An open letter to Sue Fitcher – Getaway Trekking

Dear Sue,

Your comments regarding a person you did not have the courage to name at the KTA Trek Operators Forum in Port Moresby have been forwarded to me,

I believe you addressed the forum in your capacity as President of the Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA) which was established to look after the interests of a small but vocal group of Australian based eco-tour operators.

According to the minutes of the forum you stated – some said it was more of a shriek – but I can’t comment because I wasn’t present:


‘It is time to call out those who would choose to damage and destroy the industry for whatever warped vested interests they have – who would know. We have talked about some of the claims and accusations that have been made earlier; it is interesting to note that are rarely if ever, are they made in person, but through others or from the safety of sitting behind a computer and ranting through social media. It does appear to confirm the adage that bullies are always cowards.

‘It would be easy to dismiss the negative comments and accusations thrown around as the bitter ramblings of someone, struggling with their declining relevance.  However, that would be to ignore the damage and destruction being caused to our businesses, our industry and the country we love.’

This is obviously an unfair smear against the 22 trek operators licensed by the PNG Kokoda Track Authority who do not belong to your small association which has just 8 active members.

I was somewhat relieved to think that you could not have possibly been talking about me because I put my name to everything I publish as you well know – a check of our Adventure Kokoda blog; a review of the articles I have written; and the numerous papers I have submitted will verify this.

However I do acknowledge that some of my blogs have been critical of your association because of the level of exploitation you tolerate in regard to the PNG guides and carriers you engage – and the fake research you use to justify it. I appreciate that there is a remote possibility that you could have been referring to me so I hope this blog post will clarify my concerns.

(more…)

An open Letter to Wayne Fitcher – Getaway Trekking

Dear Wayne,

I’ve been told that you recently accused Adventure Kokoda of trekking into a village at night as part of your submission to the KTA Trek Operators Forum in Port Moresby – apparently you believe this was a ‘crossing of the line’.

You’re probably right Wayne.

As you know Adventure Kokoda specialises in the military history of the Kokoda campaign – it’s all we do. Our feedback indicates that trekkers join us because of our specialist knowledge in strategy, tactics, phases of war and the principles applicable to each phase.

In the mid-60s some of our trek leaders were trained as young officers by veterans who fought in the Kokoda campaign in 1942. They were aware of the old adage that ‘the jungle can be your best friend or your worst enemy’ and trained us accordingly.

Among our trek leaders is a Sword of Honour recipient from the Royal Military College, Duntroon. Another commanded two Royal Australian Navy battleships – they were both judged ‘Ship of the Year’ under his command. Two others have served in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This breadth of experience allows us to apply our collective knowledge to our presentations at significant battle-sites along the way and this inevitably leads to lengthy discussion amongst our trekkers which extends the amount of time we spend at some sites.

There are often times when eco-trekking groups such as your company, Getaway Trekking, pass by these sites with little more than a pause while their guide reads a chapter from a book. They then press on to ensure they reach their campsite early in the afternoon. (more…)

Shame on the Australian Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA)

 ‘Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte’ wrote Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher, mathematician and physicist, in 1657. ‘I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter’ is the English translation

Pascal was trying to explain that his letter was longer than it needed to be, because he hadn’t worked out the correct answer.

The Kokoda Tour Operators Association used a similar approach in their latest 620 word diatribe to justify the ongoing exploitation of local PNG porters they engage.

Buried amongst a plethora of motherhood statements is the admission that they will continue to exploit their porters by overloading them.

What part of the fact that a 22.5 kg backpack is too heavy for porters to have to lug across difficult, muddy, mountainous terrain doesn’t the KTOA get?

The weight of 22.5 kg was imposed by an Australian bureaucrat under pressure from Australian trek operators who wanted to minimise their costs by having to employ fewer porters. The bureaucrat who made the decision had never trekked Kokoda and would have had difficulty lifting his 22.5 kg case onto aircraft luggage scales at any check-In counter.

The KTOA has a long history of lobbying – some would say bullying – the PNG Kokoda Track Authority (KTA).

At a PNG Tour Operators Forum in Port Moresby on 8 November 2017, sixty-three (63) PNG delegates representing Provincial and Local Level Government, landowners, trek operators and porters voted unanimously to reduce the maximum weight to 18 kg.

Three (3) KTA management officials, the CEO, the Operations Officer and the President of the PNG Guides and Porters Association were tasked with presenting the motion to the Australian Tour Operators Forum in Brisbane the following week.

For reasons known only to the KTA team the CEO did not table the motion and the President of the Guides and Porters Association went missing. The Minutes of the forum have never been produced despite numerous requests.

This has all the hallmarks of a cover-up and begs the following questions:

  • Why were the Minutes not tabled nor discussed at the Cairns Forum?
  • Why did the representative of the Porters and Guides Association absent himself from the meeting?
  • Was the motion discussed ‘out of session’ between KTA officials and the Kokoda Tour Operators Association KTOA)? and
  • Why have the Minutes of the Cairns Forum never been released?

Whatever the reason the KTOA was able to get away with the abhorrent practice of overloading their porters for another year despite the fact that one of their porters, who was allegedly overloaded, had died on the trail. According to a preliminary investigation by the Sogeri Police Sergeant, Max Maso: ‘It is evident that the group on this particular trip . . . engaged by . . . (KTOA tour operator) . . . were all overloaded in breach of the Code of Conduct stipulated under this code’.

Over the past year the KTOA has used fake research and dubious comparisons to justify the overloading of their porters in spite of the fact that the maximum weight allowable by both military and civilian authorities on the Kokoda Trail in 1942 was 18 kg.

They have been assisted by the fact that the current management structure put in place by the Australian Government from 2009 – 2012 has collapsed. The system is currently under under administration while a review, ordered by the PNG Prime Minister, is carried out.

Until then local PNG guides and porters will continue to be exploited by KTOA members until a mandated code of practice, with specific minimum standards, is put in place by the management authority – or until the KTOA accepts that the welfare of guides and porters should be in accordance with standards established during the Kokoda campaign in 1942. (more…)

Wayne Wetherall – Kokoda Spirit Struck Out

A long running defamation case brought against The Hon Charlie Lynn OAM OL and Adventure Kokoda by Wayne Wetherall and his trekking company, Kokoda Spirit, was struck out in the Maroochydore District Court last Friday.

The case involved false claims made by Wetherall and plagiarism of the Adventure Kokoda website by Kokoda Spirit.

The court found that Kokoda Spirit and Wetherall had failed to prosecute their claims for defamation against Adventure Kokoda and Charlie Lynn within a reasonable time.

They had tried to blame their solicitor but the court found that they were to blame as well as the solicitor. In throwing out their claims, the court declined to make a finding that Kokoda Spirit and Wetherall had established reasonable prospects of success in their suits for defamation.

Charlie Lynn and Adventure Kokoda were awarded their costs of the 7 year proceeding to be paid by Wayne Wetherall and Kokoda Spirit.

 

Time to reign in KTOA bullies on Kokoda

‘What? Provide for the welfare of natives on the Kokoda Trail – you’ve got to be kidding!’

That’s not exactly what they said but the Australian based Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA) submission to a review of the PNG Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) ridiculed a suggestion that they should have to provide for the welfare of their guides and carriers. This could create an ‘entitlement mentality’ they wailed!

What is really required, according to the KTOA, is a combination of ‘education – hard skills – and thought process’.

They don’t explain how they would ‘educate’ a subsistence villager to carry loads far heavier than the maximum allowed for their ‘fuzzy-wuzzy angel’ forebears in 1942 – or how they would ‘educate’ them to sleep on freezing, wet ground without a sleeping bag or mat in the upper reaches of the Owen Stanley Ranges – or how they would ‘educate’ their bodies to be physically sustained on packets of two-minute noodles.

The KTOA assertion that ‘for successful commerce, all parties must bring something to the table – there cannot be a hand out mentality’ is reminiscent of a colonial blackbirder addressing a native work-party in the late 19th Century.

Whilst their submission acknowledges ‘the legitimate right of landowners to participate in and benefit from the Kokoda Track tourism experience’ they maintain that ‘this right needs to be translated to viable means by which this can happen; education and mentoring is needed to develop the skillsets required and the appreciation that self-sustainable change and development requires a contribution from oneself’.

WTF! This surely takes patronising arrogance to a new level. (more…)

Why does PNG tolerate ‘blackbirding’ on Kokoda?

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…)