War history signage, Kokoda Track

War history signage at Owers Corner, Kokoda Track

The office was buzzing when we received the news that we had been awarded this prestigious war history signage contract by the Australian Federal Government. The contract was for the provision of interpretive services to the Australian Government Kokoda Initiative Taskforce.

The Kokoda Initiative

The Kokoda Initiative is a partnership between the Australian and PNG Governments to protect the environment, help develop local communities and maintain opportunities for tourism along the Kokoda Track.

Working with the Australian Govt and the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA) we consulted with key partners from both nations to develop war history signage that presented and interpreted the wartime experiences of the Papuan and New Guinean people and in particular the Koiari. We experienced warm smiles, generosity and savvy intellects.

With our first trip to PNG set for November 2015 and a deadline of ANZAC Day 2016 we had to hit the ground running. Researching and writing for this project was both stimulating and challenging. As there was no clear objective, other than some signage at Owers’ Corner that would portray the WWII experiences of the people of PNG, we had to start from scratch in workshops and engaging with the local communities.

The group of dedicated professionals working at the Tourism Promotion Authority should be applauded for their persistence. They work on the fifth floor with a capricious elevator, no air-conditioning and you cannot open a window. Trying to keep your ‘cool’ during a meeting was impossible and we often retreated to a local bar. Everyone cheered when we left on a trip to the cooler climes of the Sogeri Plateau united by a common cause…a passion to finally tell the PNG stories of WWII.

The opening

Workshops, capacity building, story writing and design. This project had it all. The installation was completed in April 2016 with the official unveiling ceremony of the war history signage taking place on 6 May 2016. It included a welcome by local Koiari elders, speeches from Government ministers and the Australian High Commission and a sing-sing performed by  the local community. The unveiling was a joint effort by PNG Ministers John Pundari and Tobias Kulang, the Australian High Commission and Koiari landholders.

Stakeholder engagement and community consultations

Prior to arriving in PNG we developed a stakeholder engagement strategy in partnership with John Pastorelli of Ochre Learning. It was great to have a framework that guided formal and informal engagement with stakeholders. It helped us to focus and drill down to the key themes and messages very quickly.  After two workshops in Port Moresby and one community meeting we were able to set about researching content, sourcing images and getting the design process going. With so much already written on the Kokoda experience our challenge was to find the stories of the Papuans and New Guineans and, in particular, traditional land owners…the Koiari.

Capacity Building

On our second trip to PNG we held two day long capacity building and training sessions with the government stakeholders – the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority, Kokoda Track Authority and representatives of the National Museum and Art Gallery and the Dept of the Environment. We also spent a day with the local community and were able to show them the preliminary designs we had put together in less than a month. The designs were full size mock ups and proved invaluable in getting the conversation going and focusing on the themes and messages. We were able to determine what to include and, importantly, what to leave out.  This is where John Pastorelli’s skills really came to the fore. His style of ‘learning is doing’ got everyone out of their comfort zone but resulted in some great outcomes for the locals as they built their confidence to lead discussions and engagement sessions. John made it good fun for all.

John’s work can be viewed here http://johnpastorelli.com.au/

War history signage design and installation

The designs for the interpretive panels were developed using the letter K as a graphic element across all six panels…K for Kokoda and K for Koiari, the local landholders. Miller Metal Imaging did a fantastic job of fabricating the CORTen steel frames (each weighing 120Kg) and their photo-anodising process produced panels with rich colour and detail. The fact that they are guaranteed for 10 years was an added bonus for this harsh environment.

In late April 2016 Peter travelled to PNG  to assist the TPA with the installation of the interpretive frames and panels. Alas, although the hardware had landed in Port Moresby we could not get the signs out of customs…”expect the unexpected.” We dug a very expensive hole on that trip.

A week later Peter was back in PNG and with the help of local landholders the signs were installed just in time for the official unveiling the following day.

Client: Australian Government Kokoda Initiative Taskforce
Date: November 2015 – May 2016
The project: 
– review of existing historical research to develop an overview of the Kokoda campaign
– identify existing stories that convey the perspective of PNG and Australia
– identify key messages for interpretation about experiences on the Kokoda Track
– develop and implement a Stakeholder Engagement Plan
– on-the-job training and capacity building for the TPA and employees of the National Museum and Art Gallery
– create 6 interpretive signs and installation design (artwork panel 500mm wide x 1310mm high, frame above ground 500mm wide x 2000mm high)
– production of a simple ‘How To’ step by step guiding document on the process of developing, designing and producing interpretive signage for TPA staff to adopt as a reference for future projects
– project manage production and installation of the interpretive display

Heritage Trail Interpretive Plan, Parkes Shire
Bush tucker trail signage, Karratha WA