While the arrival of half-a-dozen Australian Government Ministers in PNG during their annual ‘Repentance Day’ holiday is coincidental it does provide a timely opportunity to offer some repentance of our own for the past few decades of paternalism in our relationship with our closest neighbour, former territory, fellow Commonwealth Member and wartime ally.
The delegation is obviously an outcome of the recent visit to Australia by Prime Minister James Marape who was accorded VIP treatment by our PM, Scott Morrison. Indeed it was the highest profile visit by any PNG Prime Minister for at least three decades and there is no doubt the two leaders have developed a close friendship.
I would hope the Ministerial delegation will include a visit to Bomana War Cemetery to allow them to pay their respects to the thousands of young Australian and Papuan soldiers who gave their lives in defence of the freedom we enjoy in both countries today.
One cannot visit Bomana without feeling an intense sense of pride in the work the Office of Australian War Graves do in maintaining such a sacred site. It was therefore disappointing to see our Minister for Veterans Affairs was not part of the delegation in view of the fact that PNG is the custodian of land sacred to our shared wartime heritage.
Bomana is not only a sanctuary for reflection on past sacrifice it is also a gateway for relationship building as increasing numbers of Australians are seeking pilgrimages to battlefields in Kokoda, Buna, Gona, the Black Cat Track, Shaggy Ridge, Milne Bay, Lae and Rabaul. Over the past decade more than 50,000 Australians have trekked across the Kokoda Trail which has generated more than $150 million for tourism income.
Unfortunately the mood of the delegation will change if they
are venture beyond Bomana.
TripAdvisor has judged Adventure Kokoda to be the best trekking company on the Kokoda Trail in 2019 – for the 5th consecutive year.
The 560 trekkers we have led across the trail this year has generated the following benefits for PNG:
K1 million for Air Niugini
K200,000 trek fees for the KTA
K290,000 for food purchases at Port Moresby supermarkets
K260,000 for accommodation at Sogeri
K100,000 for bus/truck transport
K450,000 for charter aircraft between Port Moresby and Kokoda
K2.56 million in wages for our PNG guides and carriers
K400,000 for campsite owners
K130,000 for local purchases along the trail
K260,000 worth of school and medical supplies donated by our trekkers
K60,000 worth of clothing and equipment donated to guides and carriers at the end of their trek
This equates to atotal benefit of K5.35 million for PNG from Adventure Kokoda this year![i]. In 1991, when Charlie Lynn first trekked across the Kokoda Trail the combined income of all the subsistence villages was estimated to be around K60,000 – we have come a long way together.
Developed community market gardens at Sogeri and Iaowari High School and Sogeri National High School
Built a Community Centre at Abuari
Assisted in the building of a TB Isolation Ward at Popondetta Hospital
Engaged a full-time agricultural graduate to provide assistance to school and villagers on the Sogeri Plateau
Developed a Commercial Fish Farm at Iaowari High School
Donated 4000 library books to Port Moresby Grammar School
Major Charlie Lynn’s work in establishing the Kokoda trekking industry was recognised in 2015 when he was honoured with his induction as an Officer of the Logohu by the PNG Government in their New Years’ Honours List ‘for service to the bilateral relations between Papua New Guinea and Australia and especially in the development of the Kokoda Trail and its honoured place in the history of both nations’ over the past 25 years.
comments regarding a person you did not have the courage to name at the KTA
Trek Operators Forum in Port Moresby have been forwarded to me,
I believe you addressed the forum in your capacity as President of the Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA) which was established to look after the interests of a small but vocal group of Australian based eco-tour operators.
According to the minutes of the forum you stated – some said it was more of a shriek – but I can’t comment because I wasn’t present:
‘It is time to call out those who would choose to damage and destroy the industry for whatever warped vested interests they have – who would know. We have talked about some of the claims and accusations that have been made earlier; it is interesting to note that are rarely if ever, are they made in person, but through others or from the safety of sitting behind a computer and ranting through social media. It does appear to confirm the adage that bullies are always cowards.
‘It would be easy to dismiss the negative comments and accusations thrown around as the bitter ramblings of someone, struggling with their declining relevance. However, that would be to ignore the damage and destruction being caused to our businesses, our industry and the country we love.’
This is obviously an unfair smear against the 22 trek operators licensed by the PNG Kokoda Track Authority who do not belong to your small association which has just 8 active members.
I was somewhat relieved to think that you could not have possibly been talking about me because I put my name to everything I publish as you well know – a check of our Adventure Kokoda blog; a review of the articles I have written; and the numerous papers I have submitted will verify this.
However I do acknowledge that some of my blogs have been critical of your association because of the level of exploitation you tolerate in regard to the PNG guides and carriers you engage – and the fake research you use to justify it. I appreciate that there is a remote possibility that you could have been referring to me so I hope this blog post will clarify my concerns.
More than $5 million has been hijacked from Kokoda trekkers by unaccountable Australian and PNG bureaucrats over the past decade. This money had been paid in good faith to meet their basic needs in the form of adequate campsites and a safe trail. The fees were also meant to provide for shared community benefits for villagers along the trail.
However, since Australian Government officials assumed control of the emerging Kokoda trekking industry in 2008 not a single dollar has been spent to improve campsites, toilets or management systems to meet the needs of the trekkers. Nobody knows where the money has gone because the bureaucrats involved have never produced an audited financial report. Nobody knows what they do because they don’t produce newsletters or answer emails. Not a single resolution from a forum has ever been actioned. Not a single workshop has been conducted at village level to see how the custodians of the land across the trail could benefit from the trekking industry.
In the meantime local PNG carriers continue to be
overloaded, underpaid and poorly equipped. Local campsite owners are
continually short-changed while villagers have been reduced to the status of
spectators to a passing parade of trekkers.