2017 KOKODA DAY COMMEMORATIVE DINNER
Sheraton on the Park Hotel, Sydney
The Hon Charlie Lynn OL
Three days ago we commemorated the centenary of the Australian Light Horse mounted cavalry charge at Beersheba – one of the most spectacular allied desert victories in World War 1.
Today we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign – one of the most desperate campaigns fought by Australian troops in World War 11 – and the first ever fought on Australian territory.
For some inexplicable reason neither of these two historic victories are deemed worthy of inclusion in our education systems today.
Tonight though, I want to focus on the men who saved us – not hose who betray us.
On this day 75 years ago the depleted ranks of two Australian brigades paraded before their commander, General Vasey, as the Australian flag was raised on the Kokoda plateau. It was the culminating point of one of the most desperate campaigns fought in some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet. Wartime journalist Osmar White was witness to the conditions. He wrote:
‘The pain of effort, the biting sweat, the hunger, the cheerless shivering nights were made dim by exhaustion’s merciful drug . . . surely no war was ever fought under worse conditions that these. Surely no war has ever demanded more of a man in fortitude. Even Gallipoli or Crete or the desert’.
White certainly didn’t mean to demean Gallipoli, Crete or the desert – he was simply trying to put the conditions they had to endure into perspective. (more…)
Expensive taxpayer funded interpretative design panels recently placed at Owers Corner by ‘The Interpretative Design Company’ on behalf of the Department of Environment on 16 May 2016 are a shameful slur on the memory of our Kokoda veterans. The panels are a not-so-subtle attempt to whitewash the history of the Kokoda campaign.through the prism of political correctness.
There does not appear to have been any consultation between the Department of Environment and the custodians of our military history i.e. the Australian War Memorial; or representative bodies of our veterans such as the Returned Services League of Australia. This is evident in the following observations:
We were proud to host the official launch of the Sirinumu Dam Women’s Association at our Network Kokoda Community Learning Centre on 14 April 2016.
This dynamic group is led by Mrs Kila Jonah, one of the most inspirational women I have met over my 26 year involvement in PNG – humble, intelligent and strong – as you can see from her speech below.
The official guests at the opening included:
- The Hon Kila Haoda: Governor of Central Province
- The Hon Peter Namea Isoaimo: Member for Kairuku Hiri
- The Hon Charlie Lynn OL: Chairman, Network Kokoda PNG
- Mr Ogi David: President, Koiari Local Level Government
- Mr Avana Korohi: Ward 11 Councillor
- Mr Geno Waruna: Ward 12 Councillor
- Mr Kareki Karimu: Ward 13 Councillor
- Mrs Veva Tom: Member for Central Province Womens Representative
- Mrs Mauri Bavea: President, Rigo Women in Agriculture
- Pastor Oscar: Nafoka SDA Church
- Rev Avoa Homoka: Bovedabu United Church
- Miss Nancy Kwarame: Manager for Community Services – PNG Power
- Warren Bartlett: Sogeri Enterprises
- Oggie Erehe: Network Kokoda PNG
Traditional dances were conducted by student groups from local high schools at Sogeri. (more…)
The proposed K200 visa fee for tourists without consultation reflects a disturbing ignorance of the reality of operating a tour business in PNG.
It comes at a time when the country has experienced the most negative international publicity in decades as a result of the PNG Kokoda Track Authority allowing two unprepared international tourists to trek Kokoda without a licensed tour operator.
PNG is primarily an adventure tourism destination for divers, trekkers, surfers, fishermen, birdwatchers and those with an interest in the cultural and environmental diversity of the country.
Adventure tourists have an abundance of alternative destinations in Australia, French Polynesia, Bali, Asia, Africa and South America. They are not queuing up to come to PNG.
Trekker numbers for the Kokoda Trail have declined by 44 per cent since the Australian Government assumed responsibility for the management of the Kokoda trekking industry in 2009.
Not one of the five strategies or 33 key performance objectives developed by Australian Government officials and contained in the KTA Strategic Plan 2012 – 2015 has been achieved.
Over the past decade some of the wealthiest and most influential people in Australia have been among the 40,000 trekkers who have crossed the trail. Many would be willing to travel to other PNG destinations as a result of their experience, but the KTA does not even maintain a database. They represent 40,000 lost marketing opportunities.
PNG has the opportunity to become the wartime tourism capital of the Pacific with markets in Australia, the United States and Japan. History records that adventure tourists and those with an interest in wartime tourism do not just ‘turn up’. They arrive as the result of individual marketing initiatives by tour operators in the industry.
PNG Tourism has operated in a parallel universe for many years. They are more concerned with the theory of tourism rather than the business of tourism.
The PNG Government would be better advised to get the basics right and support adventure tourism operators rather than trying ‘to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs’ with an opportunistic tax grab.
Charlie Lynn OL
Adventure Kokoda, Camden Australia
Trekking Kokoda will never be the same without the presence of distinguished elder, Faole Bokoi, to welcome trekkers as they enter Menari village.
Faole was a former luluai (clan leader), village constable and mail carrier under Australian colonial rule. It is unlikely that he was a wartime carrier due to his estimated age. The Australian New Guinea Army Unit recruited boys over the age of 16 years as carriers. Faole would therefore have been 98 years old at the time of his passing. The average life span for PNG males is currently 62 years. It would have meant that Faole would have been 73 years of age when I first met him 25 years ago. I would have estimated his age to be 50-55 years at that time.
This is not meant to detract from the value of his service to his people as the task of carrying mailbags from Owers Corner to the changeover point on the crest between Crossing 1 and Templeton’s Crossing would have been arduous and dangerous. After meeting his fellow Orokaiva mail carriers from Kokoda there would be an exchange of mailbags and Faole would return to Owers Corner.
Faole was a wonderful caring man and a respected elder in Menari.
We are proud of the fact that we were able to contribute to his welfare through our trekkers donating approximately $2,000 each year for the opportunity to be photographed with him. We also paid for an operation on the feet of his grand-daughter, Nancy who was a baby at the time. I recently met Nancy at Owers Corner and she is now a normal healthy teenager as a result of the operation. (more…)
Newspaper reports of a British ‘Reality TV star‘ and his American girlfriend being ambushed, tortured, tormented and raped by ‘cannibals’ on the Kokoda Trail went viral last month. After escaping from their captors the near-naked couple apparently trekked in bare feet for 15 kilometres from Templeton’s Crossing to Alola from where they were evacuated.
The story generated the most negative publicity PNG has experienced in decades. International tourism will take a big hit as a result.
Hopefully it will precipitate a wake-up call amongst government agencies responsible for the Kokoda trekking industry because this couple should never have been issued with a permit to trek without a PNG guide or any emergency equipment. Time will tell.
PNG could become the wartime tourism capital of the Pacific – if they get the model right! It’s an industry waiting to happen. (more…)
One of the major challenges we have faced over the years is getting individuals and clans to work together. This is understandable in a country where more than 80 per cent of the population rely on subsistence agriculture and have limited educational opportunities.
Informal research at the boarding schools we support on the Sogeri Plateau has revealed that students do not regard agriculture as a preferred subject – they see it as a subsistence necessity. They prefer subjects that will enhance their employment opportunities in Port Moresby.
A major impediment to agricultural development in remote villages along the Kokoda Trail is limited access to markets. When we first became engaged with the area in the early 1990s Milne Bay Air since rebadged to Airlines PNG) used to operate a thrice weekly ‘milk-run’ between Port Moresby-Menari-Efogi-Kagi-Kokoda to transport local produce to markets in the nation’s capital. Village airfields were crowded with people and produce on the scheduled flight days.
Mining and gas developments over the past decade have diverted PNG airlines towards meeting the more lucrative demands of resource industries. Kokoda Trail villagers have therefore reverted to subsistence crops to meet the needs of their local clans.
The Sogeri area used to be the food bowl for our troops in Port Moresby during the war. It has great potential to meet a greater share of the increasing demand in the National Capital tomorrow if local communities can be encouraged to work together. (more…)
‘Kokoda Day’ could be a source of intense pride for all Papua New Guineans. It has the potential to emulate the commemorative status of Anzac Day in Australia. It will also provide a strong incentive for Australians to visit PNG for the commemoration and all it represents. But more importantly it provides a status of recognition for the Papua and New Guinea wartime carriers – the unsung heroes of the campaigns they supported throughout Papua and New Guinea.
Australia was unprepared for the war in the Pacific in 1942. Our faith in ‘great and powerful friends’ coming to our aid in the event of Japan entering the war was shattered with the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse near Singapore on 10 December 1941 and the secret deal struck by UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt for American aid to be directed to the European theatre of operations at the expense of the South West Pacific.
The defence of Australia and its mandated territory of Papua and New Guinea was dependent on untrained militia forces and a small band of New Guinea Rifles as our experienced AIF units were returning from Europe to meet the new threat. (more…)
“With the economic boom attracting increasing numbers of visitors to Port Moresby, Owers Corner has an opportunity to be the most visited tourist attraction for the nation’s capital because of its historical significance.”
The 75th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign will be commemorated in 2017. It will be the last significant anniversary with surviving veterans who are now in their early 90s. It will be the last hurrah for a significant commitment to the Kokoda campaign by the Australian Government.
A Ministerial Statement issued by the Hon Stuart Robert indicates that the Department of Veterans Affairs does not have any plans to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign – click here for details
Our surviving Kokoda veterans deserve better.
The following opportunities are available as a 75th anniversary initiative for this historic occassion:
- Develop a Master Interpretative Plan to honour the military heritage of the Kokoda campaign;
- Develop a Military Historical – Koiari Cultural Centre at Owers Corner
- Develop a ‘Historical Military and Cultural Precinct’ on the Kokoda Plateau
The most relevant guide to the potential of a wartime tourism industry in PNG is the continued growth in Australians making the pilgrimage to Gallipoli.
Each year up to 9,000 Australians visit the Dawn Service at Anzac Cove. Thousands more visit it at other times of the year. It is now becoming a pilgrimage for more than a million Turkish people also visiting Gallipoli each year.
In just two years’ time (2017) Australia and Papua New Guinea will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign. This will be a historic occasion because it will be the ‘last parade’ for surviving veterans.
Two of the key objectives we wished to achieve when we proposed the establishment of a management authority for the Kokoda Trail in 2002 were:
- to establish ‘Kokoda’ as a model for a wartime tourism industry in PNG; and
- to ensure villagers along the trail received shared benefits from the emerging Kokoda trekking industry.
Papua New Guinea has the potential to be a world class adventure-tourism destination but it has to address negative perceptions in regard to safety and reliability – particularly after the ‘Black Cat Track’ murders. This will require a focused investment in national marketing and support for the development of niche adventures such as wartime pilgrimages, eco-trekking, white-water rafting, caving, bird-watching, diving, surfing, fishing and culture. (more…)