‘What better excuse for a real adventure’: History, Memory and Tourism on the Kokoda Track

Jo Hawkins

Abstract

Rapidly growing numbers of Australian tourists visiting overseas battle sites associated with Australian military history have been met with enthusiastic academic interest by historians, yet the vast majority of studies focus on Gallipoli, rather than the Kokoda Track. Prior to 2001, few tourists had undertaken a journey along the narrow jungle pathway, which winds 96km through the Owen Stanley Ranges in Papua New Guinea. Just over a decade later, the track supports a competitive tourism industry, dominated by Australian companies, and attracts thousands of trekkers each year. This paper applies an interdisciplinary methodology to better understand the duality of locations of battlefield tourism as sites of commemoration and, unavoidably, sites of commerce. A survey of 107 trekkers suggests that, in addition to an expression of national identity, the mythology associated with the Kokoda Track has been appropriated by Australian tourists to represent individualistic goals of personal development and transformation: meanings that originate from the site’s history but extend beyond it.

Keywords

Kokoda Track; National Identity; Collective Memory; Battlefield Tourism; Pilgrimage

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