Welfare of Kokoda Trail Guides and Carriers

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:

Preamble

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.

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OWERS CORNER: How to convert a memorial junkyard into PNGs No 1 Tourism Asset

Air Niugini’s Paradise magazine describes a visit to Ower’s Corner, where ‘the road the road becomes a footpath that connects the start of the Kokoda Trail . . . just an hour and a half from downtown Port Moresby’.

Visitors who make the journey are bound to be disappointed. Rather than looking down on a traditional village with interpretive signage, maps and a local market they are confronted with memorial graffiti.

An abandoned campsite acts as a reminder of poor planning and consultation with local landowners.

A purple Ranger’s Hut with a galvanised iron roof stands as a bureaucratic monument to impeded vision. Four large steel girders representing some sort of monument clash with the spectacular vista of the Owen Stanley Rangers beyond. A lone 25-pounder gun under an iron roof without interpretation has been plonked in the centre of the area. Nearby are three panels with a politically correct version interpretation of the Kokoda campaign.

And to round it off Aid funded power poles now encircle the area as a final ‘up you’ to the surrounding environment.

A few locals sit around with some bilums, warm coca-cola and packets of twisties for sale. Visitors cast a cursory eye over their wares but rarely buy anything – they bring their own drinks and snacks and most have already brought bilums from the markets in Port Moresby.

To say they are underwhelmed when they depart is an understatement.

It is obvious that the $50 million spent by the Australian Government on the Kokoda Initiative has not had any impact on improving the livelihoods of the local Owers Corner community.

For reasons known only to Government officials Owers Corner doesn’t rate and the local community doesn’t matter.

But it doesn’t take too much imagination to realise the potential of the area.

Imagine the feeling among visitors on a mini-bus as it crested the top of the ridge at Owers Corner to reveal a gathering of traditional Koiari tree houses in the foreground of the majestic Owen Stanley Ranges.

Imagine an imposing granite wall with images of soldiers and ‘fuzzy-wuzzy angels’ with a memorial stone where visitors could lay a wreath or a poppy – and no need to bring them with you as they can be purchased from a stall build from ‘bush material’ in the local market. They could also buy a PNG brewed coffee and scone from an adjacent stall or cold drinks from their solar powered fridge. Traditional bilums with ‘Kokoda Trail – Owers Corner’ screened on them would be popular as would carved trekking poles. Visitors could observe these being made by locals sitting around their stalls.

Imagine a small museum with restored weapons – a .303 rifle; a bren gun, an Owen gun, a 3” mortar, M36 hand grenades, bayonets, mess tins, soldiers uniforms, pictures, etc adjacent to the 25 pounder gun. These could be obtained on loan from the Australian War Memorial as Papua was Australian territory in 1942 so it would be within the charter of the AWM to support it.

Imagine interpretive signs and maps that would provide visitors with an accurate historical understanding of the Kokoda campaign, the Koiari people and the local flora and fauna.

Imagine a traditional gateway through which trekkers pass to the beat of kundu drums as they depart from or arrive at Owers Corner – one that symbolises the arrival or departure of ground sacred to our shared wartime heritage with PNG.

Imagine a signpost that listed all the significant battlesites and villagers with the distances from Owers Corner.

Imagine having the opportunity to trek down to the Goldie River for a bar-b-que – or stay overnight in traditional village huts – or trek to Imita Ridge and back.

Such facilities and opportunities would warrant an entry fee of K15 per person.

Imagine how happy the Owers Corner community would be with that!

A mother’s perspective of our 2018 Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge . . .

Hi Everyone,

I have put off writing to you, because I don’t know where to start or how to use the right words for what i would like to say.

Thank you so much for your amazing organisation and the opportunities you give people. My dealings with you all were fantastic and you never made me feel silly when I had a million and one questions I needed answered.

I was so lucky to have both of my twins go to Kokoda with you. I was a little nervous sending them both, but that’s just me.

We live 3 & 1/2 hrs from Sydney and i was surprised to have non stop chatter all the way home. they loved every moment of their experience, the good and the bad. They had so many amazing stories to tell and the friendships they have made will be with them forever. Lochie told us about being sick, and how they just had to keep going. The experience has made them appreciate their lives differently. I am extremely blessed to have the children I do, 99% of the time they are wonderful. Jake our youngest has CP and is in a wheel chair and has a communication device, the twins are amazing with Jake. He was so happy to see them on
their return that he burst into tears.

On the Saturday they were asked if they would do it again, both said yes, however Jacinta piped up and said “Not today”. Thank you for making her dream come true, she waited 2 years to be able to apply to do it.

Thank you doesn’t do justice to what you have done for Jacinta and Lochie, you have helped cement their values, qualities and characteristics that are making them into the wonderful young adults they are becoming.

They have both been put in situations since being home, where they have stepped out of their comfort zone to help others.

They both speak so highly of the experience and the people who helped them along the way, it will be something they will never forget.

Thank so so much.
From a very proud and grateful mum,
Mary Ballard

Adventure Kokoda and the RSL Services Clubs Association are very proud of you Mary and we look forward to keeping in touch and monitoring their progress. (more…)

The Story of Australia’s Flags by Major General Maitland

story_of_australias_flags__57889.1439364316.1280.1280This morning I had the honour of attending the official launch of Major General Gordon Maitland’s book ‘The Story of Australia’s Flags which was hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs in Sydney.  It follow on from his previous publication ‘Honours and Awards of the Australian Army. Both are published by Playbill Military Productions and are essential references to anybody with an interest in the customs and traditions of our Australian military forces.

In his dedication to his book Major General Gordon Maitland wrote:

‘Australians formally announce themselves by flying our flag or singing our National Anthem.

‘Sometimes we may do so more informally by flying a flag bearing an image of one of our unique fauna or by singing Waltzing Matilda.

‘Another favourite song is: ‘We are one, but we are many, and from all the lands on Earth we come, we share a dream and sing with one voice – I am, you are, we are Australian’. It was written by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton in 1987 and is owned by Telstra. I am biased and would prefer ‘flag’ to ‘dream’.

‘No doubt my upbringing contributed to my bias for I am of that generation which, at school, recited:

I honour my God; I serve my King; I salute my flag.

‘Like many of our wonderful ways it has been lost by progress [?] (more…)

BOOK LAUNCH: The Battle for Australia by Bob Wurth

Battle for Australia 1This is a must read for anybody interested in the international circumstances that led to the War in the Pacific in 1941. Following is the speech by the Governor of Westerns Australia, His Excellency Malcolm McClusker AC CVO QC, when he launched the book at Curtin University:

The first Wednesday of September each year is Battle for Australia Day.  It commemorates all of the battles, great and small, fought against Japan by the United States and Australia, to repel Japanese aggression.

Bob Wurth’s book, the Battle for Australia, is a gripping account of that perilous time in Australia’s history. As our Governor-General of Australia wrote in the Foreword, it fills an important gap in our knowledge of that critical period for, 70 years after the bombing of Darwin and the invasion of New Guinea, we are still learning about what happened and just how beleaguered Australia really was – to an extent which was certainly not fully disclosed at the time, for fear of causing panic.

The sub-title to the book, “A nation and its leader under siege”, is very apt; for this book is not only a fascinating account of the military history of the war in the Pacific, when Australia truly was “under siege”; but it is also an insightful political biography of Australia’s war time Prime Minister John Curtin.  He too, was “under siege”, as Bob Wurth makes clear.

The John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library is therefore a very fitting venue for the launch of this book, which not only points out Curtin’s achievements, but also his frailties, flaws and failings. (more…)

Kokoda: Time for a Rethink

Papua New Guinea is the custodian of Australia’s Pacific War history.  A place where our wartime relics have rusted in peace in remote jungle clad mountains for the past 70 years. The names of hitherto unknown places are emblazoned on Army, Navy and RAAF Battle Honours every Anzac Day – Coral Sea, Milne Bay, Kokoda, Buna, Gona, Sanananda, Finschaffen, Lae, Wau, Shaggy Ridge, Bougainville and Wewak.

The Kokoda Trail is one of many jungles shrines littered with relics of desperate battles fought between Australian and Japanese soldiers in late 1942. It lay dormant in the minds of Australians for five decades after the war until Paul Keating became the first Australian Prime Minister to visit the village that bears its name.

Government interest in the preservation of the Kokoda Trail receded for another decade until Prime Ministers’ John Howard and Sir Michael Somare opened a significant memorial at the village of Isurava on the 60th anniversary of the campaign. The awareness of these two ceremonial occasions led to increasing numbers of Australians wanting to walk in the footsteps of the brave.

However it wasn’t until a public outcry over the threat to mine a large part of the trail that the Australian Government finally took more than a token interest in the area. The public were united in their opposition to the possible destruction of such an iconic part of our military heritage.

Unfortunately the Howard Government miscalculated and allocated responsibility for the preservation of the Kokoda Trail to the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA). Most probably because the Heritage Division was responsible for the List of Overseas Places of Historic Significance to Australia which was established under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The status of ‘Heritage’ has since been dropped from what is now the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPC). ‘Arts’ has since been added to the Minister’s responsibilities but does not show up in the current acronym. (more…)