Life Lessons from the Kokoda Track

Last month we talked about my husband trekking Papua New Guinea’s Kokoda Trail and the merits of pushing oneself out of your comfort zone.  Here he shares details of his experience.

“Both of my grandfathers served in World War Two, and one of the reasons I wanted to do the Kokoda Trail, which is the site of a series of battles fought between Australian and Japanese forces in World War Two, was to get an understanding of what they went through at such a young age.

My maternal grandfather was in the Lancaster Bombers in the UK and was sent to bomb Berlin and My dad’s dad was sent to Burma and then to Papua New Guinea. My paternal grandfather’s mother had to forge his birth certificate so he could go off when he was 17.

To do something like that at an age where you’re still a kid yourself just blows my mind. I can’t imagine what your thought process is when you’re sent off and you know you are probably not going to come back.

Finding abandoned World War Two weapons along the way

Another reason, apart from it being important to me as an Australian, was to pass down to my kids, who are six and four, the importance of what those service men and women did for us and why we’re so lucky to live where we do.

From the moment you walk under the Kokoda sign it is wet, humid and muddy. You cross several creeks a day that are chest high. There’s a tropical storm every afternoon, so anything that was finally dry from walking gets saturated again. Putting on wet clothes every day was a bit of a struggle.

There was also the element of danger. The trail is so remote that in an emergency, you have to rely on being airlifted out. But a helicopter can’t land at night or in the fog, and most mornings the fog was thick until about 11am.

It was a worry knowing you’d be in trouble if something happened at night. One of our guys went to use the toilet (a dug out with bamboo over the top) in the night and a black snake reared up and hissed at him — they’re as venomous as a red-bellied black snake. It was an eye-opener for all of us.

A New Guinean in a group ahead of us got bitten by one in his sleeping bag and had to wait all night to be flown out. The last I heard he was in hospital.

Before you go you’re advised of the precautions you need to take against malaria, cholera, typhoid, Hepatitis A. We had to disinfect knifes and forks and the cup we used for our tea in the morning. We had to sterilise our water with tablets and constantly disinfect hands.

Every night we’d ‘treat the feet’ with tee tree oil and antiseptic powder. The skin goes like granny fingers from the wet and can split leading to infection.

Breakfast was tinned spaghetti or Weetbix and banana with powdered milk. Lunch would be Spam and rice and maybe some cubes of cheese. Dinner was rice and maybe tinned tuna.

One of the many challenges along the way

The track itself needs to be treated with respect. You start low and then get higher in to the mountains. Once you’re over Brigade Hill, an immense vertical hill that takes three hours to climb, the scenery changes. The track is narrow and you’re trudging though swamps with a 20kg pack on your back. It’s horrendously slippery and if you took your eyes off the track you’d be on your bum. A lot of it is 300m up a ridge and the only thing that’s stopping you from falling right down the cliff is maybe a tree.

Our group leader Charlie Lynn, who has done 86 Kokodas and is an amazing man, would stop a few times a day at various places of significance, and read a poem or tell us what took place there. It was pretty moving. Out of 30 of us, most shed a tear. There’s a point at Brigade Hill where a soldier grabbed a Tommy gun and advanced against 10 Japanese soldiers because four of his mates had been gunned down. We’d also find grenades and rocket launchers along the way.
The track was gruelling, mentally more than anything. Before I started a mate told me it was 70 per cent mental and 30 per cent physical — that was true. I am used to being active which may be why I was comfortable with the physical side. But I think even a marathon runner would find it hard.
After I finished I had the most amazing sense of euphoria and achievement. There was also an amazing sense of mateship that came from throwing 30 strangers together. People looked out for each other, sharing antiseptic or socks. It was a pretty cool experience.

3306 Australians are buried at Bomana War Cemetery in PNG.

On 24 April we went to the Dawn Service at Bomana War Cemetery at Port Moresby. It was so moving to hear the bugle on the 75th anniversary of Kokoda. Being there and realising what those men went through gives you a new view of first world problems.”

 

Source: The Daily Telegraph