In recent days commemorations have occurred for the 70th Anniversary of the Kokoda and Beachhead Battles. The key date of November 2 marks the 70th anniversary of the retaking of Kokoda village.
I had the great honour to meet a group of eight veterans of those campaigns who returned to Papua New Guinea for the commemorations.
In their late eighties and early nineties, these men sparkled with health. They had a demanding itinerary which took them in light aircraft to Kokoda village, Popondetta and back to Port Moresby. They told their stories with a clarity that defied the spans of time.
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While the media last week fixated on the political “divide” in Australia, with vastly divergent views expressed on the carbon tax at the forums and some confrontations between people with passionate viewpoints, it’s worth remembering that every day of every week, Aussies are getting on with their lives and doing remarkable things.
It’s worth remembering that there is so much more that unites us as a nation than that which currently divides us.
All that is great about Australia was on display in a rain-soaked corner of Queensland last weekend.
Kokoda has claimed more Australian lives this year than Afghanistan.
During the last week two trekkers died on the Kokoda Trail, a couple more were evacuated by helicopter and fourteen went down with food poisoning. Yesterday a campsite that took years to build at Ofi Creek was burned to the ground over an argument between two landowners.
Land disputes now block the wartime trail over the ‘golden staircase’ and Iorabaiwa Ridge – the closest the Japanese army got to Port Moresby in 1942.
The Kokoda Trail, which held so much potential as a model for sustainable eco-tourism in Papua New Guinea is beginning to choke on its own success.
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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.
To walk the Kokoda Trail is increasingly becoming one of life’s big ‘must do’ experiences. But if you’re thinking of taking it on as an extreme endurance sport or wilderness adventure, then think again.
While it is all of these things, it is not the reason to trek down to your wilderness store and max out your credit card. The Kokoda Trail is a memorial pilgrimage on sacred ground.
On Anzac Day this year, federal Labor MP Jason Clare and I crossed the political aisle to walk the trail. We called our six and half days of pain, the Kokoda Mateship Trek.
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