The Kokoda Trail – Official Naming Rights

Kokoda Anzac 2011 032Ownership of the naming rights of the Kokoda Trail is a keenly contested point of debate in Australia.

Do they belong to the nation which retains sovereign ownership of the land between Owers Corner and Kokoda i.e. Papua New Guinea?

Or the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the 10 Australian Battalions who were awarded the battle honour ‘Kokoda Trail’?

Or the custodians of political correctness amongst the Australian commentariat who dislike the name ‘trail’ because of its American connotation?

Over the past decade almost 40,000 Australians have trekked across the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea. Most trekkers are motivated by the wartime history of the Kokoda campaign and this has led to a range of books and television stories on the subject. It has also led to some extensive debate about the official name of the trail.

Contemporary debate over the name evolved after former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating kissed the ground at Kokoda on the 50th anniversary of the campaign in April 1992. This was accompanied by much ‘talkback’ noise about ‘trail’ being an American term and ‘track’ being the language of the Australian bush (ignoring the fact that our bush is criss-crossed with fire-trails). This suited Keating’s agenda for an Australian republic at the time.

The debate suited those in the Australian commentariat who harboured a strong anti-American bias over their engagement in Iraq around the time of the 60th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign. As most of the commentariat had never served in the regular armed forces they could be excused for not appreciating the esprit de corps associated with a battle honour. This, however, does not excuse them for ambushing a name that doesn’t reflect their political bias.

‘Kokoda Track’ has since emerged as the politically correct term in Australia in spite of the fact that the battle honour ‘Kokoda Trail’ was awarded to the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the 10 Australian battalions who fought in the Kokoda campaign. It is also in defiance of the Papua New Guinea government who gazetted the name ‘Kokoda Trail’ in 1972. (more…)

Kokoda Trail: Who owns the naming rights?

The Kokoda Trail Book CoverDuring the 50th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign, Prime Minister Paul Keating, kissed the ground at Kokoda and awakened Australians to the significance of the Kokoda campaign.  His action generated much talkback noise about whether it was a trail or a track.  The noise increased in as anti-American sentiment grew after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  The voices eventually prevailed and on the 60th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign Prime Ministers’ John Howard and Sir Michael Somare opened the Isurava Memorial which had the word ‘Kokoda Track’ embedded into it. All signage between McDonald’s Corner and Kokoda referred to the ‘Kokoda Trail’ prior to this.

The 70th anniversary period offers an opportunity for a sober review of the debate.

The origin of the official name, ‘Kokoda Trail’, dates back to 1947 when an Australian Battles Nomenclature Committee was established to define the battles in the Pacific. Their final report in 1958 adopted ‘Kokoda Trail’ as the official Commonwealth battle honour which was awarded to 10 infantry battalions and the Papuan Infantry Regiment. (more…)

Military tradition behind the awarding of the Battle Honour: ‘Kokoda Trail’

Public interest in the Kokoda campaign over the past decade has been accompanied by the emergence of pop historians and wannabees whose new-found ‘passion‘ for our veterans seems to coincide with the opportunity to make a quid out of it. Many seem to share a couple of traits – they have never served in uniform, they have a strong bias against America, and they try to outstrip each other in their denigration of General Sir Thomas Blamey.

Their ignorance of the significance of military traditions is evident in their refusal to acknowledge the Battle Honour awarded to the 10 infantry battalions who fought in the Kokoda campaign i.e. The Kokoda Trail.

These prejudices have manifested themselves in the emergence of ‘Kokoda Track‘ as the more acceptable politically correct term. This will eventually correct itself as people become more aware of the tradition behind the awarding of a Battle Honour and its significance on the Regimental Flag or ‘Colour’.

The term ‘Colours’ broadly encompasses the four distinctive forms of Honourable Insignia that are the symbol of the spirit of a regiment, for on them are borne the battle honours and badges granted to the unit in commemoration of gallant deeds performed by members of the unit from the time their unit was raised. (more…)

KOKODA: Beyond the Legend

In September 2012, the Australian War Memorial convened a major international conference to mark the 70th anniversary of the Kokoda and Papuan campaigns in 1942.  Kokoda now dominates Australia’s popular memory of the Second World War and has become the focus for the war’s commemoration. Popular narratives of Kokoda, however, rarely discuss the campaign in the war’s broader context or pose new questions concerning its conduct. Bringing together military historians and emerging scholars from the world, the conference reassessed the principal battles fought in Papua and discussed the campaign from both an Allied and Japanese perspective.

Adventure Kokoda trek leaders, Rowan Tracey and Charlie Lynn were invited to speak at the conference – an abstract of all speakers can be found at this link: http://www.awm.gov.au/conference/2012/abstracts_speakers/

Following is the presentation by Charlie Lynn on the Kokoda Trekking Industry:

“Kokoda is a powerful word.  According to the Orokaiva ‘koko’ means place of skulls – ‘da’ is village.  The combination of syllables’ conjures up ‘adventure’ in the minds of sedentary beings. It makes sense.  Many early explorers and missionaries searching for gold in the Yodda valley ended up in cooking pots.

“Then came the war.  Kokoda was the first pitched battle fought against the Japanese.  It signalled the beginning of a campaign where Australia’s fate hung in the balance as our diggers fought a fanatical enemy, treacherous terrain, legions of deadly mites, malarial mosquitoes, venomous snakes, hunger – and fear.  (more…)

‘The Kokoda Trail’ – it’s about respect for Papua New Guinea and the men who fought across it!

 ‘The acceptance of the official name of the Kokoda Trail is a keenly contested point of debate in Australia.  Does it belong to the nation which retains sovereign ownership of the land between McDonald’s Corner and Kokoda i.e. Papua New Guinea?  Or to the 10 Australian Battalions and the Papuan Infantry Battalion whose battle honours are emblazoned with the name ‘Kokoda Trail’?  Or to modern day commentators who dislike the name ‘trail’ because of its American connotation?’

During the 50th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign, Prime Minister Paul Keating, kissed the ground at Kokoda and awakened Australians to the significance of the Kokoda campaign.  His action generated much talkback noise about whether it was a ‘trail’ or a ‘track’.  The noise increased as anti-American sentiment grew amongst the commentariat after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  The voices eventually prevailed and, on the 60th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign, Prime Ministers’ John Howard and Sir Michael Somare opened the Isurava Memorial which had the word ‘Kokoda Track’ embedded into it.

This was in spite of the fact that all signage between McDonald’s Corner and Kokoda since the end of the war has referred to the ‘Kokoda Trail’.

The 70th anniversary offers an opportunity for a sober review of the debate. (more…)

Letter to Reveille re the Kokoda Trail

An Australian Battles Nomenclature Committee was established in 1947 to define the battles in the Pacific. Their final report in 1958 adopted ‘Kokoda Trail’ as the official Commonwealth battle honour which was awarded to 10 infantry battalions and the Pacific Island Regiment.

In 1972 the PNG Government gazetted the route from Owers Corner to Kokoda as the Kokoda Trail.

The Australian War Memorial adopted the name “Kokoda Trail’ for its Second World War galleries because of the official battle honours awarded in that name.

The author of the most definitive history of the Kokoda Trail (Stuart Hawthorne, The Kokoda Trail – A History’ Central Queensland University Press, 2003) recently wrote on the Australian War Memorial blog:

‘Exploration and development of the early parts of the overland route near Port Moresby began about 130 years ago. In this light, the campaign constitutes a very small part of the track’s history (about a third of one percent) yet the importance ascribed to the WW2 period often assumes a considerably high significance.  Of course the Kokoda campaign is very important in Australia on many levels but notwithstanding this, I often wonder whether the presumption that our Australian perspective displaces all others and borders on the arrogant’.

If advocates of a different name wish to have it changed they should prepare a submission in accordance with the protocols of the PNG Government and forward it to them for consideration – after all they are the owners of the land.  In the meantime the Australian Government and media should respect the deliberations of those who awarded the battle honour, Kokoda Trail, and the sovereign right of the PNG Government to name its own geographical features.

Charlie Lynn