“I developed a palatable distaste for him as an individual. I also viewed his conduct as not only lacking in professionalism but potentially dangerous to his clients. What can pass for humour in Australia can, I feel, be easily misconstrued in PNG.“
Major Lindsay Adams
Howell’s transition from a mobile phone salesman began with a claim to have grown up ‘with the stories of his grandfather who served in Papua New Guinea during WWII’.
He never referred to any of the stories. or his grandfather, again as he transitioned into a ‘Melbourne-based author, tour guide and historian specialising in the South West Pacific Area of Operations during the Second World War’ and ‘to be well published on Australian Military history’.
He doesn’t provide any references to his publications.
His social media pages are littered with plagiarised military history references to create a false impression of authenticity.
His claims to have has taken ‘thousands of people around the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway at Concord ‘educating visitors on the significance of the Kokoda Campaign,’ are disputed by the CEO and Director of the Kokoda Walkway since 1996, Ms Alice Kang AM,
Ms. Kang recalled that her first contact with Howell was related to a mobile phone business he represented.
After meeting Ms. Kang and learning about the Kokoda Walkway Howell volunteered to be a guide for school groups and joined a ‘friends group’ Ms Kang had established to assist with fundraising.
She assumed he saw it as an opportunity for marketing his mobile phones for what was then an emerging market among students.
At this stage, according to Ms. Kang, Howell knew little about Kokoda. She noticed that he began to ingratiate himself with a few of the elderly Kokoda veterans and started to collect some of their memorabilia. He later volunteered to become the Hon Sec of her ‘Friends of the Walkway‘ group but Ms Kang cannot recall them ever doing much apart from the odd social gathering.
During his time as a volunteer guide, he learned about the emergence of Kokoda tourism and registered ‘Kokoda Historical’ as a Business Name with ASIC. A few years later, as trekking across the Trail became more popular, he began to organise his own groups.
Trekking operations were unregulated in PNG at the time so it was relatively easy to cash in on the business opportunities it represented.
Howell later moved to Melbourne where he was engaged as a ‘Friends and Fundraising Coordinator’ at the Shrine of Remembrance from 2010 – 2015. This provided him with the time and resources he needed to learn more about the WW2 Papua and New Guinea campaigns, particularly Kokoda.
During this period, he joined the 39th and 2/14th battalion associations and ingratiated himself with more elderly Kokoda veterans who appreciated the attention. He became Honourary Secretary of the 39th Battalion Association which added to the military history credentials he was crafting for himself.
Whilst he was easily able to ingratiate himself with elderly veterans he was not as successful with military historians as one, who wishes to remain anonymous remarked:
‘I was first introduced to Mr Howell at an ANZAC Day service for school children at the 1000 Steps memorial park at Mount Dandenong where he had turned up in a Clan Gordon kilt and khaki military shirt. He had no badges of rank or unit identification, no service medals and no hat. He was wearing a Sam Brown belt and sword and ingratiated his way into the ceremony and was marching with sword out. . . when I was introduced to Howell I queried his military credentials and he responded that he was in 5/6 Battalion Royal Victorian Regiment which tallied with him wearing the Gordon kilt. However, only the pipe band and certain officers wore the kilt for ceremonial occasions so I knew that he was bullshitting. 5th Battalion the Victorian Scottish was my father’s CMF unit before the 2nd World War . . . The general reaction from most people who know him is that he is a “blowhard” who is only interested in promoting himself and his money earning activities for as little work as possible. He generally moves on once people wise up to his motives.‘
This happened after he ingratiated himself with the East Malvern RSL as their Honourary Secretary – he used this position to promote his military historical credentials and denigrate others who attempted to expose him.
The East Malvern RSL ‘Mufti’ magazine reported that a year after his first visit to PNG in 2005:
‘The experience inspired the then 26-year-old to join the Army Reserve where he was deployed as a Peace Keeper to the Solomon Islands. However, something about the spirit of Kokoda had captured his heart and as his interest in the stories and history of Kokoda grew, he wanted to share the experience with others and actively help keep the memory of the Australians who fought there alive. He has since walked the Kokoda Track more than 70 times.’
It is just as likely that Howell saw an opportunity to use the Army Reserve, with its minimal requirements for service, to enhance his ‘military’ credentials as there is no mention of any army accomplishments, rank, unit details, or exercise assignments during his 15 years service.
He apparently ‘retired’ from the Army Reserve with the rank of Private – some have remarked that even Forest Gump would have been promoted above ‘Private’ after 15 years’ service!
He has since moved on to be the Honourary Secretary of the Mornington RSL. A recent email response to a query about booking a Kokoda trek is an example of how he surreptitiously leverages these appointments as a means of linking his Kokoda business to his association with the RSL to enhance his credibility and denigrate other Kokoda tour operators:
‘From: David Howell <firstname.lastname@example.org>
‘Sent: Monday, 22 January 2024 at 09:24:03 am GMT+10
‘Subject: New message from Kokoda Historical contact page
‘I am resending you this message form my RSL email as the reply I sent over the weekend bounced.
Thanks for your email and thanks for letting me know about our licence not having the most update copy on the website. I have no amended this and have attached the copy of our 2023-2024 licence.
‘We were among the first trekking companies’ licence by the KTA this year is our 20th year in operation. I am proud to say with the same partnership in Papua New Guinea from when we started.
‘You are quite right regarding your personal travel insurance potentially not covering you if a company is unlicensed. This happened I believe to Adventure Kokoda last year, who to date are still unlicensed.
‘I have also attached our trekking information booklet for your perusal.
I’f you would like to book on our Anzac trek, please do so via this link: https://kokodahistorical.com.au/shop/product/kokoda-track-trek-1
In the meantime, please email or better still call me direct on 0405 007 700.
Howell’s reference to Adventure Kokoda being unlicensed is false and misleading – the PNG National Court found the earlier cancellation of their licence was unlawful and ordered that it be restored with costs being awarded to the company. Details of the National Court ruling can be found on this link.
Howell has since carved a niche for himself as an ‘author, tour guide and historian’ specialising in ‘in the South West Pacific Area of Operations during the Second World War.’ He is listed with Cruiseco as a Keynote Speaker who ‘travels around Australia, the UK, Ireland and Germany regularly’ – a far cry from flogging mobile phones around Sydney in the late ’90s!
He is also an influential member of the Australian Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA) – a shameless group of bogan-tour operators formed to protect their business interests at the expense of the local guides and porters they employ in PNG.
Their modus operandi has been exposed on this link.
However, the smooth and confident character displayed by Howell in his introductions and presentations is not consistent with his bizarre behaviour during his treks and tours in PNG.
Trip Advisor Review: June 2023
Trip Advisor Review
On 25 September 2014 I received the following unsolicited email from Major Lindsay Adams:
‘This e-mail concerns David Howell of Kokoda Historical. But firstly, allow me to introduce myself.
‘We have in fact met and had a reasonable discussion when you addressed the Sep 2012 Kokoda conference at the AWM and at that time you very kindly provided me with your card. I would understand however if you might not remember me amongst the masses.
‘Like yourself, I am an Army officer with 20 years plus service who has served overseas and on operations, and I am a graduate of the Australian Command and Staff College. I have also had the privilege in recent years to lead a number of Australian Defence Force Academy battlefield study tours to locations such as Vietnam (2009), Gallipoli (2010) and Greece / Crete (2011). In particular, I have a great affection for the country and people of Papua New Guinea and have trekked there many times. My first PNG experience was the Wau – Salamaua walk in 1986 with Reg Yates, a walk I subsequently led two ADFA groups on in 2009 and 2010. Most recently, earlier this month, I completed the East New Britain eight-day Tol Plantation / Lark Force walk – again with Reg.
‘We met and had a reasonable discussion when you addressed the Sep 2012 Kokoda conference at the AWM and at that time you very kindly provided me with your card. I would understand however if you might not remember me amongst the masses.
‘Given my background and experience, I think I have a reasonable view of what a good battlefield study tour looks like and a fair understanding of how to do things in PNG. So, when I see something which I view as counter to the best interests of PNG and tourism in general, I feel obliged to say something about it. Which brings me to David Howell.
‘After the Tol walk I joined a Kokoda Historical group in Rabaul to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ANMF defeat of German forces at Bitipaka. Although David is to be commended for putting this tour together, after seeing him in action as a tour director (assisted by Reg) my initial impression was that he was simply a bit of a clown who didn’t actually know how to run a well organised tour. This impression changed however when I was part of a follow-on group (now led only by David without the mitigating influence of Reg) visiting Milne Bay.
When, for some reason, we could not board our planned flight from Port Moresby to Milne Bay, David wanted to stage a sit in protest in the office of Air Niugini management and proceeded to harass the airline staff (who were doing their best to help us), asking things like how much security was at the management office. This, what could only be called unseemly performance, made most of the group, myself included, quite uncomfortable. In many countries the airline staff would simply have called the police.
‘On our arrival in Milne Bay I heard David say to the local driver that one of the clients was carrying a lot of gold and wanted to buy young children. Later in the day, I heard him say to a local woman that he had been sent to Milne Bay by Jesus and that tourists with other groups had been sent by the devil. From these comments, together with his general incompetence as a guide – he clearly knew very little about the Milne Bay action and his method of moving the group around beyond the obvious memorials, was to ask random locals if they knew where any war relics were – I developed a palatable distaste for him as an individual. I also viewed his conduct as not only lacking in professionalism but potentially dangerous to his clients. What can pass for humour in Australia can, I feel, be easily misconstrued in PNG.
‘After Milne Bay, at the beach heads (now with Reg as our guide after David had headed back to Australia) our group heard many more David Howell stories, two which further particularly deepened my unease about him. On a previous visit to Sananander, he had apparently intercepted a group of locals returning from church and boldly told them something to the effect that “didn’t they know there was no god”. This, quite understandably, precipitated a confrontation. He was also reportedly slapped by one of his Kokoda clients in response to something he said and then, in response, broke the client’s walking stick. While these reports were second hand, I have no reason to doubt their accuracy. Indeed, there was also a great deal more said but perhaps it would be overdoing it to mention too much as I am sure you get the drift of where I am going with this.
‘Noting that you are dealing with David / Kokoda Historical re your Kokoda group that headed off on Sunday 20 Sep, I feel it appropriate to warn you about the type of character he is. As the Kokoda trek is being led by Reg, for whom I have the highest regard, I have no concerns at all for your trekkers on this occasion. However, I would have very real concerns about any activity led by David.
‘As a funny aside to a serious issue, at Sogeri Lodge (which looked after us very well on our final night in PNG) each one of the Victorian based members of our group purchased one of your Adventure Kokoda polo shirts. Their plan is to wear them when they meet with David to formally take him to task on various aspects of his tour performance. At the very least they feel that this might reinforce the point that they were yet to receive the often promised but never delivered Kokoda Historical polo shirts.
‘If you have made it this far, I hope that you feel that this e-mail has been worth your time. Maybe, I am not telling you anything that you don’t already know. Suffice to say that, in my view, PNG and indeed the whole historical tour business, would simply be better off without David Howell’s involvement.
‘With best regards,
The following year, in 2015, Mr. Barry Mundt organised a Kokoda trek group to be led by David Howell from Kokoda Historical.
Howell’s behaviour during the trek led to a break-down in relations which resulted in he and his group sitting at different tables at Sogeri Lodge on their last night and hurling abuse at each other.
The groups distress was evident in an email sent to Kokoda Historical by Barry Mundt regarding Howell’s bizarre behaviour:
“Then, further David’s yelling and screaming out during the night words to the effect “I’ll kill you, you bastard”. A big concern at this time, being in a foreign country and totally intimidated by the actions of David Howell, we three (Barry, Rod & Shae) actually feared for our safety.“
‘I feel that I need to make mention regarding David Howell’s totally unprofessional, aggressive and angry conduct on the last day as the Tour finished and the group arrived at Sogeri Lodge. Such behaviour is totally unacceptable to me and then to add insult to injury David personally and verbally attacked Shae Barrett for what I consider such behaviour to be totally unwarranted, and thus put a huge dampener on the end of what was a very good trip.
‘Then, further David’s yelling and screaming out during the night words to the effect “I’ll kill you, you bastard”. A big concern at this time, being in a foreign country and totally intimidated by the actions of David Howell, we three (Barry, Rod & Shae) actually feared for our safety.
‘To add to this situation, I specifically asked David after dinner at the Sogeri Lodge what time we would need to be ready the next morning, as our flight out of Port Moresby was to leave at approx 6.00am. I was informed by David that 4.30am would be early enough. In my mind, this was not early enough for an international flight. Of course, I did not sleep well, and heard someone up early about 2.30 or so in the shower and shortly thereafter a vehicle departed. Once we had all got ready, and at about 4.30 am it became apparent that David Howell had been the one to depart earlier for the Airport. We all became very very concerned that we would not make our flight. We alerted the Manageress of Sogeri Lodge and she quickly arranged for a driver to be woken up to take us to the airport in her Bus. The airport was a 40 minute drive from Sogeri. Fortunately, we arrived at the airport in time and were able to meet our flight.’
Two years later, on 29 November 2019, Kevin Hawthorne posted a critique of his experience with David Howell on Facebook:
‘I’m looking for anyone who has been on a Mat McLaughlin battlefield tours who has had PROBLEMS with them. I’m 71 years old and I wanted to go on a Papua new GUINEA battlefields tour with one of the b1gg1est tour operators IN AUSTRALIA. The PROBLEMS I had with Mat Mclaughlin battlefield tours was 1. the itinerary was not being done or half done. 2. ACCOMMODATION not what you paid for. 3. TRANSPORTATION not what they PROMISED. 4. food cheap AND NASTY.
‘When I complained about this to Mat I received a NASTY phone can FROM THE tour guide AND HIISTORIAN name David Howell of Kokoda Historical who said that he was going to kilI me and my family for complaining. They targeted pensioners AND ex-service people for these tours and I believe they con pensioners and if they complain threatened knowing that most old people would not complain Has anyone in this group had these problems?’
Hawthorne followed this up with another Facebook post on 19 December 2019:
‘Want to hear about by trip to PNG KOKODA.
‘I went with Mat McLachlan Battlefield tours in N.SW. Big, big mistake he targets ex-servicemen and Pensioners in their 60s, early 70s, charges them $6221 each he pulls in about $126.000.00. He sent us a great itinerary about walking in the footsteps of the Kokoda heroes. My father was in PNG and was wounded in the area so it was a dream come true to be able to walk in his footsteps. I did not know that Mat McLachlan was a newby to the PNG battlefields so he went into partnership with No Roads (expeditions) and Kokoda Historical. Then after we arrived Fiona Smith of No Roads said the itinerary had changed. Some of the things we missed half of the battlefields so I couldn’t walk in my dad’s footsteps. We were at the PNG Parliament when I ask David Howell of Kokoda Historical, the third partner, where the showgrounds were as my dad was camped there. He pointed and said that way about 3 miles. I could write a book on this tour, To cut a story short for accommodation
‘I paid $822 for single supplement = $9042 for 3 nights we had to share a room 8 foot 8 inch by 6 foot, no windows, no fan, no nothing in 40 degrees heat. We paid $1200 for this room that Fiona Smith said cost $30 per night.
‘Food they gave us popcorn, twisties, vegemite sandwiches were the better meals.
‘Transport: 4wds about 1900. No air con, no springs, sitting 6 to 8 people in the back, with their legs around the ears for hours. Remember we are in our late 60s early 70s. That’s only some of it. Dave Howell was running around with a gun at the time. I shit myself.
‘MAT McLachlan has adv for the same trip in 2018 and it will cost $1000 more so they are going to con another 24 old people who don’t know any better.
‘I have said a lot but you may say why haven’t I spoke to them Mat McLachlan, No Roads and my mate Dave from Kokoda Historical. Well I did and I have been blocked from their pages, messages and phone so they don’t fix the complaint, they shoot the messenger with David’s gun.’
Kokoda Historical: The ‘Business’
Kokoda Historical has been conducting guided tours across the Kokoda Trail, since 2006.
David Howell’s business model is based on exploiting the vulnerability of the support crews he employs from subsistence villages. He uses his PNG contracts to register a Business Name with the IPA then uses them as a front to be seen to be complying with the IPA Act.
After his Anzac trek in 2022 he refused to pay the guides and porters he engaged through his contact, Mr. Chris Suma, until the week following his trek. This meant that while Howell’s group were celebrating the completion of their trek in the 5-Star Stanley Hotel, the guides and porters who had got them safely across the Trail were sleeping rough on the streets of Port Moresby because they did not have enough money for local accommadation or fir an airfare back to their village. Following is a statement from Mr. Chris Suma regarding the issue:
According to the Investment Promotion Authority (IPA) Act all foreign enterprises intending to operate in Papua New Guinea are to be certified by the Authority before they proceed to conduct business in the country.
In order to comply with the IPA Act a foreign enterprise must firstly register under the Companies Act 1997, which is administered by the Business Registration and Regulation Division (BR & R) of the IPA, or register as an Overseas Company under the Companies Act 1997.
A review of ASIC and IPA records reveal that ‘Kokoda Historical’ is not registered as a company in either Australian or PNG – it is Business Name only.
IPA records also reveal that the Business Name ‘Kokoda Historical’ was not registered with the PNG IPA until 2019 which means he was in breach of the Act and operated illegally across the Kokoda Trail for 13 years from 2006 – 2019.
As result Howell has been able to avoid paying tax to the PNG Internal Revenue Commission (IRC) on profits he has generated in PNG for the past 17 years.
David Howell’s bizarre character is reflected in his penchant for dressing up in unofficial military uniforms – he seems to use them as an entree card for admittance to military parades, functions, and speaking engagements.
David Howell’s reinvention from a mobile phone salesman to a Kokoda ‘author, tour guide and historian’ has him laughing all the way to the bank – but as feedback from those who have dealt with him proves you can fool some of the people some of the time – but not all of the people all of the time!
The real David Howell – Owers Corner – June 2023