Blackbirders on Kokoda – BeAware

School holidays offer great opportunities for Australian ‘blackbirders’ operating on the Kokoda Trail.

Blackbirding was a form of slavery which saw Papua New Guineans coerced into working as cheap labour on Queensland sugar plantations in the late 19th Century before it was outlawed.

However the practice has mutated into various forms since then and now involves shady operators who have cashed in on the Kokoda trekking industry over the past decade. Papua New Guinea is a governance free zone for blackbirders who are not subject to the same scrutiny they would receive in Australia.

The current dysfunction and debasement of the Kokoda Trail management authority provides them with free rein to promote themselves as legitimate. They are akin to a malarial parasite running through a quinine free bloodstream. There are no limits to the extent they can exploit local Papua New Guinean guides, carriers and villagers who live in a subsistence economy and are desperate for work.

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Kokoda ‘Tricks’ and Hidden Extras

Napoleon once said: ‘Time spent on a well-planned reconnaissance is seldom wasted. Time spent on an unplanned reconnaissance is often wasted’. A modern Napoleon would offer the same advice for prospective trekkers researching the claims of the 80 operators now licensed to lead treks in Papua New Guinea.

The Latin proverb of Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware) therefore applies. There are a small number of professional trek operators who specialise in the wartime history of the Kokoda campaign; a larger number of eco-operators who pretend to; and a gaggle of opportunists who will use every trick in the book to get your deposit.

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