Kokoda Trail World Heritage: Fact or Fallacy?

The review of the Kokoda Trail for a World Heritage listing by the late Mr Peter Hitchcock, Dr Jennifer Gabriel and Dr Matthew Leavesley has exposed the myth of its relevance to our shared wartime heritage associated with the Kokoda campaign. The authors of the 2nd Joint Understanding should be called upon to explain why they were not aware of the review – or why they chose to ignore it.
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‘Kokoda Initiative’ – Reporting from a parallel universe to the Kokoda Trail!

The 2019 ‘Annual Review’ of the ‘Kokoda Initiative’ is largely irrelevant to the Kokoda trekking industry.

The review does not address the dysfunction of the management systems put in place by Port Moresby based Kokoda Initiative officials since they assumed control of the Kokoda Trail 2009 – and the lack of governance within their surrogate PNG organisation – the Kokoda Track Authority. This is evident in their failure to ever publish an annual financial report which is in breach of both Australian and PNG legal requirements.

The review also fails to address the issue of ‘commemoration’ which is evident in their ongoing refusal to engage an accredited Australian military heritage architect to develop a Master Heritage Interpretation Plan for the trail.

Our comments are included under each section.
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KTA Strategic Plan: 2012-2015. FAIL

A KTA Strategic Plan: 2012-2015 was developed by Australian environmental officials in the seclusion of their Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) offices in Port Moresby in 2011.

The plan was put together without any consultation with military history specialists or local village communities.

As a result not a single one of the 5 strategies or 33 objectives was achieved!

It has since been quietly shelved and there has been no attempt to develop a replacement plan since it expired in 2015.

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Kokoda Trail: 75th Anniversary Funding Proposals

DVA Funds allocated for commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the end of the War in the Pacific should be restricted to honouring and interpreting the sacrifice of our troops in Papua and New Guinea from 1942-45.

As a key principle they should be directed towards projects that will assist in the generation of income earning opportunities for Papua New Guineans based on our shared wartime heritage.

Commemorative projects must remain separate from DFAT aid-funded activities relating to capacity building, mentoring, social mapping, community development etc along the trail. Programs initiated by Australian environmental officials in these areas, under the guise of a ‘Kokoda Initiative’ over the past decade, have been less than successful.

In the lead-up to the 70th Anniversary of the Kokoda campaign in 2012 Network Kokoda invested $70,000 in the development of a ‘Funding Proposal for a Heritage Interpretation Plan and Implementation Strategy for the Kokoda Trail’. Michael Pender of HPA Projects was engaged to develop the report which can be viewed on this link.

The report concluded: 

  • There is little interpretation of ‘Kokoda Trail’ Heritage; Natural. Cultural or Military on the site itself.
  • Most of the current interpretation is by private donors, is in poor condition and presents an ad hoc, incoherent approach to the stories, events, actions and environment.
  • An overall plan for interpretation on the Trail is warranted as one of the key means of safeguarding and protecting the sites heritage.
  • An interpretive strategy focused on the trail’s history, its heritage and its special nature is the first step to enshrining the Kokoda Trail for future generations of both Australians and Papua New Guineans.
  • Deploying permanent interpretation (consistent with an overall plan) will enhance the visitor experience whilst enshrining the environments core values and heritage.
  • Deploying permanent interpretation (consistent with an overall plan) provides (demonstrably) opportunities of sustainable long-term development for the traditional landowners.

The Pender report remains valid in the lead up to the 75th Anniversary of the War in the Pacific in 2020.

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Adventure Kokoda Funding Proposal for a Kokoda Trail Master Heritage Plan

Michael Pender, an accredited Military Heritage Architect from HPA Projects was commissioned by Network Kokoda to develop a Master Plan for the Kokoda Trail for the 70th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign in 2012. It was not accepted by Australian environmental officials who regarded the development of a World Heritage Listing of the Owen Stanley Ranges as a priority.

Since then a 2015 report from an Australian expert on World Heritage listings, Peter Hitchcock AM and Dr Jennifer Gabriel concluded that the Kokoda Trail does not meet the criteria for a World Heritage listing. A copy of their report: ‘World Heritage, Tentative Listed Sites in Papua New Guinea-Report on a Review of the Sites’ can be viewed on this link’.

The conclusions in the following Funding Proposal by Michael Pender remain relevant and should be considered for properly commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of the War in the Pacific in 2020:

  • The Kokoda Trail is an important heritage site for both Australia and Papua New Guinea.
  • The heritage values of the Kokoda Trail are unique and in evidence.
  • As custodian, Papua New Guinea is not able to protect or manage the heritage.
  • The Kokoda Initiative cites tourism as a key driver for development and the aspiration for World Heritage Listing.
  • There is no current Plan for protection/interpretation of the sites Heritage.
  • A trekking industry has developed that clearly demonstrates the key relationship between the sites heritage, tourism and sustainable long-term development.
  • There is little interpretation of ‘Kokoda Trail’ Heritage; Natural, Cultural or Military on the site itself.
  • The majority of current interpretation is by private donors, is in poor condition and presents an adhoc, incoherent approach to the stories, events, actions and environment.
  • An overall plan for interpretation on the Trail is warranted as one of the key means of safeguarding and protecting the sites heritage.
  • An interpretive strategy focused on the trails history, its heritage and its special nature is the first step to enshrining the Kokoda Trail for future generations of both Australians and Papua New Guineans.
  • Deploying permanent interpretation (consistent with an overall plan) will enhance the visitor experience whilst enshrining the environments core values and heritage.
  • Deploying permanent interpretation (consistent with an overall plan) provides (demonstrably) opportunities of sustainable long-term development for the traditional landowners.
  • Cost for development of a Heritage Interpretation Plan is in the order of $250,000.
  • Cost for implementation of the Plan is in the order of $2 Million.
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