A trek along Papua New Guinea’s famous Kokoda Track provides lessons in history and life for a group of northern New South Wales students and their fathers.
Story By Tim Hughes
Courage, endurance, mateship, sacrifice. Carved into four black granite pillars that form the Isurava Memorial to Australians and Papua New Guineans who served and died on the Kokoda Track in 1942, the words represent the qualities of those who gave so much in World War II. They also reflect the personal stories of 22 fathers and children from northern New South Wales, who last October tackled the famous trail.
Running for 96 kilometres over the Owen Stanley Range – the mountain spine that runs across Papua New Guinea (PNG) – the Kokoda Track traverses steep hills, crosses fast-flowing streams and cuts a swathe through rainforest and choko vine. And with tropical downpours dumping rain most afternoons and nights, mud and slippery walking conditions add to the physical and mental challenge of trekking along it.
The forests, rivers and mountains may be among the most beautiful in the world, but they harbour the memory of horrors endured by Australian soldiers and their loyal Papuan allies against the invading Japanese forces. For members of the northern New South Wales group, organised by The Armidale School (TAS), this history was front of mind when they undertook the track from Kokoda village in the north to Owers Corner in the south.
“Many groups do the track and don’t take into account the war history, but we wanted to walk it the proper way,” 16-year-old Lachlan Brazier from Guyra, NSW, says. “Each day started with a briefing about the withdrawal and attack of our troops, and at certain points such as Eora Creek, we would stop and examine the positions of the Australians and the Japanese.”
Along the way, tribute was paid to those who had lost their lives; as part of their preparation, each TAS boy had to research a soldier who served, including one of the school’s old boys, Corporal P.N. Tooth.
“Mine was a man named Tom Fletcher who was B Company’s medico and he served in the Battle of Isurava, one of the most significant and bloody defensive battles the Australians fought,” Lachlan says. “When we were there I gave a speech about him and also had the honour of hoisting the Australian flag there, which will be my most cherished memory of the whole trip.”
Just as visits to Gallipoli and the Western Front are increasingly a ‘rite of passage’ for young adventurers, so, too, is the famous Kokoda Track – but one that takes a lot more effort to appreciate.
This story excerpt is from Issue #82
Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2012