Walking the Kokoda Track.
31 Aug 2016
‘Up, up, up, up – never rest until you reach the top – only then can you rest as your reward for effort’. I chose one carefully placed foothold after another in rhythm to my mantra. A mantra that never changed – after all those months of training, in preparation to walk the Kokoda Track with my cousin and a group through the Rotary Club of Tumbarumba.
...until my concentration was broken – Jo look up – look up!!! I looked up and before me was a vision forever embedded into my mind - Ower’s Corner! A Monument to our fallen WW2 diggers who gave their all for our freedom. The Kokoda Campaign, many say, was the most significant battle in our young history to protect our shores from foreign occupation. Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of the main island, part of which was called Australian New Guinea, administered by the Australian New Guinea Administration Unit. Our diggers were protecting Australian territory of the time.
I had just walked the Kokoda Track – from Kokoda to Ower’s Corner. I sat quietly, shed a silent tear, felt surreal, light and empty. How could I have walked for 10 days – sometimes up to 9 hours a day, up, down, up, down, through mud, rivers, creeks, slept on wooden slats in grass huts, washed in creeks and under water falls, eaten dehydrated food, walking every day to exhaustion - and felt nothing? After such focus, purpose and determination...an emptiness. I was reminded that life is about the journey – not the destination. The pleasure and reward, the challenges, not the finish line. I looked at our fit, healthy, proud, quiet and calm ebony-skinned porters from the village of Abuari - descendants of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels who saved so many of our diggers, who helped me
walk in the footsteps of these heroes, and wanted to walk back to Kokoda
again. I wanted to stay in the moment, to relive every minute of this inspirational, invigorating experience.
As a community project, The Rotary Club of Tumbarumba built a school in the village of Abuari over a decade ago. On behalf of this Rotary Club, my cousins have continued this community project by leading an annual Kokoda Trek, visiting Abuari Village and the school, and employing Abuari porters to further assist the village. The treks alternate annually between a school group and a mixed group. Our trek was a mixed group of 10 men and 6 women aged between 14 and 67 years.
One of the best descriptions of the Kokoda Track, in my opinion, is by
Colonel Kingsley Norris in September 1942 (during the Kokoda Campaign in the Second World War).
‘Imagine an area of approximately one hundred miles (160 km) in length. Crumple and fold this into a series of ridges, each rising higher and higher until seven thousand feet (2100 m) is reached, then declining into ridges to three thousand feet (950 m). Cover this thickly with jungle, short trees and tall trees, tangled with great entwining savage vines. Through the oppression of this density cut a little native track, two or three feet (60-90 cm) wide, up the ridges, over the spurs, round gorges and down across swiftly-flowing mountain streams. Where the track clambers up the mountainside, cut steps –big steps, little steps, steep steps – or clear the soil from the roots.
Every few miles, bring the track through a small patch of sunlit kunai grass, or an old deserted native garden, and every seven or ten miles (11 or 16 km) build a group of dilapidated grass huts – as staging shelters – generally set in a foul, offensive clearing.
About midday or through the night, pour water over the forest so that the steps become broken, and a continual yellow stream flows downwards, and the few level areas become pools and puddles of putrid, black mud. In the high ridges above Myola, drip this water day and night over the track through a fetid forest grotesque with moss and glowing phosphorescent fungi’.
For those interested in a physical, mental and emotional challenge in a majestic
wilderness area, The Kokoda Track is the ultimate challenge. Take this to another level by extending the length of your trek to ensure you arrive at a village before dark and incorporate some humanitarian work. Visit a school, engage with the village people by attending a church service (the centre of their values and community), join in a game of rugby or purchase locally made bags or goods - a ripe avocado or a hand of bananas! Be sure to spend some time at the World War 2 battle sites and memorials, including the Isurava Battle Site - a place of pilgrimage - to understand the significance of this battle in our history.
‘To the Kokoda Spirit’
Courage ~ Endurance ~ Mateship ~ Sacrifice