Our 'Who's Who' of trekkers includes:
- Dr Charlie Teo – Neorosurgeon
- Peter Fitzsimons - Author of 'KOKODA'
- Dick Smith - on a helicopter safari with Charlie Lynn
- Angry Anderson - Rose Tatoo/Channel 9
- Caroline Pemberton - Miss World Australia
- Gyton Grantley - Actor (Logie Award Winner)
- Tom Claverotte - Acclaimed French Travel Photographer
- Ayesha Khan - Actress in Underbelly: Dancer in Lion King
- Alex Wileman - TV star
- The Hon Barry O'farrell, Premier of NSW
- The Hon Scott Morrison, Treasurer
- The Hon Jason Clare, Shadow Minister for Trade and Resources
- The Hon Dom Perrottet, NSW Treasurer
- The Hon Anthony Roberts, NSW Minister for Planning
- Jihad Dib MP NSW Shadow Minister for Education
- Gary Jack – Balmain Tigers, NSW and Australia Rep
- Brett Kirk - Sydney Swans
- Adam Goodes - Sydney Swans
- Leo Barry - Sydney Swans
- Ryan OKeefe - Sydney Swans
- Andrew Schauble - Sydney Swans
- Yahoo Serious - Film Producer/Actor
- Colette Mann - Actress
- Darryl Braithwaite - Singer
- Jackie Kelly MP - Federal Minister
- Dermott Brereton - Channel 9
- Grant Kenny - Ironman
- Shelley Taylor-Smith - Marathon swimmer
- Ivan Cleary - Penrith Panthers
- Brad Waugh - Penrith Panters
- Tim Grant - Penrith Panthers
- Jamie Soward - Penrith Panthers
and more than 6000 tradies, farmers, soldiers, students, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. etc. etc.
From our trekkers:
“Adventure Kokoda treks are well resourced and well planned - daily briefings and briefings at battle sites were the norm. Adventure Kokoda has it just right . . .”
“I would seriously say that I would not change one aspect of the entire experience. Would be great to do it again in a couple of years with my two sons . . .”
“A wonderful trip, a wonderful team - a very special experience. We chose the right group to go with. Well done Adventure Kokoda! . . .”
“Thank you for providing me with what will be one of my greatest life experiences . . .
“Would thoroughly recommend Adventure Kokoda and would love to do it again - thanks for the experience . . .”
Marian Frith: 'A Hard Slog to Kokoda' - Canberra Times:
'If the spirit of Kokoda is strength in adversity, courage and mateship that spirit has been seeded in us all. We cross in a brief 20 minutes what has taken us eight gruelling days. And like all those who crossed it before us, who left their souls in the mud and the heat and the terrifying jungle, few will ever go back.
'Charlie, of course, is the exception. He will continue to pluck other ordinary humans from their comfortable lives and help them blossom into indefatigables, drawing on the greatness that lies largely unchallenged within us all. For the rest of us though, Kokoda will become just one humbling week in our lifetimes: albeit our whole lifetimes lived in just one unforgettably humbling week'.
Jihad Dib - Principal, Punchbowl Boys High School:
'The trek rates as one of the most incredible experiences. I have traveled many countries and under a variety of conditions, however, never have I felt as satisfied as when I completed this journey. I suppose, two weeks after the event, I have seen the changes in perspective and the way I have approached things in life. The trek was not about the physical aspect; the historical and emotional awakening far outweighed this.
'I have since recommended to all and sundry this trip and especially with Adventure Kokoda. How fortunate am I ? I experienced something so important to our national fabric and had my own personal historian guide me through one of the most spiritually uplifting experiences of my life. Thank you Charlie, I will never forget the experience you created for the group and the better person you have helped me become.'
‘On completion of the Kokoda Mateship Trek I believe that the essence of this quote resonated within each one of us. We have gone to the depths of our physical selves and have discovered a rich emotional and spiritual journey along the way. Surrounding the 4 pillars that stood as a tribute to the soldiers of the Kokoda campaign - COURAGE, ENDURANCE, MATESHIP & SACRIFICE – we too have received and delivered. What a rewarding journey it’s been.
‘My mind is a kaleidoscope of thoughts. Upon return from Kokoda life is yet again full. A part of me is resentful towards this pace of city living in contrast to the peaceful and charming jungle. I feel a genuine burden for the people in poverty I witnessed in PNG.
‘I ask myself: ‘Why have I seen all this? What should I do with this frustration of injustice, poverty and corruption? Is it a mere lesson of culture and history, a renewed gratitude for the blessings in my life, or a call to action…?
‘ALL of the above I suspect….
‘With Sincerest Appreciation’
Neil Williams, Journalist
Thank you for your encouragement and tolerance in helping me know the Australian soul.'
Beverley Partridge - Writer and Poet
'I'd like to congratulate you on the way you conducted the trek along the Kokoda Trail in April this year. Fourteen trekkers from the broadest spectrum of life obviously have different attitudes, but you directed the focus to a concentrated point and this group united and performed as one - with determination and humour - to conquer the Kokoda Trail.'
Paul Rogers - Army Colonel:
‘How quickly one forgets the pain but remembers all the great memories. I certainly consider it one of those experiences of a lifetime. The company was excellent, and the mixture of physical and mental stress, with the historical importance of the track and unbelievable beauty of the area where we trekked made the whole experience a fantastic cocktail... Thanks for your personal input. I know it was your personal influence (shaping) of the group and your insights into the local village lifestyles and history of the track that made the whole experience an unforgettable one.’
'Once again I feel great after 10 days of privation and hardships under your inspiring command. I am quite serious - I do feel renewed and with a few more obstacles that existed in my mind only, conquered... I just wanted to say thanks.'
Mark and Olivia Bromley:
'Charlie, you are amazing! Your knowledge and passion for the track, and the villages was inspirational. Your dawn service at Isurava was not only the highlight of our trip, but one of the most moving experiences of our lives. We are completely fulfilled, and feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed! Wouldn’t be dead for quid’s! '
The Kings School, Parramatta
Thank you for making my experience walking the Kokoda Trail so memorable. I believe it will be 10 days that stay with me for the rest of my life.
For me it had it all, emotionally moving, physically challenging, historically interesting, breathtakingly beautiful, and really good fun. To have the opportunity to experience all this with George made it all the more special. In saying this it just would not have been the same without you inspirational leadership. Your detailed knowledge, relaxed positive attitude, moving recitals made it a pilgrimage (as you promised) rather than a tough walk in the jungle. But what impressed me most was the life changing education you gave the boys (and fathers) and your interest, concern and positive programmes you have implemented under trying circumstances for the local people.
The motivational leadership addresses you gave to the boys will have a big impact on those 17 soon to be young men who were privileged to have the opportunity to hear and spend time with you at such an impressionable age. I believe the young men who’s ‘Endurance-Courage- Mateship-Sacrifice’ we remember as we walk the Trail would be pleased the high example they set would be used to help educated our young leaders of today. I was very proud of the way the boys (particularly George) handled the tough conditions with enthusiasm, good spirit and the without complaint.
A few times stand out for me. The talk you gave us over looking Eora Creek was one. I found it particularly moving. We where fortunate to witness this beautiful location on a stunning day. Its hard to imagine so many young men died in appalling conditions on that very spot, and as you rightly pointed out our Governments have done nothing to recognise their sacrifice.
That memorable second day is another. I think it was 12 hours with incredible steep descents, equally tough climbs, and it top it off torrential rain with the last couple of hours in the dark. Looking back I would have felt cheated not to experience such conditions. But the most memorable moment of that day was the sight of Dick carrying two packs running past me in the pouring rain as I struggled across a swollen creek wondering why he was in such a hurry.
Hearing later that after dropping the packs he then ran back to help Bruce and Ben into camp. I think that action sums up the spirit of your porters and the loyalty and dedication you instil in them. They are indeed great ambassador’s for their people.
Thank you again for a wonderful, wonderful experience. Next time your down in Cootamundra be sure to give me a call (0428 432611) I’d love to have the opportunity to share another wee dram with you.
Charlie Baldry (father and son group)
Dean Papandreas, Teacher:
I just wanted to email you all to say a big thank you for the great trip away, and a great experience on the Kokoda Trail. Thank you to Charlie for sharing his wonderful insights and experiences, making each day unique, ‘enjoyable’ and memorable. His lessons of history, leadership, and character development are of benefit to us all.
Thank you to the parents – your support and company was great. It was inspiring to see the fantastic relationships and care you have for your boys, and I hope the boys appreciate how special that experience was, and the sacrifice you made in taking time out from your very busy professional lives to share a unique experience with them.
Of course, thank you to the boys. You all showed great resilience, discipline, organisation, and character throughout the trek. I remind you now of what Charlie said to you at the Bomana War Cemetery. That there will be many times in life where you are tempted to take short cuts, to quit, or to take the easy way out. When you are feeling tempted, think back to the sacrifice made by Australians before you, and your responsibility to make the most of the many opportunities that are afforded to you at school and beyond.’
The RSL Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge
‘I learnt a lot about myself which gave me more confidence as a person as well as a leader. Being in PNG gave me more flexibility as a leader as you are in a foreign country and shows that circumstances are always different and you will need to be able to adjust. I also felt like I had more responsibility to look after all the trekkers in my team and had a higher duty of care. This is especially the case as there were some minors with us on our trek and it was always the goal to get everyone to our destination safely. I also felt stronger as a leader and felt that I gained respect from all the trekkers in my team as some gave me feedback that I was supportive and not harsh and unapproachable.
‘ I also got to learn more about the diversity of cultures amongst our team as well as the locals from PNG. It showed the importance of team work and that each person has an input which makes a difference regardless of how big or small. Communication was also another important factor that was learnt, not everyone had the same view so we had to make a decision that was beneficial to everyone and that everyone would be happy with. Also, it was great not having any technology and being able to connect and talk to people with a genuine interest.’
‘I just want to thank Charlie Lynn for the effort that he has put into creating such a fantastic trekking company. The company is certainly a tribute to the dedication he has put into it and all of the projects he has started too.
‘As for my experience, I cannot speak highly enough of it! The people I have met have made such a positive impact in my life, they were all inspiring in their own individual way. The mateship made along the trek was not surprising because in such an intense experience you needed friends to rely on.
‘The boys were the nicest people I have met. I am a proud person and to ask for help is hard, but the boys were there even when I didn’t ask for it! I understand that it is their job, but it felt as though they did it out of the kindness of their heart.
'It was such a great experience, I learnt so much from Kokoda, both historically and personally. I especially liked how we were encouraged to set personal goals to change something about our life when we returned. I have come back to Australia and applied for a volunteer internship with UNICEF through my summer holidays and I would never have had the motivation if it were not for Kokoda and the experiences which I had over there. I have also volunteered with Red Cross – it was great how we were encouraged to go back and do something special, as it has made it so much more meaningful to go out and complete volunteer work, hoping that I am helping someone in some small way.'
'Put simply, the Kokoda Youth Leadership Program has changed my life. I have tried to explain it to friends and family at home and the way that I described it was – “like stepping into another world, and stepping back out.” Having only returned 10 days ago, I feel that the trip still seems quite surreal, although I have already noticed the changes that I as a person have undertaken in such a short amount of time. I have no doubt that I will grow even more as time goes on. What I also found amazing about this type of trip, was the development and changes that I saw others in my group undertake over the 12 day trip. To see fellow trekkers who were two years younger than me walking the Kokoda trail made me ask myself – would I have been able to do this at 17? I found the trek overwhelming – it was mentally and emotionally draining, as well as physically demanding. But, I stand true to my belief that Kokoda is the best thing that I have done in my life thus far – and it will be hard to top it. John Nalder, my trek leader, was described in my Kokoda diary as “the wisest man I have ever met.” I’m not sure what it was about John, but he has a way of reading people, and I felt that he was watching over me the entire trek. He has a way of being able to tell you how you’re feeling, when you’re not even sure how you’re feeling! Honestly, I would not take back any aspect of the Adventure Kokoda trek. It was an amazing experience, with amazing people, and I can’t wait to raise awareness of the Kokoda campaign and programs such as KYLC that are available to young people – and, not only do they develop your leadership skills, they develop your understanding of different cultures. John’s level of military knowledge made the trek a surreal and overwhelming experience. Adventure Kokoda should be commended on all aspects of the trip that I was fortunate enough to be a part of. I am truly grateful for the opportunity that I was given, and will forever be indebted to those who helped me get there.'
'I definitely learned more about leadership from Simon than in our leadership program that preceded the trek. I learned a lot about myself and had a chance to reflect on the way I got through the tough bits of the trek, as well as some insights into my own personality in a broader sense. It was also great to get to know my friends better and observe how we all dealt in different ways with the difficulties, and adjusted our own behaviours to fit in with the group. I really enjoyed the chance to get to know locals, play with kids and observe life in the villages, and was really inspired to return when I’m a qualified doctor to work in some of the hospitals in PNG. The sing-sing in Agulogo was a real highlight. I was stunned by the beauty of the country, and it was quite a shock to return to Port Moresby afterwards! Coming from QLD it wasn’t a new to me as some of the others, but I was really touched by the beauty of the forest and the mountains. I learned a lot more about the wartime history than from my own reading before the trek – absorbing it in the right context was fabulous, and it was all well told by Simon. I was really touched and moved by the memorial service at Isurava memorial, and also the poem Simon read at Brigade Hill. These were both real highlights of the trip for me. I have never been so affected by poetry and war stories, and I think it has given me a new interest and sense of connection to that part of our history. I just wish my grandfather was still alive so I could talk to him about it!'
The University of Western Sydney (Macarthur)
Sharni Chan: Student:
‘Kokoda, on the whole, is a very humbling experience. We are humbled because we have begun to come to an understanding of the sacrifices that were made by those diggers who fought against all odds in the most nightmarish conditions. We are humbled because we would return home as heroes yet these men, these boys, have died for a country that will not remember. And lastly each and every one of us is humbled by the people of the Kokoda Trail.
‘I can now say that I have walked the Kokoda Trail but it is not the track that I have conquered but the track that has conquered me. Kokoda does not provide some great revelation about who you are. There are no great self-discoveries along the way, for each of us has encountered personal hardship before and each of us has overcome great obstacles in our lives. Once you have experienced 'The Spirit of Kokoda' it is that you can no longer deny who it is you are. It strips away the layers of excuses, the fantasies we build around us to both protect and comfort us, these same layers that we subconsciously use to prevent ourselves from moving forward into the unknown. It is not what you learn about yourself on the trail, it is what you can no longer hide from yourself. ‘
Sarah Bassiuoni: Student
‘I thought the historical emotion was going to be the toughest emotional battle this curly haired second generation Aussie was going to have to face on the Kokoda Trail. The history was though on the heart and soul. The sight of those neat white grave stones is etched into my heart and head, my disbelief in war was reaffirmed and the haunting sadness of the senseless slaughter which occurred on the trek, all these memories and sensations caused the tears to flow and my heart the break many a time. However the historical emotion was a small personal battle I had to inhale in order to learn, conquer and grow.
‘How do you correlate an experience of a lifetime? How do you explain heaven and hell on earth? I can’t profess to being a writer and unlike Adam, Kokoda did not inspire me to write, it inspired me to live. Sounds a bit flaky I know, but whilst I was walking that bloody track I realised life is a gift, especially in the package that has been delivered to me. And while I’ve been ripping off the wrapping paper as fast a I possibly can, I haven’t stopped to enjoy the colours and pictures on that paper, and I definitely haven’t been paying enough attention to the details of it.
Karen Dunshea, BA (Psych), CRA
‘If the aim of the Kokoda Track Leadership Program was to develop personally, to learn more about teams and how they work, to identify personal strengths and opportunities for growth, to learn about leadership, to identify how I might instil better leadership qualities in myself, to appreciate others, to learn and appreciate Australia’s history, to live and learn and appreciate another culture ..... then all of these aims, and more, have been achieved.
‘The trek provided an opportunity for me to look at myself and at how I operate as a person and as a team member. All the expectations and demands that I place on myself! It made me look at how hard I can be with myself. I identified a need to learn to focus more on what I did that was good and contributing and positive? What are some of my strengths? Now a week later, things are starting to consolidate more I can talk objectively about how I feel and what I learnt, and feel OK about it. I’m even laughing more about my own weaknesses and difficulties (not maliciously, but in a friendly, human, self-respecting manner). I’m glad I had an opportunity to be humbled and then to re-learn to laugh at myself - another positive learning.
‘As a team member, an individual needs to feel that they can contribute and that their contribution is meaningful and acknowledged. Although I would see this encouragement as primarily a task of a leader, the individual is also responsible to some degree for their own involvement in a process. The Kokoda experience helped ot develop and reinforce the notion of individual in the team - even when I am tired and miserable (or there is some other constraint), I can still contribute and I can change the level of my involvement in what I am doing. I thought that this trek, while developing teamwork and leadership skills, also helped to develop and reinforce the notion of individual responsibility for how you choose to act and what you choose to think. Individual responsibility for one’s choices and actions is something often missing from today’s world.
‘I don’t think I’ve improved my fitness all that much, nor have I lost weight. Despite my physical difficulties, I seemed to have changed least in this facet. However, I am a different person from the experience, ever so slightly. In spite of all its difficulties, with the right attitude this trek can only inspire growth and learning. A thoroughly rich learning opportunity which I would grasp with both hands if it were presented to me again.’
Andrew Rosengren, Rhodes Scholar, Manager - CRA Gold Development
‘How often in life do we really enjoy success of achieving a goal when we have done it entirely on our own? Who do we share the success with? Who appreciates the hardship that has gone into achieving the success? Who understands the depth of the emotions that we feel? To me, the Kokoda experience really highlighted the power of teams and the richness of the feeling of team success.
‘The Kokoda experience provided an ideal environment to understand team dynamics. A group of people of diverse interests and backgrounds are thrown together to face adversity together. The success of the individual is very closely linked to the success of the team. The success of the team is dependent upon accepting individuality and difference. It is also dependent on exploiting strengths and managing the weakest link. Having clear objectives and working towards a common goal was a key element in our team’s success.’
‘I found the Kokoda experience very useful in helping me to understand my own personal strengths and weaknesses. I am a highly competitive person who places very high expectations on myself and to a certain extent on other people. Whilst I believe that I am understanding of peoples differences and their relative strengths and weaknesses, I have great difficulty coping with people who do not appear to want to realise their potential. Motivating and exciting people to realise their fullest peotential is one of my greates’ challenges of leadership.’
Michael Cox, Engineer, Minenco Pty Limited
‘To say I gained a sense of achievement from completing the Kokoda Trail would be an enormous understatement. I have not only learnt important life skills, I have also had an opportunity to identify my weaknesses and establish in my own mind what qualities I value in a leader. In the process I have made some life-long friends. Regardless of what I write in this report, it will never truly capture this experience.
‘To say that this was the hardest, most prolonged physical and mental challenge I have ever undertaken is a bit of an understatement.
‘As for lessons in leadership .....I was dubious that evening, and through much of the program as to what exactly we CRA people were learning that might help us in our day to day work. However, as the journey was completed, the many small pieces that had been put in front of us came together to complete a picture of team membership, team leadership and self leadership that is simple, infallible and universal.
‘Simply put, the Kokoda experience is one I will never forget and which has truly enlightened me in many ways. I believe I am a strongter and more determined person as a result.’
Xiaoling Liu, Senior Research Scientist, Comalco:
“In my application for the CRA sponsorship for the Kokoda leadership program, I stated that perserverence, team behaviour/leadership and fitting into Australian culture were the three main areas that I would like myself to improve from the trek experience.
“The trek provided an excellent opportunity for me to learn more about australian culture. I was not particularly interested in the military significance of the Kokoda Trail before the departure. However, Charlie’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the Kokoda campaign and actual experience of the hardships have changed me. The heroic history should be more publicised and the Kokoda spirit widely promoted.....”
“I felt that the barriers between different cultures and races were insignificant in the bush and in the face of adversity......”
“I found the trek to be a valuable and powerful experience and my work performance will certainly benefit from the experience.....”
Christine McKenna, Marketing Assistant, Coal & Allied:
“Please excuse me if I sound corny or use too many superlatives, however the experience I have just returned from is hard to describe without sounding to be going over the top.
“This journey was a lifetime experience. I feel that it has provided me with greater courage to face the difficuolt or seemingly impossible, a more explicit understanding of what it is I believe in and the conviction to know that I can stand by these beliefs despite challenge.
“It has taught me a lot about other people but much more about myself. It will certainly provide stories that I will still be telling when I am old and grey and full of sleep.
“In terms of what I had hoped to gain from the experience prior to departure, it fulfilled and far exceeded what I had imagined.
“Kokoda highlights the strengths of all those who undertake its many challenges. You develop a respect for differences - different races, different sexes, different ages and overall different ways of seeing and doing things.
“In conclusion, I am glad that I was included in this trek at age 25 as I now have the rest of my life to complete the trains of thought and achieve the goals that I have set myself as a result of this trip. This ability of Kokoda and the team/leadership program to privide the conditions for people to question deeply and the examples to go some way towards answereing these questions is very powerful. If harnessed effectively CRA could benefit enormously from the personal develpopment of its selected employees and from the growth of teams of people across the orgainsiation who would ford rivers and climb mountains for each other.”
Sergeant Mark Hudson, Army: Royal Australian Infantry
‘As a current serving Army Officer within the Royal Australian Infantry Corps and being privileged to command soldier on operations in Afghanistan, it is my belief that I have gained a better understanding of myself, my leadership style, the way in which I deal with different personalities and overcoming stressors in a small group environment. Prior to this experience, I was quick to judge people, impatient and lacked tolerance for those who were not at the standard I set or expected.
To that end, I spent a lot of time throughout the Trek in the company of much younger men and women from different backgrounds, some with vast life experience and in others little or no experience. It was at times confronting, where previously I would cast aside those that were not at the standard or struggled mentally and emotionally, instead I found myself learning to slow things down, be reasonable and supportive.
‘I can honestly say that as a result of this trek, I will be a better officer within Army, I will be a more understanding and compassionate person but most importantly I will never forget the sacrifice of so many who fought for our country and way of life. The hardships I have faced in service to my country pale in comparison to the danger, fear and uncertainty they faced on am hourly/daily basis.
It is my contention that more Army officers and junior non commissioned officers should participate in programs such as this one. It would not only professionally develop those members, gaining a better understanding of military history and adding context to what most have only read but also on a personal and leadership level.
‘I am very grateful for the opportunity given to me by the Singleton RSL, to represent them and the local community. It is something I will never forget both personally and professionally.’
'After getting off the plane at Kokoda Plateau we were shown two memorials, they were both Japanese.
'I asked Charlie Lynn where the Australian memorials were and he said there wasn't any. I couldn't believe it and was absolutely disgusted.
'How could the Australian government not formally recognise the significance of Kokoda?
'This was as close as a major Japanese assault came to our shores and they were turned back by all of these young heroes and as a nation we don't even acknowledge them.
'Charlie explained to us that the Japanese had come up about 15 years ago and put up these memorial s to their soldiers. For the life of me I can't understand why we haven't done the same.
'During the course of the trek I kept thinking back to what the soldiers must have endured - they couldn't have known what was happening a lot of the time.
'They were all kids, much younger than most of us at the Swans and here they were fighting to save our country.
'When I was growing up I would go to the Anzac Day marches and watch my grandfather with the other Kokoda veterans but I never really knew the significance of the Kokoda campaign.
'Even reading about Kokoda you don 't get any idea about what it must have been like during the war.
'But once you experience the terrain, and hear about the battles they fought, only then can you understand what these soldiers did for our country, why we are who we are today.
'I kept wondering about the soldiers, my grandfather in particular, and how they survived in the face of such tremendous adversity.
'Sure it was the toughest six days of my life but I l earned a great deal from those six days - for one thing I learned that most of us have never pushed ourselves to anywhere near our full capacity.
'I also learned what real bravery and courage is a ll about.
'After we returned from Kokoda I spent a l ot of time with my grandfather over Christmas, for four or five days we talked about the Kokoda campaign and I could visualise what he was talking about after having been there.
'It only reinforced in my mind the disgust (of no Australian memorials) I had when I stepped off that plane and set my first foot on the l<okoda.
'What the six of us players went through was nothing to what the soldiers went through which was far beyond anything we could have ever imagined.
'I can't help thinking back lo the first night, when we started trekking.
'It was 6.30 pm and just starting to get dark, everyone was fresh but we had to carry 32 kg backpacks and it didn't take long for the reality to hit home - this wasn't going lo be easy.
'We walked for three or four hours in pouring rain and I was continuously talking to Gerrard Bennett, who was behind me, even this early I was questioning why?
'Physically, it hurt from soon after the start and mentally all I could do was think of how there was six days to go. I'd never done any hiking in my life and I wasn't looking forward to it if this was anything to go by.
'Eventually, we got to our camp area at about 11.30 pm and I have to admit ii I had my doubts about whether I 'd be able to go the distance.
'Nobody was saying anything outwardly, it was all being bottled up inside but looking at the others you could see the anguish in their faces. Looking back I wish I'd had a mirror to see what I looked like myself.
'That first night was the worst by a mile and from there it became much more bearable.
'But still you couldn't help but reflect on what those young men who had fought back in WWII had gone through. At least we knew what the next day held in store for us - they never did.
'As the days went on each of us had their own separate challenge, and each day seemed to bring with it added strength and resolve.
'We learned to overcome adversity and you could see the anguish start to fade as we met villagers and worked together to reach our goal.
'But that never meant that the frustration disappeared completely - we all had our moments but the experience of working together in such dose quarters strengthened our bond.
'There was tremendous camaraderie between the six of us and after that first night we invariably worked to keep each others spirits high.
'I found it inspiring near the end when Charlie said that we were the most tight-knit group he had ever led on the Kokoda.
'The whole experience has certainly enriched my life, learning about those who saved our country on the Kokoda and also meeting the villagers.
'In our eyes they have nothing, but what they do have they appreciate and they live such a simple life without the stress we take for granted.
'I also learned a lot about myself on the Kokoda.
'I learned that when I'm up against adversity I can push past what I previously accepted as my limitations, I feel I'm stronger physically and mentally for the experience of not only having walked the Kokoda but knowing just what the Kokoda Trail really means.
'It means never give up, as there is very little in life you can't conquer.'
'Being the youngest of the six players I might have been a bit more na"ive in taking on the Kokoda and it certainly hit me on the first night.
'Knowing virtually nothing about the Kokoda my initial thoughts were that it would be a long walk but being as fit as we are I thought it wouldn't be anything too tough. l was to be given a rude awakening.
'It turned out to be the experience of my life, but in saying that I'd definitely do it again.
'Physically and mentally it was exhausting, probably tougher mentally because I could never have imagined how hard it was going to be getting myself up for day after day.
'In the end I think that's one of the things I took away from Kokoda more than anything else - the enjoyment of having adapted to something completely foreign.
'After the first two days I found I had settled into what we were trying to achieve and it became easier as the trek went on.But there were still days when I wondered how we would gel through it but nobody wanted to let anyone else down and we all gained strength from that.
'You end up with a totally different mindset as to how you approach things and in the end I'm certainly tougher mentally because of the Kokoda experience.
'One of the things that was driven into us was the fact we all have a ta lent and we have lo appreciate what we've got, we have lo use that talent to the full.
'As well as learning about myself and my team mates it was also such a great opportunity to learn about the Australian heroes of the Kokoda and to also see how the villager people live, their happiness with their lot.
'To see the look on the faces of those who had never seen white people before is something I'll never forget about Kokoda, it was amazing.'
'It's funny how you just accept our will to survive, but it's only when you understand the endeavour to which an individual will go that you really appreciate what 'the will to survive ' really means.
'The one thing that stands out most in my mind from trekking Kokoda was Charlie telling us the story of the Japanese soldier who end red three days hiding from the Australians inside a tree.
'He had dug himself in and stayed put while all this fighting was going on around him .
'At stages during those three days he even had Australian soldiers leaning on the tree until the Japanese eventually pushed them back a nd he was able to come out.
'There was also the story of the 30 Australian soldiers who were either shot or wounded and they were retreating for treatment, these men were carrying each other, crawling, doing anything they could just to keep alive and get back to their base camp.
'Word got to them that their mates on the front line were in trouble so they turned and went back to help, all except three who were too badly injured.
'When you hear stories like that it makes you realise the lengths to which human endeavour can take you.
'Those stories a nd the trek itself reinforced to me that we all have the capacity to achieve great things if we push ourselves, when we talk about pushing to the limit I can now only question, what is the limit?
'I question whether we know at all, whether we really know, what our full potential is, in my case I don't th ink I do by any means.
'We think we find our limits but the reality is we really don't.
'Taking into account what the soldiers on the Kokoda had to endure I don't think we were pushed to hal f of what we could have achieved on the Kokoda if the need really arose.
'Talking to Charlie about group dynamics I now realise that you have to be more understanding in a team environment, you have to be prepared to appreciate the individuality of each person and work out how we can help each other for the best end result.
In any team, whether it's sport, business or war, there are obviously some with better skills tha n others but in the end ifs the harmony and camaraderie between everyone that eventually reaps the greatest harvest.'
'There are so many aspects of the Kokoda experience that I 'll never forget .
'Obviously at the forefront of those thoughts will be the courage of the Australian soldiers who fought there and the conditions which they had to endure.
'But I 'll also never forget the six days we spent together as a team, the good times and the bad, and the lessons t learned from it.
'And I 'll also never forget the kids we met along the way.
'There are so many things we take for granted in the society in which we live, the simple things like a mirror for instance.
'We took a video camera with us and I can still see the look on the faces of these four and five-year olds watching themselves for the first time.
'Imagine not knowing what you looked like, never having seen yourself before in a mirror - ii was an enlightening experience to see these youngsters realising how they looked.
'They were all so happy, even though they had none of t he comforts we take for granted. We live in a society that is so materialistic but i n the end it doesn't make us any happier - these kids were proof of that.
'On the trek itself I 'd have to say it was the hardest six days of my life with the second last night the worst for sure.
'After a day of trekking th rough swamp I was so fatigued and kept slipping and falling over. I 'd lost my wal king stick and to top it off I got stung by a wasp - I was frustrated and hurting, and so tired.
'But like everyone else I knew I just had to get through it and in the end I have no doubts I'm a better person for the whole ordeal.
'I now know I'm better prepared for things that might confront me in life.
'We were taken out of our comfort zone on Kokoda, there was never going to be any worries about our fitness, but it was our mental toughness that was really tested and we all got through it and emerged the better for it."
'As we were trekking on the third evening Charlie told us we had a one hour mountain climb then a 3km flat walk to the next village.
'After we had reach the top of the mountain we were greeted by an open paddock and were quite happy when we saw no trees or scrub.
'Only thin g was that while the walk was flat ii turned out to be 2 hours trudging knee-deep through a swamp.
'Charlie kept saying there was only a half-hour to go but ii was two hours later before we finished - I could have throttled him. I kept yelling at Charlie and I was so frustrated I sort of felt if I had died at that moment I don't think I would have cared .
'I was so tired, we were wearing miners helmets with lights but when the batteries ran out I was too exhausted to stop and change them so I just walked the last hour in the dark - I have never been so fatigued in my life.
The first couple of days leading up to that were tough but that third night just took me to the edge. However, after I had collapsed at the end of that night I decided lo attack the rest of the trek differently.'
Sir Peter Barter, PNG Minister for Intergovernment Relaions and Local Level Government:
“Without Charlie Lynn's dedication to the people of the Kokoda Trail, and Papua New Guinea in general, and his assistance in early negotiations in the establishment of the Authority, the establishment of the Kokoda Track Authority and its future plans for assisting the sustainability of the Kokoda Track Tourism Strategy and its heritage, there would be no special purposes authority - it would still be sitting in limbo."
The Hon Arthur Somare MP, PNG Minister for National Planning:
'Dear Mr Lynn,
I write to personally thank you for arranging to meet the members of the PNG Parliamentary Select Committee on the Pacific Economic Community in Sydney last week. We are very grateful for you hosting lunch for us at your beautiful parliament setting.
Your tireless work over the years in promoting Papua New Guinea in Australia and the world is something we are very grateful for and will do everything possible to compliment your efforts in the future. I am pleased that the PNG Tourism Authority has been working closely with you on issues of interest concerning the Kokoda Trail and the promotion of tourism as a vibrant industry in PNG.
I will shortly be bringing to the attention of the Ministry for Works the urgency to upgrade the road leading to Owers Corner in Sogeri area.
It is my hope that our meeting in Sydney has set the foundation for further enhancement of relations at a personal level between our two countries. I very much look forward to meeting you and your co-workers again when you next visit Port Moresby.
Arthur T. Somare MP
James Enage: Chairman, Kokoda Track Authority
I wish to thank you, your lovely wife and the Adventure Kokoda Management for financially supporting the Kokoda Track Sports Development Program within this year, 2009.
I had acknowledged your contribution to this very special project in various appropriate forums and have informed the boys and people along the Kokoda Track about your support.
In relation to the outcome of the Program, preparations are now underway by four (4) Local Rugby League Clubs in Queensland who are keen to engage few boys from the Kokoda Track to play in the local Queensland Rugby League Competition next year, 2010. Hopefully, the various Rugby Club offers (Work, Match payments, Accommodation) for the boys should be made available towards the end of January and I will make the announcements in the middle or towards the end of February, 2010.
Also the Gold Coast Titans Junior Development Team Management are keen to recruit school boys from the Kokoda Track area next year to be part of the Gold Coast Titans Junior Development Team under Football Scholarships. We will announce this program shortly.
Since you have pioneered in supporting this program, I trust you will continue to support this program.
I look forward to continue working with you in this very special Project in the New Year.
Tessie Soi, PNG Friends Foundation Inc
'Thanks a million for the 2 computers dropped off at the office. I was in Babaka village, 3 hours drive from Pom.
' Staff advised me of your kind donation.
' My Admin Manager, Mr pana Sitapai will email you through email@example.com when the office downstairs is completed.
' Its great to hear that i can email you when i am in dire straits and i will also give you updates and how our programs are going.
' I can use someone else as a sounding board. which i hope you don't mind.
' But thanks a million for helping me do my programs for our people.
Don Daniels MBE: Founder and Chairman of Port Moresby Grammar School:
Good morning Mr Lynn
Years ago, we first met in the dining room of the Parliament of New South Wales when you invited Dame Carol Kidu and myself to a dinner. The occasion then was about assisting Papua New Guinea students, especially those from villages along the Kokoda track.
Little did I know then, how much Port Moresby Grammar School is now in your debt for the support you have given the school.
Among other things, this support consists of:
- four Adventure Kokoda bursaries
- your kindness in sponsoring Margaret Aitsi and Alfreda Nakue on the trip of a lifetime to Australia
- over 2500 books received for the library and classrooms
- a plethora of stationery supplies
- medical equipment and supplies
- a wide variety of sports gear
- K3500 in cash for special needs aspects in the school
- Exposure of our students to wonderful ordinary Australians who come to PNG....and reciprocally for Aussies to see and bond with Papua New Guineans within the school environment.
On behalf of the Board of Directors of the School, please accept our sincere and grateful thanks for that you have done and we hope this special bond between POM Grammar and Kokoda will continue and strengthen.
Donald Daniels MBE
Mike Luff, Deputy Principal, Port Moresby Grammar School:
'Hope all is well down your way. Collected a good number of books the other evening with Chad & Ron Beattie’s Group! Our number of books and DVDs totals 1035. All brought forward in the past 12 months approx. A fabulous effort! This does not include pencils, pens and other drawing materials.
'On the turn around side Port Moresby Grammar school has done the following:
- 6 cartons of reading books were delivered to Taurama Barracks Community School along with a heap of stationary;
- 7 cartons of books were presented to Bavaroko Community School (our next door neighbour);
- 1 carton was given to a small group called “We Care” in the Hohola settlement area. Mums teaching street kids to read; and
- 2 cartons were sent to Gaire community school on request.
'All of these are a result of culling as new books come into our library. Where there is a doubling up we give these away in the cartons. Some of your books we use as incentives and prizes to kids at Pom Grammar for good work. The culture of reading has been substantially enhanced since your program has started. Popular novels are being read throughout the school. The library staff are really doing a fine job.
'Friends Foundation gave us a wooden coin box and in the first fortnight we collected K250- for Tessie’s group.
'Our next quest is to build up the culling cartons again so that Sogeri Community school and Ioiari High school are provided with books.
'Nixon and the West Papuans are still at Gerehu. The six we have at Pom Grammar are still in school. Many of the other school kids have been “pushed out” or have simply given up – sorry to say. However, we will keep going with our little group. The West Papuan girls especially enjoy the hockey competition on a Sunday afternoon.
'Things are going very well at present and a big lot of thanks to you.
' We would like to see you at the school when you are next up this way – is that possible?
Major-General Peter Phillips AO MC, National President of the RSL
‘I am pleased to advise that the National Executive of the RSL has endorsed the proposal to establish a master plan for development of a Kokoda Track Memorial Park.
‘Thank you for taking the time to address our National Executive and for the personal effort you have put into promoting this concept.
‘As we approach the 60th anniversary of the epic battles of the Kokoda Track, it is appropriate that we honour those who lost their lives there or served their country so valiantly’.
From Captain Stan Bissett MC - 2.14th Battalion Association, 30 September 2003:
'You have already been a tower of strength in achieving recognition for the performance of all Aussies and 'Fuzzy-Wuzzys' in the Kokoda campaign. We would be honoured to have you as a member of our association'
Note: Charlie accepted Stan's invitation and joined immediately - he has been a member ever since.
From Lieutenant-Colonel Phil Rhoden OBE (former Commanding Officer of 2/14th Battalion at Isurava):
'The veterans and I, in particular, are aware of your work over many years in you bringing the events in 1942 to the attention of all who would listen to you and some who would not and were it not for that persistence and endeavour of yours the words courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice would not be at Isurava for all to see.'
Ray Baldwin, Kokoda Veteran, 2/27th Battalion Association:
‘On the night of our welcome at the Sydney Stadium I had a brief chat with you. I was one of many who approached you. What a wonderful night. Val stated that I looked so sombre as against my fellow passengers in the cavalcade. In fact I was overawed with the reaction of that vast audience and I was thinking 'I wonder if they really know the full story of the Kokoda Track and the final killing grounds of the Beach Heads'. Then I started to see the absolute happiness on the faces of the people, especially the children, and so then I too started to wave back. As long as I retain my faculties I shall remember that night.’
From the Premier of New South Wales on 12 December 2002:
I've always been impressed by your love of the Track and your determination to ensure its place in the Australian imagination is never lost.
You know better than most that the Kokoda Track isn't just a place where our salvation was won - though we should remember and document and treasure every inch of it. Kokoda's now part of the Australian dreaming, a sacred site.
More than than. The men of Kokoda are among the greatest of heroes in a land that rightly canonises few heroes. And as time slowly steals the survivors from our midst, it's hard to resist thinking that Australians in the not too distant future will look back with almost disbelief at the giants who lived in those days.
Bob Carr MP
Ron Barr OAM - Youth InSearch Founder/Director:
This letter also provides me with the opportunity to thank you once again for allowing Stephen to participate in the Kokoda trek. He is not only fortunate to have the chance to re-live some valuable history but also have a real life experience which he can pass onto others. To be honest I find it difficult to put into words my depth of gratitude to you.
Testimonials from the Sydney Swans Inaugural Kokoda Memorial Game
We have you to thank for your incredible vision and persistence in making sure the concept got off the ground. We are all very proud and honoured to have played a part in such a special and unique project. We can only look forward to what the spirit of Kokoda may bring us in the future!
CEO Sydney Swans
Kokoda: read Karen Hayden's extraordinary experience . . .
It started with our usual Saturday morning sojourn to Chelsea. This time however, as we walked passed an empty shop, we noticed that Personal Gym Trainers were moving in. Sparking our interest, we read their information on the window. Among their list of achievements and goals was the statement “Training for the Kokoda Trail”. After reading this, Martin turned to me and said “you could do that”, and my reply was “I would love to”! “Well then”, he said, “you better make enquiries”. My incredulous “are you serious” was greeted by “of course”.
And so my 15 week journey began. “Kokoda”, Googled on the internet brings up a myriad of sites and links, but it didn’t take me long to locate “Adventure Kokoda”, and to decide that they were the people that I would travel with. My first reason was because of the Historical content of the trek, - we would be following “In the footsteps of the brave”, retracing the battle of retreat, and the various battle stands and abandond armaments etc. Secondly, the strong emphasis on safety (which was paramount to Martin), was not biased just on what Adventure Kokoda offered, but made you well aware that whoever you trekked with – there was certain criteria and procedures that were essential. And lastly (this appealed to me most), was the financial and practical support that Adventure Kokoda gave to the different villages that we would be passing though.
My trek was for ten days, so why refer to it as my 15 week adventure? One week was devoted to investigation and booking, and 12 weeks for intensive training (I don’t think there was a day in the first 6 weeks that I wasn’t sore somewhere!). In amongst all of this was the compiling of “my kit”.
I had worked out with weights for years, but apart from hockey at school, the odd time on the treadmill, and a short introduction to rowing, cardio exercise was not something that appealed to me. All that was to change. After consulting with “Rick”, a personal trainer at my gym, I embarked on a program which escalated every week, concentrating mainly on leg strength and recovery, until I was walking the Moorooduc Quarry 6 laps at a time, Olivers Hill 8 laps, and many walks, which included two all day 30km walks, all with me carrying an 18kg pack!
They say that nothing prepares you for Kokoda, except Kokoda, and that is exactly right, but my training held me in good stead – I knew I would probably find the cardio side difficult – I didn’t want to be the fastest or the fittest, I just wanted to be able to “keep on going”, and be able to enjoy the trek. I exceeded my expectations, although at times I did have doubts, and when this happened I would hear Rick’s voice urging me on for “400 metres more”, or “you’re nearly there – trust your strength!”.
13 weeks sounded plenty of time to get ready, then suddenly I was flying out the next day!
Arriving in Port Moresby was hot and humid, and the progression through customs, and changing my money to Kena, was slow. I was starting to feel quite overwhelmed. When I finally got through, it was just as Adventure Kokoda had advised on the itinerary – look for your head guide in a red T shirt and hat – and there he was, which was an instant relief to me, and with him was our (Australian) trek chiefs, Chad, and his 2IC Ron.
Right from the beginning, the organization of the trek was professional and efficient. Chad had already picked up our room keys from the Hotel, and once we had them in hand, and we were all accounted for, there was no waiting around or hold ups. A “very fast” mini bus ride to the Hotel, and I arrived at a very Colonial setting – large white buildings and lovely plush gardens, within a compound complete with iron gates and guards! We would soon find out that anything worth keeping needed barricading in. However, although it all felt quite foreign, we were safe and comfortable. After picking up our packs, packing them with our gear, and then getting them weighed (if you were carrying more than 12kg dry weight – add 3kg for water, - you were carrying too much) we had a briefing on what to expect on the track, and the protocol with the villages.
Over dinner we had time to get to know each other a bit better (I don’t think I remembered everyone’s name until the last day!).
After dinner was another briefing on the political situation of 1942, the strategic battle sites we would be moving though, and about the soldiers we would get to know.
Next morning we enjoyed our last hot showers for 10 days, had a lovely buffet breakfast, and proceeded to check out of the hotel. A short (and fast) bus ride to the private airfield and we settled in for the wait until we would be flown (in two batches) to Kokoda. We had to get used to PNG time, I believe a bit like Bali time. The plane flies up the Kokoda Gap, which is flanked by the Owen Stanley Range on one side (our trek), and Mt Victoria and Range on the other – 20 minutes to get there and considerably longer to get back!. Our pilot flew quite low in places so we could get a good look at villages, memorials etc, and it felt like you could reach out and touch the mountains!
At last, Kokoda! The Airport is a grassed strip and a couple of buildings that look like exotic bus shelters. We had quite a wait for our 2nd batch of trekkers to arrive (another introduction to PNG time) so when we were finally together, we were all keen to just start walking!
At this point we were matched up with our personal carriers. By default (I was standing next to Chad) I was first, and my man was Laune. Laune, I found out later he was 21, was very slightly built – he looked more like a marathon athlete – but I was to find out he was very savvy, strong, and regal. I could imagine him as a displaced warrior prince, waiting to redeem his throne!
Finally it was time to “saddle up” (we learnt various catch cries along the way) and we were on our way to our first battle station. Four of the seasoned trekkers carried their own packs, but for the rest of us, it was just a smaller day pack with the essentials. One of the main reasons for the weight restrictions on the big packs was because your carrier also had to carry his own gear! Also, you learn that not only do the “boys” carry your pack, they take the tougher route, so you have the easier one (if there is such a thing!), and also help you over the tough bits. As we were to find out, the track alternated between a goat track, or just foot holds, up or down the mountain, or a maze of tree roots up to a foot high. Add in loose gravel, or mud when it’s raining, and it’s easy to feel totally inept in their shadow. Please know that the term “boys” is not made in a derogatory manor – they call themselves “the boys” - it’s more of an acknowledgement.
Our 1st night under canvas eased us into the routine we would continue for 10 days. Except our 1st walk was only 2½ hours, with the weather fine and clear, if not a little hot. We arrived at camp to find some of the boys (the group carriers) had run ahead of us (yes, run!), so that when we arrived our tents were erected, the fires were lit and dinner was well under way.
This night we camped by a flowing creek which was freezing, but great to ease our sweaty tired bodies into (if only we knew what was to come!).
Dinner alternated between Deb potatoes/pasta/rice and stew of sausage/tuna/meat, with the usual spreads, biscuits and condiments, accompanied by tea/coffee/Milo, and most of the time, fresh fruit and vegies from the village we were staying in, or from nearby.
Off to bed by 7.30pm in our 2 man tent – which was just enough space for you, and your packs. Once I was organised, I thought it was fun, like my own cubby hole, but when I said this to Steve, a fellow trekker, he said “Yeh, but look at you, and look at us!” – meaning the size difference, and that he didn’t see it as quite the same adventure.
Up at 5.30am to dress (with a head torch), re-pack, and have the tent empty so Laune could dismantle it for the group carriers. A breakfast choice of hot food, being baked beans (we all designated those people at the back of the line – especially uphill!), spaghetti, muesli and weetbix with hot powdered milk, canned fruit, and again, the usual condiments etc.
We would “saddle up” and be on our way by 7.30, stop for morning tea around 10/10.30am that appeared miraculously out of the bush, and lunch around 1/1.30pm, usually at a village, but sometimes just at a campsite – pasta, canned meat and tuna, Kraft processed cheese, beans and the usual condiments etc. Afternoon tea was around 2.30/3pm and camp would be reached around 5pm (you knew it was time to stop when you smelt the fire – unless it was someone else’s, which was very disappointing). Include in this our stops for battle site briefings, and stops just to catch our breath and each other, and you wonder how much walking we did a day, but in the end it added up to 130kms!
The Kokoda track is 96kms, being the most direct route between Owers Corner and Kokoda. Adventure Kokoda doesn’t follow the Kokoda trail, as much as the battle sites of the war over the trail. AK (Adventure Kokoda abbreviated – we were known as AK826 – the 26th trek in 08) takes us to sites and villages off the trek. A couple of villages we stay at are not visited by other trekkers, hence the 130kms.
I mentioned that I was attracted to AK because of what they put back into the track. Money “raised” by people trekking is re-invested into villages via their schools and hospitals. AK also sponsors students in both villages, and Port Moresby. In addition, actually trekking through these villages allows us to supplement the village income by purchasing produce and mementos as we go through, but also, because AK passes through regularly, our leaders can pick up when medical assistance is required and can either treat, or instigate medical assistance where required – which did happen along the way. On top of that, to see the rapport that Chad and Ron had with the people from the villages, and the mutual respect they had for each other was rewarding in itself. And of course, another way they support the villages is to employ “the boys” to assist in the treks. Of course AK isn’t the only employer, but they not only make fair payment, but supply uniforms, sleeping gear and food, which unfortunately is not always the case.
Once you get to know the boys, you find that most of them are related – fathers/sons/brothers/cousins, and when we met trekkers passing the other way, it was a pleasure to see the boys greet each other.
We were a group of 29 trekkers, 25 personal carriers, and 50 group carriers. Our trek leader Chad and 2IC Ron were ex Vietnam vets. Chad had been awarded the Military Medal. So we were in good hands! We also had our head guide, Uoxy, who always lead the way with a shovel, to clear the track as we walked – when he walked, we walked, with the catch cry “Rock and Roll up”, or “Rock and Roll down” whichever we were doing at the time, and when he stopped, we stopped - there was no passing or trying to race him. Our Medico was Marxum. So, we were a large group, but it never felt large, or cumbersome - we were like a village – settling down for the night, and moving off in the morning.
One aspect I should mention again at this stage is the military emphasis placed on the trek by Adventure Kokoda, the principals of which are all ex military, one as I said, being awarded the Military Medal. They believe that not enough importance has been given to the Kokoda Campaign, which really did play a large part in “saving” Australia. We were informed that “At Gallipoli, the Australians fought for England and lost, but at Kokoda, they fought for Australia, and won”.
So, there was a lot of emphasis on the military, and we actually followed the “Battle Track”. Consequently we visited all of the important Battle Sites, saw numerous old gun emplacements etc, and lots of unexploded ammunition carefully “arranged” for our viewing by the local villagers. Of course there were many, many memorable sites along the track, and these were all explained to us, moving many of us to tears.
It is interesting to note how close the Japanese came to victory. When they reached Imita Ridge, from where they (the Japanese) could see the lights of Port Moresby, they were given the order (from Tokyo), to “Advance to the Rear” – there being no word for “Retreat” in the Japanese Military vocabulary. It was that close!
Travelling like a village meant that when we set up, there was nothing there, and when we left, there was nothing left. We passed a number of other trekkers who, after lunch/camp, left, and left their rubbish – there’s no rubbish collection on the Kokoda! It’s sad enough to see the villages unable to cope with the refuse of ‘progression’, let alone see it wilfully left. The other eye sore was the graffiti and vandalism. Yes, even in the jungle! Trees with root systems that started from 20 feet up the trunk were etched with initials of passer-bys. There are precious little memorials to our diggers on the track, and to see the ones that are there have been chipped to take mementos is, well - you wonder where peoples’ minds are.
Despite these disappointing memories, I will have heaps to cherish. We would arrive at a village to have the locals lining the path and greet us with shy hellos and smiles. Choirs would sing to us at our camp sites and then we would find out that they walked 7kms to reach us, and then walked home the next day! A couple of times Laune, my personal carrier, became head guide which meant that we ‘lead the pack’. Laune would look for me to make sure I was behind him, and while leading and securing the track, he would be looking after me as well – after I fell and gashed my wrist I technically became one handed. When I managed to walk in sync with him, it felt like we were flying over the ground. At one stage we were walking down a steep muddy slope and he was behind me with one hand on my pack to steady me, and a machete in the other! Another time, again in the mud, he was behind me, slipped, took me out with him, and we both sat in the mud and laughed.
One lesson I will remember, is what I learnt though Chad. Our group of 30 trekkers, which sounds large, has a couple of reasons why. Firstly, a larger group has a stronger safety aspect – we are in a developing country – and whilst it would be nice to think that because we are on holiday, we are safe, that’s not always the case. But what will remain with me is that 30 is also the size of a platoon, so that we could experience the camaraderie and brotherhood that the diggers would have experienced. How true that was. After a few days we started to get to know each other, but it wasn’t til one particular incident that we started to pull together as a team. After a particularly hard climb, there were 5 or 6 of us that made it to the top quite a distance in front of the others. Chad, when he arrived marched straight up to us and demanded “who got here first!”. None of us answered at first, then Mary-Anne said “Karen”, and I said “no, John and Angela beat me” – we sounded like children in trouble. Chad went on to say that we were a team, some people were doing it tough, and we needed to support them and encourage them - by striving ahead we were missing the point of a team. Ron went on to say that “One man doesn’t make a team, but one team makes a man” (we were in the jungle, and as modesty had to be put aside, I think political correctness should be too). We were suitably chastised by this dressing down but from that moment, the whole team dynamics changed. Not just because of what was said to us, but the others also heard of this when they arrived.
So we finally made it to Owers Corner, feeling very victorious. After photos, hot dogs and ice-cream, we were transported (once again very quickly) by mini buses to Port Moresby. After a cold beer, a long hot shower and the chance to dry off with a large dry towel, we had dinner, our certificate presentation, and then went out clubbing (well, some of us did)!
The next morning I woke up early, it was still dark, and was momentarily disorientated (no, it wasn’t because of the clubbing!), as I couldn’t work out the space around me. If 10 days in a tent made a large room feel strange, what must have those men felt like when they came home, except they slept in a whole jungle for months, to wake up one day in a small room.
Now that I am home, and think about my experience, to be honest I must say that I miss the camaraderie and friendship that grew between us – and even the physical exhaustion – again I can only imagine the effect returning to civilian life must have had on our diggers.
The defence against the advancement of the Japanese towards Australia was left to young men, the average age being 18, who were hurriedly recruited, given the most basic of training (some had never fired a rifle), and then packed off to New Guinea to fight an elite, fanatical, well equipped, undefeated, battle hardened enemy, until the regulars from the AIF could be released to reinforce them. They were ill equipped, suffered illness and horrendous wounds, and witnessed atrocities we cannot imagine but they did it willingly. They did it for Australia, for honour, and for “the people back home”. The sacrifice and bravery of these men should always be remembered. The memorial at the Isurava battle site proudly displays four stones, each with one word on them only, “Courage, Endurance, Mateship, Sacrifice”. I think it says it all. To quote one digger:
“When you go home tell them of us. Tell them for their today, we gave our tomorrow”.
I hope I can do that.