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Queensland ranger follows in her grandfather's footsteps at Kokoda

20 April 2017

Senior Ranger Karen Whitworth is proud to be heading to work on the Kokoda Track, where her grandfather served in World War II

Senior Ranger Karen Whitworth is proud to be heading to work on the Kokoda Track, where her grandfather served in World War II

Queensland ranger Karen Whitworth is proud to be heading to Papua New Guinea to work on the Kokoda Track where her grandfather served in World War II. 

Ms Whitworth, from Cairns, is one of four Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) rangers in the latest group doing track work with PNG rangers and local villagers as they prepare the famed route for trekking season, in the 75th Anniversary year of the Kokoda Campaign. 

Ms Whitworth said she was excited and grateful to be one of the staff chosen for the third deployment of QPWS rangers, leaving Cairns on 24 April.

“That means I’ll be in Port Moresby on 25 April at the Anzac Day commemorations, wearing my late grandfather’s medals,” Ms Whitworth said.

Signalman Hugh Whitworth departed for PNG in late February 1942, aged 21, and spent all his war service in PNG in the Signals, 6th Australian Division in the Kokoda area. 

“He was evacuated by sea twice from PNG, the first time with typhus and the second time with malaria, to recover on the Atherton Tableland,” Ms Whitworth said.

“He never spoke to his family about his wartime experiences in PNG.

“My involvement in the Kokoda Initiative is prompting us as a family to find out more about my grandfather’s war service. It’s also an opportunity to give back to the people of Papua New Guinea,” Ms Whitworth said.

Also in this deployment will be Carol Kinnaird and Warwick Armstrong from Cairns; and Nick Smith from Atherton. 

QPWS is sending a total of nine rangers to PNG on three rotations, to work with the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) on track repairs and recording of natural values along some key sections of the track. 

The project is supported by the PNG, Queensland and Australian governments. The Queensland Government is paying staff salaries and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is funding other costs. 

QPWS Acting Executive Director Northern Parks and Forests James Newman said the new contingent was looking forward to the task ahead, working in monsoonal conditions similar to what they experienced in Queensland’s Wet Tropics.

“The previous two deployments have established a great rapport with the local rangers and villagers, and have learnt a lot on the track as they share their skills.

“I’m proud that our rangers are sharing their expertise, learning from local rangers, and helping the KTA to maintain a safe, well-managed track that honours the historical significance and protects and promotes its special values.

“For QPWS to be able to assist KTA and those communities, which are mostly farmers, to keep the track open is a great outcome for all, and a privilege for QPWS,” Mr Newman said.

“In 2015 QPWS rangers working with KTA and DFAT were able to provide guidance and options for track maintenance and management in high-rainfall areas. This new partnership initiative is continuing that legacy with the implementation of on-ground works being carried out with the Kokoda Track staff and local villagers,” Mr Newman said.

More information about the Kokoda Initiative 

The Kokoda Initiative (KI) is a PNG-led joint development program designed to preserve the Kokoda Track region. It is intended to assist the PNG Government with the management, sustainable development and protection of the Kokoda Track and the greater area’s important natural, cultural and military heritage values.

The Kokoda Track Authority (KTA), a key partner in the KI, is the PNG Government agency responsible for keeping the Track open and safe, and manages the Track on a day-to-day basis. 

With the support of the Australian Government’s Department of Environment and Energy, three QPWS staff travelled to PNG in April 2015 to participate in a Management Trek and to assist the KTA with high-rainfall track management, maintenance and developing technologies.

The three pillars of the Kokoda Initiative are:

Track: To preserve and maintain the heritage and historical values of the area and boost tourism capacity and promotion.

People: To support communities and landowners in the region by ensuring health, education, infrastructure and governance needs are met.

Environment: To ensure the pristine wilderness of the region, including unique flora and fauna and important waterways, are protected.

More information about Senior Ranger Karen Whitworth and her grandfather, Signalman Hugh Whitworth

QPWS Senior Ranger (Visitor Management) Northern Region, Karen Whitworth, is currently based in Cairns. 

Karen joined QPWS in 2010 and has managed a range of infrastructure projects, building visitor facilities and walking tracks, often in high-rainfall environments. 

She has worked on joint management programs with Indigenous groups on Cape York Peninsula parks. 

Karen’s involvement in the Kokoda Initiative will be her first visit to PNG.

Karen has discovered that her grandfather Hugh Whitworth enlisted in NSW in early January 1942, aged 21. After a month’s training in signal and combat training, he married, and departed for PNG in late February 1942. He spent all his war service in PNG as a signalman in the Signals, 6th Australian Division in the Kokoda and northern beaches areas of PNG.

He was evacuated twice from PNG, the first time unwell from typhus and the second time with malaria.  Each time he was repatriated by sea to recover at Rocky Creek on the Atherton Tableland. 

After release from the army in December 1945, Hugh Whitworth was given 10 shillings and a wallet for his service.  He then proceeded to build a house for his young family in Engadine, NSW. Mr Whitworth died in Cairns in 2006 aged 84. 

Karen is in the process of discovering more information about his service, via the Australian Archives.

Last updated
20 April 2017