Community Museums and Trade Centres under construction along the Kokoda Trail are the latest taxpayer funded folly of our so-called ‘Australian – PNG Partnership’.
The use of ‘partnership’ by DFAT operatives in Port Moresby is an oxymoron based on the principle of ‘we pay – you agree’ and it’s indicative of the empathetic divide between them and the people they are supposed to serve. In this case there has been no consultation with trekkers or local villagers to see if such an initiative would meet their needs and no cost benefit analysis to justify the expenditure of other people’s money.
Apart from a few rusted rifles, rotted boots and mortar shells Community Museums will have little to display – and apart from the odd bilum bag or carved stick villages along the trail have little to trade. Their culture has been subjugated by the Seventh Day Adventist Church – grass skirts, swaying hips, beads, decorative head-dress and kundu drums have been replaced with Western clothing, bibles, twice-daily church services and a strict observance of the Sabbath.
This latest folly has all the hallmarks of the failed ‘Village Livelihoods’ project implemented soon after the Australian Government hijacked the Kokoda trekking industry in 2009. ‘Village Livelihoods’ was invented in Canberra to ‘help’ villagers earn additional income from trekkers. Trouble was the envirocrats who designed it didn’t consult with PNG Government officials, local villagers or trekkers – it’s as if they regarded them all as lesser beings. As a result they blew more than $1.5 million of other people’s money on a thought-bubble that didn’t produce a single vegetable from a garden or generate a single dollar in additional income.
The military significance of the Kokoda Trail has emerged as an inconvenient truth for DFAT.
What other excuse can they offer for their refusal to develop a master plan to protect honour and interpret our shared wartime heritage along the Kokoda Trail after a decade in-situ and the expenditure of more than $50 million of other peoples’ money?
And who can explain the logic behind the fact that the Department of Veterans Affairs has responsibility for Gallipoli and World War I while DFAT and Environment are responsible for Kokoda and World War II?
It certainly doesn’t make sense to us lesser beings.
DFAT officials and their cronies embedded in strategic PNG Government departments are now faced with the dilemma of being seen to honour our wartime heritage of the Kokoda campaign while pursuing an environmental agenda opposed to commemoration.
If our veterans had displayed the same lack of fortitude as today’s crop of DFAT Ministers in defending our wartime heritage we would have surrendered at Tobruk; did a runner at El Alamein; and prepared a sushi banquet to welcome the Japanese to Kokoda in 1942.
They would do well to reflect on Slim Dusty’s tribute to our diggers during their struggle against the Japanese in 1942: ‘They beckoned you and taunted you to face eternity . . . you saluted with a burning Thompson gun!’
Today’s leaders would drop their daks, bend over and wink at their rising suns.
DFAT’s cunning in creating perceptions of interest in our wartime heritage while pursuing a patronising environmental agenda is remarkable.
Their deception is based on avoiding the development of a Master Wartime Heritage Plan at all costs.
Rather than engage an accredited military heritage architect to develop a plan they recruited an American anthropologist as their National Military Heritage Advisor. The position was advertised during the peak Christmas holiday period last year and limited to a small group of institutions which excluded the Australian War Memorial. Nothing to see there, Your Worship!
The anthropologist has since been engaged in exploring ‘lost battlefields’ that have never been lost; checking out Blamey’s respite centre near Port Moresby; and developing ‘Community Museums and Trade Centres’ in areas that have no historic relevance.
These projects are on a par with the massage parlours his predecessors funded at Efogi and Isurava. They were dismantled after the first year because nobody booked a massage. Yet another DFAT thought-bubble developed without consultation and inevitably punctured by reality.
Politically correct panels at Owers Corner were designed without consultation with the Australian War Memorial and cunningly sought to reinterpret ‘mateship’ into ‘friendship’.
Then there was the DFAT ‘Gender Equity Study’ conducted from the secure comfort of five-star hotel room in Port Moresby. If their consultant had bothered to set foot on the trail he/she would have learned that the roles of men, women and children in subsistence villages hasn’t changed much over the past thousand years. The study was conducted under the guise of their ‘Kokoda Initiative’ even though it had no relevance to the military history of the Kokoda campaign.
The PNG Prime Minister’s recent call for a review of the dysfunctional management system put in place by Australian Government officials saw DFAT scramble into ‘Yes Minister’ mode. Terms of Reference were drafted to achieve a neutral outcome. The consultant engaged to conduct the review did not set foot on the trail to meet trekkers or village communities and the inevitable outcome was basically a re-adaption of the status quo. A close call for Sir Humphrey but he quickly rose to the challenge.
DFAT has now spent more than $50 million of other peoples’ money on their ‘Kokoda Initiative’ over the past decade. During this time trekker numbers have declined by 43 per cent; significant historical sites have been desecrated; the environmental condition of the trail has been degraded; and PNG guides and porters are shamelessly exploited. Local villagers are now mere spectators to a passing parade of trekkers – and there is still no master plan to honour the wartime heritage of the Kokoda campaign.
It’s enough to make old soldiers and lesser beings weep.
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