It was on July 21, 1942 that Japanese troops landed on the northern coast of then New Guinea with the intent of capturing Port Moresby. Had they succeeded the main land of Australia would have come under terrible threat.
Kokoda was arguably Australia’s most significant crusade of the 2nd world war.
More Australians died in 7months of fighting in Papua and the Japanese came closer to Australia than in any other campaign.
Many of those young Australians who were aged 18 and 19 now lied buried at the Bomana War cemetery in Port Moresby. To think that we are only a few years older than those who lost their lives at battle upsets me greatly, but it also gave us the motivation we had to walk in their foot steps and endure this war time trek.
But as tell you out story spare a thought not for us but for the soldiers who fought for this marvellous country, their families and the privilege they have given people like us to walk in their footsteps and conquer the enemy lines.
On August 17, 2009 we set off to what was going to be the adventure of our life time. After 3 months of intense training, boot camps, bush walks and healthy eating plans we thought our bodies were fit and ready.
However I don’t think any kind of physical or mental preparation can help you prepare 100% for something like Kokoda.
In fact, if anyone wants to know what training to do for Kokoda we recommend a sauna, a tracksuit and an exercise bike set on the hardest setting and go for it hours on end.
We arrive in Papua New Guinea on August 17 and already you can feel the significance that this places holds. The people here are so nice and welcoming.
This is it; there is no turning back now. The adventure we were just talking about has now become so real.
We set off for Kokoda on August 18. A good 5 k walk to our first camp site. Our boots soaking from crossing creeks, our socks slushy and our tummy are rumbling. It’s bath time and the only place to freshen up is in the bottom of the stream. Our bodies are over boiling from the heat but the water still feels like ice on our bodies. The only option a quick dunk on the count of three. Done- not the same feeling as a bath at home but it will do.
Our group carriers prepare us a great dinner- curry chicken and local vegetables. We wash our dishes in the river and sit around the camp fire trying to dry our boots and socks for the next day.
One of our group carriers Dixie is the sweetest person. He cannot hear nor can he speak yet he is so attentive and alert he walks in front of me and manages to know every time I stumble and fall. He keeps us entertained and plays army like games as we trek, hiding behind trees and rocks. He signs to us, 1 more big hill for today.
Along the track we learn so many lessons and hear many war time stories. We learn about brothers Stan and Butch Bisset and how at surgeon’s rock the brothers were separated by death. Stan had very little time to say goodbye to his brother and very little time to griever, after all there was a war going on. We cross Eora Creek, unstable to say the least and we reach Isurava. The memorial place for Bruce Kingsbury.
Almost like seeing the Eiffel tower in person but ten times better. That’s how Isurava made me feel. The four pillars, Courage, Mateship, Sacrifice and Endurance proudly stand here. It takes several moments to take in the fact that I am actually standing here, in png. At Isurava, a battle field for many Australian soldiers.
We present a local school with some basic supplies and the appreciation that they show is amazing. I think to myself but it’s only a small bundle of books and pencils that we gave you. Forgetting that they have very little and yet they manage to wear smiles every day.
We meet Ovoru Indiki, a 102 year old original Fuzzy Wuzzy angel. Try walking away from someone that has just taken your breath away. Try walking away from him and knowing you are going home to a life of luxury a life of joy and happiness. A life where everything you want or need is at your doorstep.
We knew that we would go home to my family and friends, to the comfort of my home. The diggers, they had no knowing what so ever. Ovoru, he is only just this year being recognised for his efforts in helping the Aussie troops in the war. He had never been formally thanked for his efforts and the medals he wears are all from people who walk the Kokoda track. So do I leave here and be who I am or do I go home and be a better person?
I feel sorrow for the troops that couldn’t go home, that didn’t know if they could hug their families and didn’t know if they could feel safe again. It is now what I do with this change in my life that matters. How I go about my day to day life. The things I do and say and the people that I influence. I feel the best I can do is to live a life of success, happiness and prosperity to make the Aussie diggers proud, in recognition that some of them never had the chance.
Kokoda taught us many lessons, Never judge anyone and to give everyone a fair go, to never put saying something or seeing someone off, always make time for loved ones. But most of all never to have a bad day. A bad 30 seconds is all that you should ever have.
Kokoda had endless memories for us. Some of which were of illness and pain, some of which were of exhaustion and horrible diary entry days but over all our memories are great. Memories of the Papua New Guinean people, their kindness and hospitality. The way that they welcome us into their villages. Memories that some great soldiers fought for you and I and our beautiful country, they gave their tomorrows for our today’s.
Cans of Coke and packets of twisties sold by the locals along the track were a good way of rewarding ourselves after a big climb and also a great reminder of home. It also triggered the fact that these villages have very little to generate income and do things the way we at home would do. The locals also sold billums, hand woven bags. A man by the name of Andre Andt has helped these locals by providing a stone stove where they can bake fresh bread and various other foods to sell to trekkers as they pass through.
On our second last day we reach Imita Ridge. A very steep hill to say the least. Our group stops and looks up at it. I am sure that we were all thinking the same things. Let’s turn back NOW. This hill was the steepest that we had encountered yet. It made you stop and think how am I going to do this one? How am i going to get to the top?
It doesn’t help when John our trek leader tells us we will do it and we will do it without stopping and we will do it without stopping and within an hour.
Well guess what, we did do it. And we did it without stopping and we did it within an hour.
And when we got to the top, we cried, we laughed and we cried some more.
On August 27th we reach our final day of our trek. The last leg to Owen’s Corner, the spot that marks the end. We walk closely together as a group today and finally form a guard of honour to cross under the arch of the Kokoda trail. When you see it a feeling comes over you that words cannot explain, like so many things we have experienced here, words just don’t do it any justice.
As we cross that line we feel the same emotions and anxiety that has come over us so many times in the last 10 days. Suddenly the burning of our legs no longer matters. It’s almost like a child on Christmas day. Everything you can ask for right here in this very moment.
Our group leaves most of our gear for the carriers. We know that they need it more than we do and their faces show so much appreciation.
One more stop before we can officially say our trek is over. We head to Port Moresby to see the city sites. We stop at PNG art to stock up on souvenirs. Then head to the Bomana War Cemetery where we visit the head stones of many Australians soldiers. Amongst them the head stones of Bruce Kingsbury, Butch Bisset and John Metson those who we have learned so much from.
It is such a special place, so hard to soak up all that we have achieved. Once back at our lodge we have our final briefing. A well done and a comforting hand shake from John confirms the end of our trek. The end of a journey so great that only a handful of Australians can say they have experienced.
We finish the night of with a grand feast and some drinks to celebrate.
For many people Kokoda is a sad place but for us it is a place that we will remember forever. We went to PNG with Kokoda in our heads and we left it with Kokoda in our hearts.