Desecration of Owers Corner by DFAT ‘Kokoda Initiative’ now complete

The desecration of our military heritage at Owers Corner by DFAT is now complete with the recent installation of electricity poles around the unauthorised memorial graffiti on the site.

Owers Corner, located at the end of the 40 km road from Port Moresby, is the gateway to the Kokoda Trail. The hosting of APEC by the PNG Government next month provided a unique opportunity for the construction of a Kokoda Trail Visitors Centre to honour and interpret the historical significance of the place and to showcase the culture of the Koiari landowners.

It would have been a major attraction for the thousands of APEC delegates visiting PNG and would quickly become the country’s most popular tourism destination. It would have created a sustainable economic future for the Koiari people living on the Sogeri plateau.

But it was not to be because Australian envirocrats embedded in the PNG ‘Kokoda Initiative’ seem to be ideologically opposed to commemorating our wartime heritage. They will argue this is not the case but the facts suggest otherwise.

Australian Government officials from Environment and DFAT have been insitu for 10 years and have burned through more that $60 million in taxpayer funded aid. The management system they put in place for the Kokoda Trail has collapsed to such an extent the PNG Minister for Environment and Conservation had to establish his own ‘Kokoda Initiative Ministerial Committee’ to try and arrest the decline. Unfortunately he seemed to have been poorly advised by the Australian’s embedded in his Department and Prime Minister Peter O’Neill had to then call for a review to try and stop the rot. (more…)

END OF AN ERA OF KOKODA MISMANAGEMENT

Not a single management protocol was put in place by the Australian CEO during his three year tenure. There was no database; no campsite booking system; no trek itinerary management system; no campsite development program; no trail maintenance plan; no effective ranger system; or any development programs to assist local villagers in value-adding to the emerging industry.

The recent departure of the PNG CEO from the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) brings an end to a sorry saga of Australian mismanagement along the Kokoda Trail.

Prior to the arrival of Australian officials in 2008 the emerging Kokoda trekking industry was managed by Warren Bartlett, a former Kiap on a PNG salary of $12,500. During his tenure trekker numbers grew from 365 in 2002 to 5621 in 2008 – a massive increase of 1,440%. Bartlett had no staff but was assisted by a part-time local secretary.

Under a ‘Joint’ Understanding signed by the Australian and PNG Governments in 2008 Bartlett was replaced by an Australian CEO on an eye-watering six-figure salary by the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA).  He was provided with a 10-fold increase in staff numbers and a multi-million dollar budget.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), which has responsibility for our WW1 heritage at Gallipoli and the Western Front in Europe, was not included in the ‘Joint’ Understanding apart from the allocation of $1 million for unspecified purposes. There is no evidence of any of this money being allocated to the development of a Master Plan to protect and interpret our military heritage along the trail.

It is also remains unclear why DVA are responsible for our WW1 military heritage at Gallipoli and Environment/DFAT are responsible for our WW11 heritage at Kokoda.

After a decade insitu by DEWHA the results speak for themselves. Despite a conga-line of Australian environmental consultants and more than $60 million of taxpayers funds trekker numbers declined by 36% from 5621 in 2008 to 3597 in 2012. (more…)

Network Kokoda banks on PNGs MiBank

Network Kokoda has established a Memo of Understanding with PNGs MiBank to provide financial literacy training for the local community at our Sogeri Women’s Learning Centre.

MiBank is a grassroots financial institution licensed by the Bank of Papua New Guinea (BPNG) to provide a savings opportunity for subsistence villagers and small business people in the informal economy.

Our initial financial literacy course involved 24 women and two young men from Sogeri, Vesilogo, Owers Corner, Crystal Rapids and Sirinumu village areas.

Subjects covered included:

  • Savings: You can do it
  • Savings: What are they and why save?
  • Savings: How to set goals
  • Budgeting: Using money wisely
  • Importance of budgeting
  • How to make a budget
  • Mobile Banking: Understanding the benefits of MiCash

The course was facilitated by Mr Oggie Erehe, our Field Manager for Network Kokoda, and conducted under the auspices of Genevieve Daniels and Steve Ereman. Genevieve is the Manager – Digital Financial Services for MiBank.

The MOU provides for Network Kokoda to make our Sogeri Women’s Learning Centre available for training programs and market them to women living in villages on the Sogeri Plateau. We have agreed to provide accommodation and meals for all participants at our centre for the duration of each program as well as for instructors provided by MiBank.

Network Kokoda will also encourage our participants to register with a K30 fee for the course. This fee will be used to establish a MiBank account for each one and will be deposited in their account.

MiBank have agreed to provide financial literacy training, coaching and mentoring for our women’s groups in the surrounding villages on the Sogeri Plateau.

Financial literacy training is a welcome addition to our suite of programs which include English Literacy; Sewing (basic and advanced); cooking (basic and advanced); floral arrangements (to serve the hotel industry in Port Moresby); agriculture (basic, intermediate and advanced); and needlework.

Our graduation ceremony was a proud and emotional moment for us all and we look forward to continuing our relationship with the Sogeri community.

 

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…)

HERITAGE INTERPRETATION OF THE KOKODA TRAIL

‘At the foot of the Owen Stanleys in Papua New Guinea you can look into the ancient landscape – majestic peaceful wilderness, nature in its full glory.  There have been tracks across the mountains for thousands of years; the people who inhabit the region were gardening at the same time agriculture was developing in Ancient Egypt.  The strength of natural and cultural heritage are beyond simple words: fascinating, awesome, daunting – world class.

‘Yet the battles of 1942 and the contemporary interest in ‘Kokoda’ are what have made it Papua New Guinea’s No 1 tourist attraction.  In 1942 it was Australians and Papua New Guineans fighting Japanese for what was then Australian land.  Young men in a bloody struggle for ‘their land’.  The battle has become folklore in Australia – a place of pilgrimage like Gallipoli, Villers-Bretonneux, Sandakan, Passchendale.’[i]

In the lead-up to the 70th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign IN 2012 Network Kokoda commissioned Michael Pender of HPA Projects to develop a Heritage Interpretation Plan and Implementation Strategy for the Kokoda Trail. We chose HPA Projects because of their commemorative heritage projects at Isurava, Sandakan, Hellfire Pass and the Australia National War Memorial in France.

The report was ignored.

The 75th Anniversary of the Kokoda campaign in 2017 offered another opportunity as it was sure to be the last parade for the dwindling number of surviving veterans and its adoption would have been seen as an appropriate legacy to ensure their service and sacrifice would never be forgotten.

It was ignored again.

In view of the complete dysfunction of the management system put in place by the Australian Government during the period 2008 – 2012 and the subsequent decline in trekker numbers it is timely to review the essence of the report as it is still relevant.  (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…)