The recent humiliation of Kokoda tourism management in the PNG National Court has lifted the scab off a web off insidious political agendas, the use of aid-for-influence, nepotism, incompetence and corruption within the DFAT funded Kokoda Initiative network.

The common denominator in the web is . . . MEN!

The Kokoda Track Authority Board of Directors are all . . . MEN!

The Kokoda Initiative Committee appointed by the Minister for Environment, Conservation and Climate Change are all . . . MEN!

The only common factor they share is that none have ever trekked the Kokoda Trail with a professional tour group to witness the emotional impact of the pilgrimage on their paying customers; the outstanding support provided by local guides and porters; the traditional hospitality of subsistence villagers; the lack of military heritage and environmental interpretation; and the deplorable condition of campsite facilities, especially toilets.

And while they ride their gravy train which includes aid-funded meetings in 5-star hotels and attendance at international forums with generous allowances, their village communities along the Trail continue to eke out a subsistence living from the soil as they have for the past 15-years under their watch.

Those who dare criticise their perverted priorities or base incompetence risk having their licenses cancelled – but thank God for the integrity of their National Court!

A counter strategy to the cesspit of entrenched incompetence, greed and corruption within the Kokoda Initiative-KTA Alliance is to recruit PNG women into their ranks.

Two women in particular – Ms Rashmii Bell and Ms. Hennah Joku!

Unlike their male counterparts, both Rashmii and Hennah have trekked with pilgrimage trekkers and engaged with village women, campsite owners, guides and porters. They have witnessed the neglect of military heritage sites, preventable environmental erosion, inadequate campsites and putrid toilets.

But more importantly they have been able to interpret the value of the pilgrimage in a way their deskbound male colleagues in Port Moresby will never understand!

On her return from her trek, Rashmii Bell penned her observations in a series of articles titled ‘Kokoda: A Trail of Woe.’

The poem, ‘Roses at Eora Creek’, appended to her article, captures the unique relationship between a trekker and her porter – it is such a profound poem it should be included in the national educational curricula as a source of pride and inspiration for young PNG students throughout the country.

It is instructive that the ‘MEN’ in charge of the aid-funded talkfests in Port Moresby and Brisbane have not yet taken the time to read her reports because none of them has contacted Rashmii to talk about her experience, her observations, or her recommendations.

More recently we shared the experience with another outstanding PNG woman – Hennah Joku, a senior journalist and feisty leader in the fight against GBV in PNG.

Hennah has recently posted her thoughts on the following blog: Adventure Kokoda License Restored by PNG National Court:

2023 was a year of intensity. I achieved the highest of highs and hit the lowest of lows but all throughout it has been a time of transformation!

In my teens I made a personal pledge to walk the Kokoda Trail fascinated to have learned a crucial part of Papua New Guinean history and eager to be a part of it too someday. This promise sat in mind and heart as I patiently waited, saved then had to start over and backbench plans for an opportunity to realize this goal. As they say, any unplanned adventure is usually the best! Where I had set goals for an intensive training schedule and daydreamed the ideal group of friends I would one day do the trek with – God had other things up His sleeve.

Fast forward to April 2023 and I finally checked this goal of my bucket list with an even bigger sense of achievement attached to the journey.

There’s a twist in my story here. In December 2022 I finally got a successful conviction from the Papua New Guinea National Court for my GBV case I had been fighting for almost six years. The court handed down a guilty verdict to my ex-partner for three charges, one of which was rape. That rape happened up at Owers Corner, Sogeri. You see, I’m not a rape victim but he is a rapist. That’s no longer ‘the place I got raped’ it is now part of an awesome journey I took with Adventure Kokoda and a team of just over 100, including fellow trekkers and our porters. We successfully conquered the Anzac Day trek with Charlie Lynn and his awesome team for his final trek, #101 before retiring. I re-wrote my story. Now Kokoda and this experience is etched in my heart forever as is everyone I got to share this part of my life with along the trail.

And still, there’s more.

I am the mother of a Kokoda woman- my beautiful daughter’s grandmother (father’s side) hails from Hanjiri. Having walked this path, I know I must bring her on it too. To fully appreciate, understand, acknowledge and appreciate the role our people, her people, played during the Kokoda Campaign and what that meant for our beautiful Papua New Guinea. It’s a piece of history we must never forget.

The ten days brought me to meet people in places often forgotten. The name Kokoda famous in Australia, ignored at home. We only think it’s synonymous with visiting trekkers and overlook it’s significance. For the tremendous sacrifice our young men then gave – we have never honoured them enough.

I saw a desperate need for infrastructure maintenance, non-existent communication and limited resources and support. I’m walking and trying to understand how this tourism commodity, the great ‘Kokoda Trail’ which attracts a steady stream of trekkers and generates hundreds of thousands of kina in trekking fees, and our people still live like that?

Efogi village has a double classroom Ausid funded I believe still without teachers and a massive generator graciously donated by the local MP some nine years ago that sits idle. Never used. Never connected. Locals tell me it could easily power this village and the next. Baffling. Are we not talking to each other in Port Moresby? Or is it all for show.

Kokoda deserves better!

This was an experience I will NEVER forget and I will do whatever I can to be a voice for these amazing and wonderful people who are family, old and new. I know without a doubt that being a part of this family – Adventure Kokoda and with my fellow trekkers, others past and future,

Together we can make a difference and impact change to protect this precious part of PNG.

Hennah Joku
Anzac Day Trek 2023

Author’ Note:

The recent KTA Forum held over a two-day period in Brisbane should bring the curtain down on what is probably the most incompetent Local Government Special Purpose Authority in Papua New Guinea.

It’s only purpose now is to provide a scapegoat for equally incompetent Australian officials in the DFAT Kokoda Initiative to blame for their own failures regarding the management of the Kokoda Trail.

These failures have been well documented in the following links:

We learned long ago that KTA forums are a bureaucratic guise to create an impression of activity. The lack of a single outcome to improve the management of Kokoda tourism has exposed the fallacy of this annual charade.

The Brisbane forum saw 10 officials fly from Port Moresby to brief 7 Kokoda tour operator representatives of Day 1 – and just 5 on Day 2.

The following record of ‘Issues raised and discussed’ should be seen as a shallow excuse to justify an international trip to Brisbane.

The topics have been discussed ad nauseum at previous forums with no outcomes achieved – my response on each agenda item are self-explanatory.

It would have been more economical and just as effective for them to conduct their forum by Zoom and do their Christmas shopping through Amazon.

Time to End the Rorts for Kokoda Initiative-KTA Officials!