KTOA SPIN RE IMMORAL KOKODA STUDENT DISCOUNTS

The Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA) – established to protect the interests of a small group of Australian trek operators (11 of the 36 licensed operators) – has advised that in 2017 ‘KTA permit fees were averaged out at K320 as some operators claimed 50% discount on School Student treks’.
 
This is pure spin.
 
A closer look at the KTA trekker statistics for 2017 reveals that of the 371 claims for the 50% student discount – 312 (or a whopping 85%) came from KTOA members.
 
The 50% Student Discount was put in place by an Australian operator when the PNG Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) was first established in 2004. It was wrong then – and it is wrong now!
 
This discount means subsistence villagers along the Kokoda Trail have to subsidise wealthy Australian private school students.
 
This is akin to cheating subsistence villagers out of their fair share of benefits from the Kokoda trekking industry – and as we have just seen from the Australian cricket team – Australians don’t like cheats.
 
The current dysfunction of the KTA (which is currently under review) allows unscrupulous Australian trek operators to exploit this loophole by continuing to claim the 50% student discount.
 
If the KTOA wishes to have any semblance of credibility it should make a public announcement that its Australian members will no longer claim this immoral discount.
 
What do you think?
 
http://ktoa.com.au/
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KTOA: FAKE RESEARCH – FAKE ASSOCIATION

The Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA) was established by a small group of Australian travel operators to protect their financial interests along the Kokoda Trail in PNG.

The welfare of local PNG porters and villagers is obviously not part of their agenda and their use of fake research to justify their exploitation is contrary to the spirit of Kokoda.

This exploitation includes the overloading of porters; abuse of their welfare; and the claiming of shameful student discounts on trek fees.

Fake Information

The KTOA website advises that ‘Members of the association collectively represent more than 75% of trekker number across Kokoda’.

This is fake information. The KTOA membership represents just 30 percent of the 36 trek operators licensed by the PNG Kokoda Track Authority (KTA). Three of the 11 KTOA members appear to be inactive.

According to KTA records a total of 3267 trekkers crossed the trail in 2017 – 2053 (62%) went with KTOA members.

Overloading of PNG Porters

The most abhorrent practice the KTOA advocates is the overloading of porters by its members and their use of fake research to justify it.

In September 2017 a PNG porter engaged by a member of the KTOA died on the trail – according to the PNG Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) Ranger at Owers Corner he was overloaded with a 28 kg backpack. Rather than addressing the problem the KTOA accused the KTA Ranger of altering his records without providing any evidence to support their claim. A preliminary investigation by PNG Police Sergeant, Max Maso contradicts their claim:

‘It is evident that the group on this particular trip . . . engaged by . . . (KTOA tour operator) . . . were all overloaded in breach to Code of Conduct stipulated under this code’.

Rather than accepting that there is a problem with the overloading of porters the KTOA went into damage control after Adventure Kokoda advised that the maximum weight allowed for the PNG wartime carriers in 1942 was 18 kg.

On 26 February 2018 the KTOA posted an irrational response to this fact on Facebook:

‘Any operator[i] continuing to use references to conditions and weights carried by carriers on the Kokoda Track in 1942 is still living in the dark colonial days long past. Clearly the welfare of the carriers of the Kokoda campaign was not of primary concern of their colonial masters.

‘Suggestions made recently that the carriers during the war were restricted to carrying 18kgs is a gross misrepresentation of the brutal conditions in which the carriers worked.’

The reference KTOA quoted to justify their exploitation of PNG porters was an unofficial essay written by a junior summer vacation student at the Australian War Memorial!![ii].

The facts are anything but a ‘gross misrepresentation of the brutal conditions in which the carriers worked’ as stated by the KTOA. (more…)

VALE: Faole Bokoi – Menari Village

Faole BokoiTrekking Kokoda will never be the same without the presence of distinguished elder, Faole Bokoi, to welcome trekkers as they enter Menari village.

Faole was a former luluai (clan leader), village constable and mail carrier under Australian colonial rule. It is unlikely that he was a wartime carrier due to his estimated age. The Australian New Guinea Army Unit recruited boys over the age of 16 years as carriers. Faole would therefore have been 98 years old at the time of his passing.  The average life span for PNG males is currently 62 years. It would have meant that Faole would have been 73 years of age when I first met him 25 years ago. I would have estimated his age to be 50-55 years at that time.

This is not meant to detract from the value of his service to his people as the task of carrying mailbags from Owers Corner to the changeover point on the crest between Crossing 1 and Templeton’s Crossing would have been arduous and dangerous. After meeting his fellow Orokaiva mail carriers from Kokoda there would be an exchange of mailbags and Faole would return to Owers Corner.

Faole was a wonderful caring man and a respected elder in Menari.

We are proud of the fact that we were able to contribute to his welfare through our trekkers donating approximately $2,000 each year for the opportunity to be photographed with him.  We also paid for an operation on the feet of his grand-daughter, Nancy who was a baby at the time. I recently met Nancy at Owers Corner and she is now a normal healthy teenager as a result of the operation. (more…)

Update on British Reality Star’s Encounter with cannibals on the Kokoda Trail

Newspaper Kokoda Anzac 2011 032reports of a British ‘Reality TV star‘ and his American girlfriend being ambushed, tortured, tormented and raped  by ‘cannibals’ on the Kokoda Trail went viral last month.  After escaping from their captors the near-naked couple apparently trekked in bare feet for 15 kilometres from Templeton’s Crossing to Alola from where they were evacuated.

The story generated the most negative publicity PNG has experienced in decades. International tourism will take a big hit as a result.

Hopefully it will precipitate a wake-up call amongst government agencies responsible for the Kokoda trekking industry because this couple should never have been issued with a permit to trek without a PNG guide or any emergency equipment. Time will tell.

PNG could become the wartime tourism capital of the Pacific –  if they get the model right! It’s an industry waiting to happen. (more…)

Australia Day Tribute to a Vietnam Veteran

Today I was honoured to be guest speaker at the Kenthurst Australia Day ceremony. I decided not to enter the debate on whether it should be called ‘Australia Day’, ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day’ as the inner-city commentariat have crowded out that space. I therefore decided to focus on ‘An Australia Day Tribute to a Vietnam Veteran’ that I wrote nine years ago.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we celebrate Australia Day which marks the anniversary of the raising of the British Flag at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Philip 228 years ago.

It is also the 69th anniversary of the arrival of an 11 year old immigrant boy from Malta. His story epitomizes our Australian story.

We were soldiers in Vietnam where he was blown apart in the minefield protecting the Australian Army Taskforce Base at Nui Dat. He survived against all the odds. This morning I would like to share an Australia Day tribute I wrote after he survived an emergency operation on Anzac Day 2007:

‘Forty days before he woke from a landmine that blew his right leg into the Nui Dat minefield, blasted his right arm off, shattered his left arm, ripped his stomach to shreds, and peppered his body with shrapnel, Sapper John ‘Jethro’ Thompson mumbled to me: ‘I’m not getting out of the army mate – they’re gunna have to build a special dozer I can drive’.  ‘No worries Jethro’, I said ‘they’ll do that!’ (more…)

Kokoda Guides: What teenage girls really think

Two attention seeking wannabees recently set out to trek across the Kokoda Trail in the wet season without proper clothing, camping equipment or a local PNG guide. They achieved their five minutes of fame when they claimed to have been assaulted and robbed by ‘cannibals’ and ‘spear throwing tribesmen’.  They escaped ‘wild dogs’ and and survived ‘poison ivy’ as they ran semi-naked over jungle-clad mountain ranges in bare feet. The ‘hero’ of this epic jungle escape was a British ‘reality’ television ‘Tarzan’ – his ‘Jane’ was an amorous American waitress

In their quest for their five minutes of fame they attempted to denigrate one of the most fascinating countries on the planet – Papua New Guinea.

Anybody who has trekked Kokoda will attest to the fact that the Koiari and Orokaiva guides and carriers are truly masters of their environment and genuine ‘fuzzy-wuzzy angels’.  The following quotes from young Australian women who have trekked Kokoda – many from the RSL Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge – describe the reality of the nature of their PNG guides and carriers:

Rachel McCrae:
A tear comes to my eye when I think about our beautiful guides and porters. We were blessed with the most amazing group of gentlemen, and they made my trip. They took the time to walk with us if we were struggling, they were patient and understanding. They also had a great sense of humour and greeted us every day with a smile. I miss them more and more each day, and feel blessed that I got to meet and walk with such amazing people. 
(more…)