AUSTRALIAN-funded projects have removed “mateship” from the lexicon used in Papua New Guinea to describe the heroism of Diggers fighting the Japanese on the Kokoda Track, in what a prominent critic describes as politically correct revisionism to “demilitarise” the battleground’s history in the lead up to its 75th anniversary.
According to former Australian Army major, Vietnam War veteran and NSW Liberal state MP Charlie Lynn, who for the past 25 years has run treks on the Kokoda Track, $65 million of Australian taxpayers’ money has been directed through “a conga line of consultants” to green-leaning and leftist development projects promoting Australian liberal values such as gender equity on the track.
At the same time, he claims, bridges and toilets on the track have fallen into disrepair and Australian-sponsored aid projects such as schools have no desks and clinics no medicines.
The reinterpretation of the World War II campaign, during which Australian troops started to turn the tide against Japanese forces, has been carried out under the Department of the Environment and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“They are anti the military heritage of the trail,” Mr Lynn told The Australian, adding that he believed Australia’s Kokoda Track effort should have been under the charge of Veterans Affairs.
“Now, they are starting to subtly rewrite the history of the track.”
Mr Lynn pointed to a departure from the four words traditionally used to sum up the Australian war effort on the track, a campaign waged with the assistance of PNG communities: Courage, Endurance, Mateship, Sacrifice.
Each of the four words is engraved on one of the four marble pillars in the war memorial established by the Howard government at Isurava, the site of a major battle in August 1942. “The power of that memorial is in the simplicity of the memorial and those four words,” Mr Lynn said.
By contrast, he observed, a set of new interpretative panels erected at Owers Corner at the entrance to the track drops the word “mateship”, and instead refers to “friendship”, which Mr Lynn said reflected a preference for gender neutrality.
One of the panels speaks of how “Australians, Papuans, and New Guineans served side-by-side in atrocious conditions”.
“The Track has become a shrine to their courage, endurance and sacrifice,” the panel says. “It is an enduring reminder of the unity and friendship shared by the people of Papua New Guinea and Australia.”
Another section quotes a PNG man as having said “Friend ... I’ll walk with you” with regard to the help he provided to Australian soldiers. Mr Lynn claims the line was selected to mimic the fake social media campaign “I’ll ride with you” to combat supposed anti-Muslim sentiments after Sydney’s Lindt cafe siege.
A spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the signs at Owers Conner were part of a project managed by the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority, funded by the Australian Environment Department.
“The Foreign Minister had no role in the approval of the language used in the signs,” the spokeswoman said. “The word ‘friendship’ has been chosen as this is understood by Papua New Guineans. ‘Mateship’ is a uniquely Australian term and we will request both words are used as part of the new signage.”
The spokeswoman said the “I’ll walk with you” line was simply a referral to the iconic image of the Kokoda campaign in which a blinded Australian soldier is being led by a Papua New Guinean, and had nothing to do with the “I’ll ride with you” campaign.
Mr Lynn said Australian authorities had employed Australian consultants at a cost of millions of dollars to undertake leftist social engineering projects such as a gender equity study of PNG women on the track, where more than 600 Australian fighting men were killed and 1,680 wounded during the campaign.
Entitled A Gender Snapshot of the Kokoda Initiative, the 2014 study laments that “indigenous women and children, more than half the population are neither visible nor heard in most existing literature on Kokoda war history”.
“Most accounts of the war on Kokoda are Australian and male, thus bringing a specific lens … Women are hardly mentioned.”
Mr Lynn said rather than get PNG villagers to do the work on the track, Australians were being flown in. Ms Bishop’s spokeswoman said this project “twinned” PNG rangers with the Australians.
Mr Lynn claimed bureaucrats and consultants missed the point of what attracted Australians to Kokoda. “They don’t go up there to have a bloody environmental levitation, they are going there to walk in the footstep of the Diggers,” he said.
The result had been a decline of more than 50% in the number of trekkers over the nine years since the Department of Environment took charge of the Kokoda project.
Ms Bishop’s spokeswoman did not directly respond to Mr Lynn’s claims of a deterioration of facilities on the track, but said: “The Australian government is working with the Kokoda Track Authority to improve safety, including by upgrading roads, installing a weather station, improving the Kokoda airstrip and updating the VHF radio network along the track to improve communications.”