The Kokoda Trail Villager

First impressions of Koiari and Orokaiva villages along the Kokoda Trail give little hint of the complex relationships that exist within. The simple life of building, gardening, cooking, nurturing, teaching and healing is underpinned by the complexities of clan relationships and the influence of missionary pastors, traditional lululais’ and  sorcerers.

Elders maintain their distance and examine trekkers with furrowed brows and quiet curiosity as they arrive, collapse, rest, hand out a few balloons, ask a few shallow questions, shake hands, and wave goodbye.  Most elders speak Motu, some speak Tok Pisin, but their English is often poor or non-existent.  This limits their communication to friendly smiles and a wave of the hand.  But mostly they just look. [Read more…]

The Kokoda Trekker

Kokoda trekkers are the basic building block of Papua New Guinea’s most popular tourist destination. They are also the most neglected.

Any business, industry or service provider who dared treat their customers with as much contempt as the Kokoda trekker receives would be placed in the hands of a commercial undertaker in a very short period of time. [Read more…]

Kokoda CEO Quits – Cites Intimidation

The news that the interim Executive Officer of the PNG Kokoda Track Authority, Annette Dean, quit her job and returned home to Tasmania is no surprise. She cited death threats, corruption and daily demands for money as the normal challenges she faced in her job. She needed a security escort to get from the carpark to her office in Boroko each day.

Annette’s credentials for the job were never in question but whoever made the decision that a white woman could work effectively in the KTA office environment in Boroko was naive in the extreme. They certainly did not listen to her predecessor, Warren Bartlett. [Read more…]

Lets not forget the villagers along Kokoda?

A post by Sandy Lawson

In 2006, because tourist numbers on the Kokoda Track were rising rapidly, I outlined (on invitation) a proposal to animate community development. Based on local agriculture, it recognised that for tourism to be sustainable and welcome, it must engage the interest of the villagers along the historic trail. It must give them power as custodians of their land to explore new ways of using their land by carefully exploiting opportunities offered by a growing tourist industry. They must reap a real benefit. [Read more…]

Kokoda: Track or Trail?

On 12 October 1972 the name ‘Kokoda Trail’ was proclaimed in the Government Gazette of Papua New Guinea. This proclamation has never been amended or rescinded so the official name of the track over the Owen Stanley Range between Owers Corner and Kokoda is ‘The Kokoda Trail’.

The custodian of Australia’s Military History, the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, revisited the debate in 2002 after some new-age historians argued it should be referred to as the ‘Kokoda Track’.  The official historian at the War Memorial concluded that the term ‘trail’ was favoured by a majority of veterans and because it appears on the battle honours of units who served in Papua in 1942. He concluded that the official designation for the track is ‘The Kokoda Trail’. [Read more…]

Kokoda – a neglected jungle shrine

‘Infantryman’s calvary where 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 fought under worse conditions than these. Surely no war has demanded more of a man in fortitude. Even Gallipoli or Crete or the desert.’

Osmar White Wartime
journalist, writing from the track in 1942

Article by Charlie Lynn

When I first trekked Kokoda with a local guide in March 1991 I was struck by the fact that there was no information on the location of places such as Brigade Hill, Butcher’s Ridge, Templeton’s Crossing, Eora Creek, Imita Ridge, Kokoda Gap. Isurava, Deniki, Kokoda, etc. Ever since I was a small boy I could remember thousands of veterans marching behind battle honours emblazoned with these names. I therefore expected to find these places and be able to navigate around the positions with some sort of information booklet or guide.

I expected to see the remnants of the steps up the infamous ‘golden staircase’; to feel the pain of climbing ‘Jap’s Ladder’; to wonder how our diggers felt in their weapon pits on the forward slopes of Butcher’s Ridge as they waited to meet thousands of fanatical Japanese soldiers; to follow the footsteps of Private Bruce Kingsbury as he led a counter attack against the Japs at Isurava; to stand on the ground defended by Charlie McCallum as he stood bravely between the Japs and his men to protect their escape.

I wanted to see where Captain Butch Bissett was machine gunned; where Ben Buckler led his fateful patrol; where Captain Claude Nye and Captain Brett (Lefty) Langridge led their fateful charge at Brigade Hill; where Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Honner held his famous parade at Menari with ‘Those Ragged Bloody Heroes’ of the 39th Battalion; where Corporal John Metson and Sergeant Lindsay Bear crawled on all fours along the track refusing all offers for help because they had mates ‘a lot worse off than us’!

I hoped to meet ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’ who saved hundreds of diggers by carrying them across some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet and say ‘thank you’ to their families in the villages.

Unfortunately I was to be bitterly disappointed because there was not a single signpost, monument or memorial along the entire track apart from a few plaques placed by regimental associations and a small plinth erected by a Japanese soldier at Launumu – the forming up place for the Japanese attack against the Australians on Butcher’s Ridge and Brigade Hill on 6 September 1942.

I was further disadvantaged by the fact that my PNG guide knew nothing about the war history of the campaign and there were no maps or signs to assist in identifying important sections of the track or any of the battle-sites.

I was also struck by the fact that we had neglected those who sacrificed so much for us in Papua New Guinea – the legendary ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’. I learned that none have been issued with a medal for their service and some claim to have never been paid. When I asked one of the elders about the war on the track he explained that they had lived in peace for generations then one day the Australians and the Japanese came, had a big fight in their backyards, caused a lot of damage in their villages, then went away! Our efforts to correct this shameful neglect has been unsuccessful to date however we have been heartned to receive the support of the RSL of Australia – and we will persevere! [Read more…]