Sarah and Tony were part of our Hiking Group in 2017 who headed to Kokoda to walk the track in November 2017. Sarah updates us on her trip below.
The last two days of trekking were by far the most humbling. The range of emotions I felt over this part of the track ranged from sadness, to loneliness, to pride then finally elation. Finishing the track gave me a high that I have only felt two other times in my life – when I got married and when I had my daughter. The range of emotions you feel over the trek is extraordinary, I can’t put into words each and every one but, boy, where they there and it was amazing.
It was these last few days where we slowed our walking down (or maybe we were getting fitter lol) our breaks were a little longer and we enjoyed our beautiful surroundings. The rain eased in the afternoon as we got closer to Kokoda so we could enjoy our days a little more rather than be in a hurry to get to camp and beat the rain.
It was also special because in my research before I left, I read that my Pop had fought along this part of the track, starting at Templetons Crossing all the way through to Kokoda and up north to Sandananda. For me, it always felt really abnormal to call Barry ‘Pop’ because I never met him in real life (he died four years before I was born). After reading parts of his Battalions book, researching the Kokoda Track Campaign and looking at dozens of photos of him from the war I felt like I did know him as I walked through this section of the track. The two things that struck me the most in all the pictures of him from the war was 1. my bother Stu is his doppelgänger and 2. he was with his mates and smiling, always smiling. War is never nice but it seemed like he loved what he was doing, with his mates, and was proud. The next time you do see a picture of our troops from WWI or WWII, have a look at the expression on their faces, most of them are happy and smiling. I would never ever discount the atrocities that they experienced and saw during battle because now that we know what PTSD is it is no laughing matter, but in the downtime they had they were just normal young men (and some women) enjoying each others company whilst serving their country. My heroes.
The last few days on the track were my most loved.
Day 7 Eora Creek Village to Isurava Village
After a cold and damp night sleeping on a slope at Eora Creek Village we were ready for another day. Eora Creek was the scene of a major battle in the counter-offensive. The Diggers that came through Templeton’s Crossing on to Eora Creek didn’t know what hit them (well they did, it was the Japanese, but yanno, it’s a saying) They were hit by Japanese machine-gun fire and mortars. The massive hill which overlooks the whole Eora Creek area was full of the Japanese defense systems that halted the Australian’s for weeks. Eora Creek was a very important village for the Australians along the track as it acted as a check point for the injured. As long as the injured Troops made it to Eora (from further up the track) the Fuzzy Wuzzys could stretcher or help carry them as they further retreated towards Port Moresby.
So off we went up the hill. I was kind of happy to get out of Eora Creek, it gave me the heebie jeebies! Max had told some very emotional stories over breakfast that morning, one in particular that he wanted us to think about as we trudged for the next hour and a half. It was about a Journalist (his name escapes me) that had made it to Eora Creek from Port Moresby and was heading towards Isurava as the Battle of Isurava was being fought as well as other skirmishes were taking place. As he was pushing forward in the dead of night with his lantern, injured soldiers (lost limbs, bullet wounds, blood and guts) were heading back to Eora Creek. In single file, one hand on the shoulder of the soldier in front of them they slowly moved along the ridge line, it was no wider than your boot and in absolute jungle darkness. The leader of the line of injured had a lantern but it had long gone out. The Journalist hears the men ask ‘Digger got a light?’, ‘Digger got a light?’ He gives them his light and he keep’s moving forward, every so often seeing one of the injured giving up, taking his hand off the shoulder of the man in front and sliding down the mountain into the dense jungle terrain. The story gave me goosebumps and the walk along that part of the track was filled with my salty tears.
Now the Japanese were mean buggers! (some might say smart in the heat of battle but hey, they were the enemy so for the benefit of this story they were meanies), They knew that no Australian would leave one of their own behind, even if they had lost a limb or their guts were hanging out their body, they would carry their brother to safety. So, the rifles the Japanese used were meant to injure, not kill. That way the Australian soldiers were weakened by helping others. Now the Aussies were different, they may have had 303’s left over from WWI (oh p.s did I tell you I found a 303 bullet on the track? Back near Brigade Hill – I left it there) but it was shoot to kill. Bang Bang! With a bayonet on the front of the gun it was stab to kill. Stab Stab.
After around four hours of trekking we made it to a little village called Alola. As we walked through this area we started to see lots of Choko fields. I asked my main man Bob (remember my porter) if he liked Chokos, he loved them. Me? Not so much. My Nan (Mum’s Mum) used the cook them when we were kids. Now, when I say cook, I mean boil until they did not resemble a vegetable anymore then make us eat them along with steak and kidney (vomit). Anyway, Bob loved them and as we walked he pointed out the village of Abuari on the hill, that was his village. Ahhhh right, all makes sense now – he started to chat a lot more with the young ladies along the track and even scored us a bunch of bananas straight off the tree for us to snack on. We stopped at Alola for lunch at around 10am. It was a clear morning and the mountains around us were amazing. Max retold stories of the skirmishes that took place around us as how Alola was a strategic area for the Australians with Brigadier Potts having his Headquarters’ here during the battle of Isurava. He also wanted us to mentally prepare for our ceremony at the Isurava Memorial (Wartime Isurava Village)
We walked another hour or so then we came to our destination for the next few hours, the Isurava Memorial. The Isurava Memorial was constructed in 2002 in remembrance of all those Australians and Papua New Guineans who fought and those who died on the Kokoda Track in 1942. Isurava was the site of some of the most intense fighting in the Kokoda Track campaign. The memorial is immediately adjacent to the site where Private Bruce Kingsbury performed an act of valour for which he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross – the first VC awarded in PNG. The memorial features four Australian black granite pillars that are each inscribed with a single word – ‘courage’, ‘endurance’, ‘mateship’, and ‘sacrifice’ representing the values and qualities of those Australian soldiers who fought along the Kokoda Track.
We held a ceremony at the memorial, the first post played, we sang the Australian National Anthem and then WOWEE…the PNG boys who had voices like angels then sang to us. It was a truly amazing experience and I cannot even put into words what I felt. I cried, sobbed is actually more accurate.
After lunch it was then off to our stop for the night, Isurava Village (postwar village) It was a relatively easy walk, no steep ups or downs but it was a bit hairy along the ridge line. I did slip on a large rock at one point and thought I was going to fall to my death, lucky Bob was on job. The boys were constantly reminding us to be careful and still watch our step, the last few days are where the most accidents happen. Mostly because you are getting excited because we are at the end of our journey, but also because you are tired, you may not feel it but your body is fatigued.
Once we got to camp we were all still in high spirits because it was our only afternoon we got into camp and it DID NOT RAIN! Booyah. It was lovely, there was a shower (pipe that had water coming down onto you) and it was cold but I didn’t care. This chubby little pale woman needed a rinse off. It was nice to sit around and have a chat with everyone and even with some of the young boys as well who cooked our meals.
Night fell, the mozzies came out, we ate and went to bed.
Day 8 Isurava Village to Kokoda Village
Up we were at 3am to the sound of roosters at the camp. We were dressed, packed up, had brekkie and on our way by 6am.
It would be a relatively relaxing walk day again. We passed through quite a few more choko fields and they were actually amazing to look at. There were minimal steep parts (up and down) along this part of the track but it was bizarre to thing that while we were going up hill in some parts we were actually descending towards Kokoda. Only on the Kokoda Track! Ha
We stopped at a lovely little village called Deniki for morning tea. I purchased a softie for Bob and I – at $5 kina each for a hot Fanta I certainly paid the track inflation! The Village of Deniki was the scene of a short sharp battle during the Australians fighting withdrawal across the Kokoda Track. It had spectacular views down to Kokoda, our final destination. Occasionally the open space coincides with the sides of the valleys and expansive views are exposed of the lower countryside and coast. As we walked along this part of the track Bob started to pick the bright flowers along the side of the track and was making a flower crown. Some of the other boys picked up on this and did the same. I tell you these boys where a catch for any woman, they could hold a note, make a flower crown and they cook a 3 hat meal with spam.
A short walk further on and we step out onto a bare ridgeline with the village on the side. The jungle recedes wand we pop out at the village of Hoi. There were so many kids as we walked through and we all took the opportunity to offload any of the gifts that we had carried along the track to hand out to the kids. Because we had such bad weather and made some changes to our itinerary we didn’t get to spend a lot of time with the kids at each village. We all had a bathe in the river which was so refreshing, the water was amazing and we lolled around while the boys prepared lunch.
As we ate lunch there were a group of young boys that walked through with the Victorian Police starting their journey. They looked stuffed already and we later found out that the boys were abandoned refugees from Somalia that had come to Australia and given the opportunity to walk the track. I thought that was special, us as Australian’s do some pretty unique things for disadvantaged people.
After our lunch it was packs back on and the short walk to Kokoda. It was quite surreal because all of our porters fell back, leaving John Scott at the front to guide us into our destination. As we walked we started to see motor bikes, school kids, tracks from motor vehicles then all of a sudden we were told to look up! And there it was…the arches about 100 metres in front of us. We crossed under the arches and then came the boys. There were packs off, tears, hugs and smiles on our dials. We’d done it – and I’d done it for Torch as well. We took photos had a bit of a rest and while the boys headed to our site for the night to set up tents John Scott took us to the Kokoda Museum. It wasn’t open when we got there but about 10 minutes later a head popped over the hill and it was the guy with the key (of course it was, John must of got on the bush telephone) for us to have a look. There were photos as well as machine guns and artillery that had been recovered. I was curious how heavy the machine guys were and tried to pick one up, no way, too heavy. Again, my admiration for these men that went into battle grew again. Fuck carrying that shit around.
It was then off to camp, shower, change, clean out our bags and RELAX. We sat around and chatted for hours, checked out the general store and just chilled out. Dinner was fantastic and afterwards we all went to bed. It was hot, so so hot and then it rained. The boys stayed up most of the night keeping watch (and I’m sure having a few bevvies! Me = jelly) on us.
Day 9 Kokoda Village flying back to Port Moresby
Up for brekkie, pack up and a short walk to the Airstrip. Now I have to LOL because it’s not like when we go to the airport in Australia and you have a flight number, check in, get a boarding time and flight time.
We get to the airstrip and there is a concrete slab with a roof* (*used to be a lovely steel structure with walls but nah, now its destroyed. There was also a toilet and you can look in the photos below to see what is left of it….
Anyway we have to weight our bags and ourselves so we can get on the death otter, sorry I mean twin otter. I jump on the scales, Jeff (Trek Master) tells me I’ve lost weight. You ripper! And I’d hope so going on this extreme form of diet! Everyone else is weighted and we compare weight loss and decide the scales are not quite accurate (yep when we get home it’s about 3-5kgs off for everyone) which is kinda scary because the twin otters can only take a certain amount of weight.
So we’re all good to go but the crowd at the airport (about 50 to 60 PNGians including our porters) are getting boisterous. We’re told that the locals come to the airport each day in the hope of getting packages of fruit and vegies, clothes or themselves back to Port Moresby. So the locals are putting their bags in for weighting and are trying to negotiate their stuff getting on board. Oh look who’s back making a fuss…Lee and his missus. Gee wizz these two really enable one another and it is annoying for everyone else. His missus is trying to get some bags of choko vine on the plane and giving everyone a gob full in her native tongue. We’re all sick of her by now and want her to piss off.
Now we wait….the cloud cover was low so there was a high chance that the plane couldn’t land and we would be here another night. After a few hours we get word that the plane can land. Pretty stoked cause I was hungry and I had eaten all my food. All I could think about was three things.
3. Seeing dad
The plane landed and we loaded ourselves on as well as a few others who needed to get back to Port Moresby. We see the bags being loaded, oh there goes a big bunch of bananas off the plane, too heavy. The doors close, along with about 30 blow flies and we buzz on up into the air. It’s only a short trip to Port Moresby and we all look out the window and check out the terrain we have just trekked 96kms over. I turn around to check out what boys got on the plane and NEKMINUTE…here’s Lee’s missus sitting on the plane taking in the serenity! Ha what a nightmare.
We land at the airport and get in our mini bus to head back to the hotel. John Scott (Trek Leader) had got on the plane too. We’d had a big chat the night before about coming back again with Dad and also doing a trek up north to Buna, Gona etc. We exchanged deets to keep in touch.
Our bus pulls up back at the hotel and as we walk in here’s young Torch cruising through the foyer! He gets hugs from all us stinky people and shows us his stomach with the bruises he got from the hospital tests.
We arranged to have dinner and catch up later than night. Dad had already arranged our room and getting into that shower was BLISS! Dad told me all about his hospital ‘adventure’. They really couldn’t pin point exactly what is was so they gave him all the documentation to give to his GP when we got home. He was required to stay in PNG until I came back so we could travel back together. Dinner than night was a great catch up for stories and good food. I could tell that Torch was pretty deflated about what happened and it was really hard to see him like that. I think it still kills him a little bit now, even these months later, but true to Haven form we just make sarcastic jokes about him needing to make a scene and get to the chopper.
So, now you have heard about our adventure I guess you want to know if I’d do it again?