Kokoda pilgrims made the ultimate sacrifice
For many it is a pilgrimage and for some it is an honourable adventure.
Thousands of Australians each year make the journey to Papua New Guinea in honour of our fallen World War 2 diggers. Each journey is bedevilled with anticipation and anxiety, for walking the Kokoda track is tough and grinding.
The mountains between Port Moresby and Kokoda are forbidding. The towering peaks of green thick foliage and tall trees closely linked to the sheer cliffs dwarf the intermittent rainforests of the range, and the narrow and deep valleys with their raging rivers pose the ultimate challenge during wet weather crossing.
Often during the day low level cloud or rising mist disguise the extremes of the track. If the thick rainforest doesn’t hide the rare little villages along the route, then inclement weather acts as a shield from the high sun.
The locals are embracing and welcoming. They rarely wear shoes and they know every nook and cranny of the massive expanse. If you are lost in the mountains, the locals will soon find you.
The journey across the Owen Stanley Ranges begins at Ower’s Corner, a feeble lookout that gives tourists a false impression of the task ahead, across the near 100km to the village of Kokoda.
When preparing for the walk many Australians are warned of the risks of the Kokoda trek. Exhaustion, dehydration, leeches and the unpredictable weather are the most common warnings for walkers.
No one thinks about the flights in and out. Accidents are rare and everything else about the journey is far more intimidating.
You can train for the physical pain and you can prepare yourself for the mental stress. Reading historical accounts you remind yourself that if the diggers could be heroes in the face of guns, bullets, fatigue and disease then your sacrifice is incomparable.
We all bury the modern pain of our journey because whatever we may go through, the Diggers did it much tougher.
It is often our families that carry more anxiety about these trips than we do ourselves. We are assured, knowing that we have worked hard to prepare for this challenge; we have done the training and bought the gear, we have studied the Track and we have taken the medical precautions. Like a footballer preparing for the Grand Final, you are keen to get on with the event that has so dominated your thinking for so long.
The innocuous flight to Kokoda to begin the journey would not cause anxiety for most intrepid journeymen. That’s what makes this tragedy all the more painful.
Those who boarded that flight were walking Kokoda to honour those who gave their lives. No one expected them to give their own.
It will be of little comfort to the families of the victims but it must be said. The spirits of many young Australians live on along the Kokoda Track. Your parents, brothers, sisters, lovers and children sought to honour the memory of those Diggers, who fought so valiantly in the face of such adversity. Now they have fallen in a modern accident along that same Track.
Their spirits will be in exalted company.
The condolences of the Australian people are with you.
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