Early this year we were alerted to the plight of a 14-year old Kokoda schoolgirl who needed a a lifesaving heart operation – one that had to be performed overseas due to the medical complexity of her condition.
‘Our daughter’s health is our priority and the further delay of her operation has been a concern for us which is becoming desperate, thereby resulting in our plea for your assistance’ wrote Mrs Doreen Dumu, a nurse at the Kokoda Hospital on 29 January 2019.
Her daughter, Freda, has a ‘tetralogy Fallot‘ which is a serious congenital heart defect. The surgery she requires is not available in PNG and the cost of the operation and rehabilitation in Australia was in excess of $100,000.
We contacted the PNG Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) and suggested that they get every trek operator to submit the name and contact details of each of the trekkers they would be leading across the trail during the Anzac period – a practice that should have been put in place a decade ago to capture the contact details of the 50,000 Australians who have trekked Kokoda since then. Unfortunately numerous requests to establish such a database for fundraising purposes over the years have been ignored.
Their refusal to assist Freda was perplexing in view of an earlier decision by their Acting CEO to ‘donate’ $150,000 to an Australian NGO to hand-out as ‘educational supplements‘ to local villagers on and beyond the Kokoda Trail. Calls for those funds to be reimbursed have been ignored.
We also sought assistance from a close friend and supporter, Jeff Hudson, a Director of the Children’s First Foundation. Jeff worked tirelessly to help ‘create the miracle‘ for Freda but as it transpired it was beyond their resources.
We then tried Rotary Oceana Medical Aid for Children (ROMAC). They were also keen to assist but there seemed to be an issue with Children’s Hospitals in NSW accepting patients from the Pacific.
We wrote to the Minister for Health to see if he could check it out on our behalf but didn’t receive a response.
We also arranged for Emily Kleing from the Oro Community Development Project to assist us with any liaison necessary as she is now residing in Port Moresby, We had previously worked with Emily to help build a TB Isolation Ward at the Popondetta Hospital,
We then published a Facebook post to ‘help reverse the death sentence for a 14 year-old Kokoda schoolgirl’ and invited trekkers to contact the KTA to support our fundraising efforts but they continued to ignore her plight.
Just as we neared the edge of desperation an ‘Angel’ emerged from PNG:
I am so very pleased to inform you that Pastor Dr Kirk head of our Paediatric cardiology partners “ For Hearts and Souls” will be organizing free surgery for Freda in San Antonio, Texas USA.!!
Dr Kirk and team have successfully provided minimal invasive approach to repairing congenital heart defect for 13 PNG children at our PIH cath lab and arranged treatment for 2 very complicated children at the Mayo clinic in the US.
Freda‘s family prayers ensured that I read your post on FB ( I don’t do FB regularly anymore) and was able to contact Dr Kirk before he and his team left Moresby this afternoon, upon completion of their second mission at PIH.
We will contact the patient and you once we receive more information from US.
I trust the Kokoda track foundation will be able support the travel expenses for the girl and a guardian.
FB has received bad press recently for invasion if privacy and manipulations etc but I am glad it connected us to help this girl and hopefully save her life!
Up to 600 trekkers will be on the Kokoda Trail during the Anzac period over the next fortnight.
The Australian Tour Operators Association (KTOA) , established to protect the interests of their members, has refused to adopt the WW2 army standard of 18 kg as the maximum weight to be carried by the PNG wartime carriers in 1942. Instead, the KTOA has adopted a weight of 22.5 kg established by an Australian bureaucrat who had never trekked across the trail.
The 4.5 kg difference will lead to the loss of 150 jobs for local Koiari and Orokaiva villagers during the Anzac period (4.5 kg X 600 = 2700 kg ÷ 18 kg = 150).
Porters required to carry 22.5 kg by the KTOA for 138 km over some of the most rugged terrain on the planet will have a limited trekking career due to the heavy physical impact on their backs, hips and knees. Unlike professional footballers who have similar career limitations due to the physical impact on their bodies there is no post-playing career for them for Kokoda porters – just a lifetime dependency on their fellow subsistence villagers for physical assistance.
Shameless exploitation of vulnerable native populations used to be referred to as ‘blackbirding ‘ – a practice that was eventually outlawed in the early part of the 20th Century – it seems the KTOA is shamefully introducing a new strain of this abhorrent practice.
The welfare of PNG guides and carriers has been a contentious subject for some years however the recent death of a carrier who was allegedly overloaded by an Australian trek operator has brought the issue of their exploitation to to the forefront of the debate.
A recent forum organised by the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) in Brisbane resulted in the CEO of PNG Tourism calling for a response to the issues that were raised – but could not be properly addressed due to agenda/time constraints.
Following is the submission by Adventure Kokoda on the issue of welfare for PNG guides and carriers engaged in the Kokoda Trekking Industry:
This response to the draft Minutes of the KTA Forum conducted in Brisbane on 28 November 2018 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 27 years. Our ‘experience’ in protecting the welfare of our local guides and carriers is in line with the conclusions reached by Dr Geoffrey Vernon, Regimental Medical Officer for the 39th Battalion during the Kokoda campaign.
The KTA Forum was conducted at short notice with insufficient time to prepare detailed submissions for discussion. As it transpired it was more of a briefing session. No Notices of Motions were provided, none were moved and the only substantive decision taken was to have another forum in May 2019!
The Minutes of the previous Tour Operators Forum held in Cairns on 14-15 November were not tabled nor discussed in accordance with normal protocols. These minutes have now been outstanding for more than a year and the fact that they have never been produced after trek operators went to considerable expense to attend is indicative of either negligent administration or a cover-up of some sort.
Our Adventure Kokoda response to the forum will be in two parts.
- Part 1 will address the most important issue that can no longer be postponed because it concerns the welfare protection of the local guides and carriers for the 2019 trekking season..
- Part 2 will address the other issues presented at the forum and will be submitted early in the New Year.
Recent articles on the history of ‘blackbirding’ in the Pacific should serve to shine the spotlight on the Australian Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA) whose member lead treks across the Kokoda Trail.
The most abhorrent practice condoned by many KTOA members is the ‘student discount’ which allows them to claim a 50 per cent discount for their trek fees. This effectively means that subsistence villagers along the trail have to subsidise wealthy Australian private school students who trek with them. One can only hope that these school are unaware that they are participating in a modern adaption of blackbirding.
Of more concern is the fact that PNG leaders responsible for the welfare of their people along the trail allow themselves to be bullied into accepting such a practice by the KTOA.
Following is a snapshot of villagers along the trail who are being forced to subsidise wealthy Australian private school students. Why? (more…)