Kokoda Conspiracy: World Heritage – Military Heritage?

In the world of commerce a 46 percent drop in profit would lead to serious analysis of cause and effect. Volatile AGMs would see Directors seeking to reassure shareholders of strategies to arrest the decline.

This is in stark contrast to Government which is unaccountable for results because of the craft of its practitioners and the complexity of its bureaucratic machinery.

Since Australian Environment officials assumed control of the Kokoda trekking industry in 2009 trekker numbers have declined by almost 50 percent from 5621 in 2008 to 3033 in 2018 – despite an injection of more than $50 million of Aid funding.

The official response to the decline inevitably refers to an aircraft crash in 2009 and a couple of deaths around the same period. The reality today is that whenever the scene of the crash-site is pointed out to trekkers the usual response is ‘what crash?’

Prior to the discovery of the $3billion Kodu gold and copper deposit on the southern slopes of the Kokoda Trail near Mt Bini there was no interest in the area or its people from either the PNG or Australian Governments.  The appearance of bulldozers from Frontier Resources in 2006 changed that. (more…)

KOKODA: Response to Class 4 Walking Trails Proposal

 

Hidden away in this newsletter, written by the Australian CEO assigned to the Kokoda Track Authority by the Department of Environment in Canberra, is the following innocuous paragraph:

Following are the Australian Parks and Wildlife Services specifications for Class 4 walking tracks and our response to each one.

Overview:
Opportunity for visitors with advanced outdoor knowledge to find their own way along often indistinct tracks in remote areas. Users can expect frequent opportunities for solitude with few encounters with others.
Response: This opportunity exists for eco- trekkers to use the Kapa Kapa track across the Owen Stanley Ranges to the east of the Kokoda Trail. Kokoda is not about ‘solitude’ and ‘few encounters’. It is a military historical pilgrimage that should not be restricted to elite bushwalking purists. (more…)

Nicola Gage: ‘Ego-tok’ for her ‘big walk’ across the Kokoda Trail

‘The porters are the unsung heroes of this trip. They cook all our meals, carry our belongings, pitch our tents and sing us songs’  
so gushed ABC journalist, Nicola Gage, as she recounted her trek across the Kokoda Trail in the recent Air Niugini inflight magazine (‘The big walk’ – Jan-Feb 2019).

Apart from this observation it was difficult to ascertain her motive for her ‘big walk’.

It wasn’t the history of the Kokoda campaign as it only received scant mention.

Nor was it the ‘fascinating cultural heritage’ of the Koiari and Orokaiva people along the trail as neither tribal group was acknowledged.

It couldn’t have been the desire to go where few had been as some 50,000 Australians had already beaten a fairly well-worn path over the trail before her.

It didn’t appear to be an attempt to validate any facts. For example the Kokoda Trail is not a 96 kilometre journey as described by Nicola – it is a 138 kilometre pilgrimage. Her estimate of 5000 trekkers a year crossing the trail was a big stretch. Since the Australian Government assumed control of the Kokoda trekking industry in 2009 trekker numbers have declined by 43 percent – a little more than 3000 now trek across it each year.

And it certainly wasn’t for the economic wellbeing of the porters she gushed over. (more…)

Marketing Kokoda’s Wartime Heritage

PNG has two choices for wartime tourism – it can continue to operate as a Third World destination with Third World management systems and Third World campsite facilities – or it can develop a marketing strategy aimed towards becoming the wartime destination of choice for First World international trekkers.

Executive Summary

The CEO of PNG Tourism requested feedback from Kokoda trek operators on issues discussed at a forum conducted by the Kokoda Track Authority in Brisbane on 28 November 2018.

One of the key topics covered at the forum was the subject of marketing Kokoda.

This response 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 28 years.

The response examines the potential of a wartime tourism industry based on the development of a successful management model for the Kokoda Trail. It examines the factors relevant to the Kokoda trekking industry over the past decade and suggests a marketing strategy based on Anzac Day, Kokoda Day, the development of Owers Corner, a Military Heritage Master Plan; and social media.

The response concludes that PNG can continue to operate as a Third World tourism destination with Third World management systems and Third World campsites/toilets – or it can develop a marketing strategy to become the wartime destination of choice for First World international trekkers.

It’s not about money – Kokoda is already sustainable. It’s not about meetings, forums and workshops – nothing has been achieved from these for more than a decade. It’s about vision, understanding, leadership and commitment. (more…)

Kokoda Day: A Tribute to Papua New Guinea’s Unsung Heroes

 

The bleached bones of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of nameless PNG wartime carriers lie where they fell in unknown locations in swamps, jungles and formidable mountain ranges during the New Guinea campaigns. To this day we don’t know who they were. We don’t know where they came from. We don’t know where they died. There is no record of their existence. No medals were ever struck to acknowledge their service towards the war effort.

It’s time to honour their sacrifice by providing a Spirit Haus for their souls and a day to commemorate their sacrifice.

Australia was unprepared for the war in the Pacific in 1942.  Our faith in ‘great and powerful friends’ coming to our aid in the event of Japan entering the war was shattered with the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse near Singapore on 10 December 1941 and the secret deal struck by UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt for American aid to be directed to the European theatre of operations at the expense of the South West Pacific.

The defence of Australia and its mandated territory of Papua and New Guinea was dependent on untrained militia forces and a small band of New Guinea Rifles as our experienced AIF units were returning from Europe to meet the new threat.

Resources were so scarce in New Guinea that young males were forcibly recruited to support the war effort[i].  Many of these men from remote mountain villagers had no idea of the war and were conscripted against their will.  They were told that men from Japan were the enemy.  For many of these men other villagers living in remote tribal lands were also considered ‘enemy’.  One can only imagine the fear and uncertainty they felt as they were forcibly marched away from their families and clans to fight in ‘our’ war against Japan[ii].

It has been estimated that some 10,000 PNG nationals served as Carriers in support of the Australians during the Kokoda campaign in 1942. A further 42,000 are estimated to have been indentured to support Australian troops in the Milne Bay and the Buna/Gona campaigns.  They were paid 10 shillings per month.

The issue of compensation remains a vexed issue more than 70 years after the war.  While the Australian government paid some compensation for property damage to PNG nationals between 1944 and 1957 the wartime carriers were excluded from receiving any such benefits under the prevailing legislation. In 1980 they were also deemed to be ineligible for the PNG War Gratuity Scheme for ex-Servicemen.

And they were deemed to be ineligible for a medal.  In the eyes of post-war bureaucrats they were both nameless and invisible. (more…)

Time to reign in KTOA bullies on Kokoda

‘What? Provide for the welfare of natives on the Kokoda Trail – you’ve got to be kidding!’

That’s not exactly what they said but the Australian based Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA) submission to a review of the PNG Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) ridiculed a suggestion that they should have to provide for the welfare of their guides and carriers. This could create an ‘entitlement mentality’ they wailed!

What is really required, according to the KTOA, is a combination of ‘education – hard skills – and thought process’.

They don’t explain how they would ‘educate’ a subsistence villager to carry loads far heavier than the maximum allowed for their ‘fuzzy-wuzzy angel’ forebears in 1942 – or how they would ‘educate’ them to sleep on freezing, wet ground without a sleeping bag or mat in the upper reaches of the Owen Stanley Ranges – or how they would ‘educate’ their bodies to be physically sustained on packets of two-minute noodles.

The KTOA assertion that ‘for successful commerce, all parties must bring something to the table – there cannot be a hand out mentality’ is reminiscent of a colonial blackbirder addressing a native work-party in the late 19th Century.

Whilst their submission acknowledges ‘the legitimate right of landowners to participate in and benefit from the Kokoda Track tourism experience’ they maintain that ‘this right needs to be translated to viable means by which this can happen; education and mentoring is needed to develop the skillsets required and the appreciation that self-sustainable change and development requires a contribution from oneself’.

WTF! This surely takes patronising arrogance to a new level. (more…)