The welfare of PNG guides and carriers has been a contentious subject for some years however the recent death of a carrier who was allegedly overloaded by an Australian trek operator has brought the issue of their exploitation to to the forefront of the debate.
A recent forum organised by the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) in Brisbane resulted in the CEO of PNG Tourism calling for a response to the issues that were raised – but could not be properly addressed due to agenda/time constraints.
Following is the submission by Adventure Kokoda on the issue of welfare for PNG guides and carriers engaged in the Kokoda Trekking Industry:
This response to the draft Minutes of the KTA Forum conducted in Brisbane on 28 November 2018 is based on the collective views of Adventure Kokoda trek leaders who have a combined total of 130 years professional army experience and who have led more than 520 expeditions across the trail over the past 27 years. Our ‘experience’ in protecting the welfare of our local guides and carriers is in line with the conclusions reached by Dr Geoffrey Vernon, Regimental Medical Officer for the 39th Battalion during the Kokoda campaign.
The KTA Forum was conducted at short notice with insufficient time to prepare detailed submissions for discussion. As it transpired it was more of a briefing session. No Notices of Motions were provided, none were moved and the only substantive decision taken was to have another forum in May 2019!
The Minutes of the previous Tour Operators Forum held in Cairns on 14-15 November were not tabled nor discussed in accordance with normal protocols. These minutes have now been outstanding for more than a year and the fact that they have never been produced after trek operators went to considerable expense to attend is indicative of either negligent administration or a cover-up of some sort.
Our Adventure Kokoda response to the forum will be in two parts.
- Part 1 will address the most important issue that can no longer be postponed because it concerns the welfare protection of the local guides and carriers for the 2019 trekking season..
- Part 2 will address the other issues presented at the forum and will be submitted early in the New Year.
Air Niugini’s Paradise magazine describes a visit to Ower’s Corner, where ‘the road the road becomes a footpath that connects the start of the Kokoda Trail . . . just an hour and a half from downtown Port Moresby’.
Visitors who make the journey are bound to be disappointed. Rather than looking down on a traditional village with interpretive signage, maps and a local market they are confronted with memorial graffiti.
An abandoned campsite acts as a reminder of poor planning and consultation with local landowners.
A purple Ranger’s Hut with a galvanised iron roof stands as a bureaucratic monument to impeded vision. Four large steel girders representing some sort of monument clash with the spectacular vista of the Owen Stanley Rangers beyond. A lone 25-pounder gun under an iron roof without interpretation has been plonked in the centre of the area. Nearby are three panels with a politically correct version interpretation of the Kokoda campaign.
And to round it off Aid funded power poles now encircle the area as a final ‘up you’ to the surrounding environment.
A few locals sit around with some bilums, warm coca-cola and packets of twisties for sale. Visitors cast a cursory eye over their wares but rarely buy anything – they bring their own drinks and snacks and most have already brought bilums from the markets in Port Moresby.
To say they are underwhelmed when they depart is an understatement.
It is obvious that the $50 million spent by the Australian Government on the Kokoda Initiative has not had any impact on improving the livelihoods of the local Owers Corner community.
For reasons known only to Government officials Owers Corner doesn’t rate and the local community doesn’t matter.
But it doesn’t take too much imagination to realise the potential of the area.
Imagine the feeling among visitors on a mini-bus as it crested the top of the ridge at Owers Corner to reveal a gathering of traditional Koiari tree houses in the foreground of the majestic Owen Stanley Ranges.
Imagine an imposing granite wall with images of soldiers and ‘fuzzy-wuzzy angels’ with a memorial stone where visitors could lay a wreath or a poppy – and no need to bring them with you as they can be purchased from a stall build from ‘bush material’ in the local market. They could also buy a PNG brewed coffee and scone from an adjacent stall or cold drinks from their solar powered fridge. Traditional bilums with ‘Kokoda Trail – Owers Corner’ screened on them would be popular as would carved trekking poles. Visitors could observe these being made by locals sitting around their stalls.
Imagine a small museum with restored weapons – a .303 rifle; a bren gun, an Owen gun, a 3” mortar, M36 hand grenades, bayonets, mess tins, soldiers uniforms, pictures, etc adjacent to the 25 pounder gun. These could be obtained on loan from the Australian War Memorial as Papua was Australian territory in 1942 so it would be within the charter of the AWM to support it.
Imagine interpretive signs and maps that would provide visitors with an accurate historical understanding of the Kokoda campaign, the Koiari people and the local flora and fauna.
Imagine a traditional gateway through which trekkers pass to the beat of kundu drums as they depart from or arrive at Owers Corner – one that symbolises the arrival or departure of ground sacred to our shared wartime heritage with PNG.
Imagine a signpost that listed all the significant battlesites and villagers with the distances from Owers Corner.
Imagine having the opportunity to trek down to the Goldie River for a bar-b-que – or stay overnight in traditional village huts – or trek to Imita Ridge and back.
Such facilities and opportunities would warrant an entry fee of K15 per person.
Imagine how happy the Owers Corner community would be with that!
Adventure Kokoda is proud to announce a $10,000 (K25,000) donation to Network Kokoda to support our ongoing philanthropic work along the Kokoda Trail. This donation has been made possible through the support of those great Australians who chose to trek with us in 2018 – tenk yu tru olgeta!
We have also been advised that Network Kokoda has been approved as an authorised charity by Good2Give – this means that if you work for any of the companies listed below you can make a small tax-deductable donation from your pay and the company will forward it directly to Network Kokoda – to sign in all you have to do is click here.
You might also like to contact the manager in charge of their workplace charities to see if they will seek donations from their employees as many will have a link to PNG or veterans who fought in the War in the Pacific.
If you don’t belong to one of the listed companies you can click on the Donate button on our Network Kokoda website.
This year we completed the TB Isolation Ward at the Popondetta Hospital in partnership with the Oro Development Project as well as a Commercial Fish Farm at the Iaowari High School in partnership with Richmond Rotary. We have also established a partnership with the PNG MiBank to run financial literacy classes for the women’s groups on the Sogeri Plateau. We have also established a partnership with the PNG Ginigoada Foundation to run classes for women in literacy, sewing, cooking and village agriculture. All the classes are conducted in the Womens’ Learning Centre we built next door to the Sogeri Lodge.
We have also been successful in obtaining approval from the Colombo Plan to fund 25 academics and students from the University of Western Sydney to be deployed to Iaowari High School for two week periods over the next three years.
Over the past 12 months we have evacuated three village families from across the trail for urgent medical treatment at the Pacific International Hospital.
We still have much to do but we need some regular donations to allow us to meet the demands for help from villagers along the trail. If all of our past trekkers were to donate the equivalent cost of a cup of coffee each day we would be able to meet most of these demands.
‘Can you spare us a cuppa Dig?’
A long running defamation case brought against The Hon Charlie Lynn OAM OL and Adventure Kokoda by Wayne Wetherall and his trekking company, Kokoda Spirit, was struck out in the Maroochydore District Court last Friday.
The case involved false claims made by Wetherall and plagiarism of the Adventure Kokoda website by Kokoda Spirit.
The court found that Kokoda Spirit and Wetherall had failed to prosecute their claims for defamation against Adventure Kokoda and Charlie Lynn within a reasonable time.
They had tried to blame their solicitor but the court found that they were to blame as well as the solicitor. In throwing out their claims, the court declined to make a finding that Kokoda Spirit and Wetherall had established reasonable prospects of success in their suits for defamation.
Charlie Lynn and Adventure Kokoda were awarded their costs of the 7 year proceeding to be paid by Wayne Wetherall and Kokoda Spirit.
I have put off writing to you, because I don’t know where to start or how to use the right words for what i would like to say.
Thank you so much for your amazing organisation and the opportunities you give people. My dealings with you all were fantastic and you never made me feel silly when I had a million and one questions I needed answered.
I was so lucky to have both of my twins go to Kokoda with you. I was a little nervous sending them both, but that’s just me.
We live 3 & 1/2 hrs from Sydney and i was surprised to have non stop chatter all the way home. they loved every moment of their experience, the good and the bad. They had so many amazing stories to tell and the friendships they have made will be with them forever. Lochie told us about being sick, and how they just had to keep going. The experience has made them appreciate their lives differently. I am extremely blessed to have the children I do, 99% of the time they are wonderful. Jake our youngest has CP and is in a wheel chair and has a communication device, the twins are amazing with Jake. He was so happy to see them on
their return that he burst into tears.
On the Saturday they were asked if they would do it again, both said yes, however Jacinta piped up and said “Not today”. Thank you for making her dream come true, she waited 2 years to be able to apply to do it.
Thank you doesn’t do justice to what you have done for Jacinta and Lochie, you have helped cement their values, qualities and characteristics that are making them into the wonderful young adults they are becoming.
They have both been put in situations since being home, where they have stepped out of their comfort zone to help others.
They both speak so highly of the experience and the people who helped them along the way, it will be something they will never forget.
Thank so so much.
From a very proud and grateful mum,
Adventure Kokoda and the RSL Services Clubs Association are very proud of you Mary and we look forward to keeping in touch and monitoring their progress. (more…)