Kokoda: Beyond Covid-19!

The era of ‘magic pudding’ marketing for the Kokoda Trail is over for PNG!

The concept was based on a delusional belief that there was an endless queue of Australians waiting and wanting to trek across the trail – as a result PNG never saw any urgency to develop a national marketing/management strategy.

The lure of generous aid funding persuaded them to allow their most popular tourism destination to be managed as a World Heritage asset under the influence of Australian environmental officials who assumed control of the trail in 2009.

Since then it has become a magnet for aid-funded consultants, advisors and officials pursuing social and environmental agendas unrelated to tourism, our shared wartime history, or the betterment of subsistence villagers. 

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Kokoda Day: PNG Gateway to Wartime Tourism

Our submission to the PNG Government to proclaim ‘Kokoda Day’ as a National Day of Commemoration to honour the service of their wartime carriers in 2008 was amended by the National Executive Council to ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel Day‘ – the reason, according to one MP at the meeting, was because a group of MPs from another Province thought ‘Kokoda’ was already getting too much attention!

12 years later we now know that eliminating ‘Kokoda’ from the proposal also eliminated the wartime tourism potential of the concept.

‘Kokoda Day’ could be a source of intense pride for all Papua New Guineans. It has the potential to emulate the commemorative status of Anzac Day in Australia. It will also provide a strong incentive for Australians to visit PNG for the commemoration and all it represents. But more importantly it provides a status of recognition for the Papua and New Guinea wartime carriers – the unsung heroes of the campaigns they supported throughout Papua and New Guinea.

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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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Chronology of Facts for the Kokoda Trekking Industry

Interest in the Kokoda Trail lay dormant for 50 years until Paul Keating became the first Australian Prime Minister to visit the area in 1992. It was heightened with the opening of a significant memorial by Prime Ministers’ John Howard and Sir Michael Somare on the 60th anniversary of the battle in 2002.

A proposal to mine the southern section of the trail for gold in 2006 saw the Australian Government react by establishing a Joint Agreement with the PNG Government to develop a case for a World Heritage Listing for the Owen Stanley Ranges.

Responsibility was allocated to the Department of Environment as they are responsible for our Register of Overseas Heritage Sites.

The Department of Veterans Affairs was not included in the Joint Understanding as wartime heritage is not a consideration for a World Heritage Listing.

The Australian Department of Environment assumed control of the Kokoda Trail in 2008. Responsibility was transferred to DFAT in 2015.

The Department of Veterans Affairs who are responsible for commemoration and overseas memorials have been sidelined in the bureaucratic process. (more…)

Network Kokoda – Honouring their Legacy along the Trail

Network Kokoda was established by Adventure Kokoda who specialise in the wartime history of the Kokoda campaign. Their trek leaders have a combined total of 160 years professional military experience ranging from the Vietnam war to Iraq and Afghanistan. They have worn the uniform and are committed to the legacy of our Kokoda military heritage.

Our community projects across the Kokoda Trail continue to improve the livelihoods of the  subsistence villages who live along it.

Our objective, as the major philanthropic organization on the trail today, is to earn the respect of local landowners who are the custodians of land sacred to our shared wartime heritage.

We exist to honour the legacy of our Kokoda veterans the PNG wartime carriers.

As a result we have a different approach to normal civilian NGOs in PNG in that we use our networks to establish local partnerships. We don’t hand out funds on behalf of Government or other well-intentioned individuals as this inevitably leads to an attitude of Aid dependency.

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