirit led 3800 trekkers|
|2012||Reference (13 January 2013): Wetherall completed 50 treks Kokoda Spirit led 3600 trekkers||Kokoda Spirit seems to have ‘lost’ 200 trekkers in 2012!|
|2013||Reference 1 (25 May 2013): Wayne Wetherall announces his retirement from trekking after completing 50 treks. Reference 2 (26 January 2014): Wetherall completed 55 treksKokoda Spirit led 4000 trekkers|
|2014||Reference (13 December 2014): Wetherall completed 56 treks Kokoda Spirit led 4000 trekkers||According to this post Kokoda Spirit led 400 trekkers across the Trail in 2013 & 2014.|
|2015||Reference 1 (27 February 2015): Wetherall completed 56 treksKokoda Spirit led 5000 trekkers Reference 2 (5 November 2015): Wetherall completed 60 treksKokoda Spirit led 6000 trekkers||According to the two references for the same year Wetherall either did not trek at all – or he did 6 treks, with Kokoda Spirit leading either 1000 or 2000 trekkers.|
|2016||Reference 1 (5 March 2016): Wetherall completed 65 treksKokoda Spirit led 5000 trekkers Reference 2 (27 December 2016): Kokoda Spirit led 6000 trekkers Reference 3 (27 December 2016): Wetherall completed 70 treksKokoda Spirit led 7000 trekkers||According to these references, Wetherall either completed nine treks or 14 treks in 2016 with Kokoda Spirit leading minus 1000 trekkers, nil trekkers, 1000 trekkers, or 2000 trekkers According to Kokoda Track Authority records only 477 trek permits were issued to Kokoda Spirit in 2016.|
|2017||Reference 1 (29 December 2017): Wetherall completed 70 treksKokoda Spirit led 6600 trekkers Reference 2 (26 February 2018): Wetherall completed 80 treksKokoda Spirit led 7000 trekkers Reference 3 (26 February 2018): Kokoda Spirit led 7500 trekkers Reference 4 (22 March 2018): Wetherall completed 80 treksKokoda Spirit led 7500 trekkers Reference 5 (31 March 2018): Kokoda Spirit led 7000 trekkers||According to these references Wetherall either completed 5 treks or 15 treks, with Kokoda Spirit leading either 1600 trekkers, 2000 trekkers, or 2500 trekkers in 2016.|
According to Kokoda Track Authority records only 464 trek permits were issued to Kokoda Spirit in 2017.
|2018||Reference (11 August 2018): Wetherall completed 82 treksKokoda Spirit led 7700 trekkers Reference (9 January 2019): Wetherall completed 91 treksKokoda Spirit led 8400 trekkers||According to these references Wetherall completed either 2, 11, 12, or 21 treks in 2017, and Kokoda Spirit led either 200, 700, 900, 1100, 1400, or 1800 trekkers across the Trail. The Kokoda Spirit staff in 2018 included Wetherall and two female administrators. In 2018, according to the Kokoda Spirit and Wild Spirit Adventures websites they advertised: 74 treks to Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa;26 expeditions to Everest Base Camp in Nepal; 7 treks to the Sandakan Death March in Borneo;62 treks across the Kokoda Trail. This amounts to a total of 169 international expeditions. If Wetherall completed up to 21 treks as claimed he would have been absent from his home office for up to 10 months months leaving the bulk of the work to his two female staff.|
|2019||Reference 1 (12 August 2020): Wetherall led 85 treksKokoda Spirit led 8900 trekkers Reference 2 (30 October 2020): Wetherall completed 80 treksKokoda Spirit led 8500 trekkers||Wetherall completed either minus two treks or three treks while Kokoda Spirit led either 500, or 1200 trekkers.|
|Trekking across the Kokoda Trail ceased in November 2019 due to Covid-19|
|2020||Reference (19 January 2021): Wetherall completed 85 treksKokoda Spirit let 8500 trekkers||No treks were conducted across the Trail in 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions.|
|2021||Reference (31 March 2021):|
Wetherall completed 91 treks Kokoda Spirit led 8400 trekkers
|No treks were conducted across the Trail in 2021 due to Covid-19 restrictions.|