Essence of the Bloody Track
On the occasion of this ANZAC day, I want to pay my respect to those who fought in Papua New Guinea and especially in the Kokoda Trail campaign during the Second World War. I am proud to say that I am the son of Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.
MATESHIP: ANZAC and Kokoda Track
This morning saw Australians and New Zealanders stand at dawn in silent salute in honour of brave men and women who took a stand to defend their country, sacrificing all they had, including their lives.
Of those that are remembered on ANZAC day, more than 2000 of them will be those courageous men who lost their lives on the Bloody Track.
Australians have been involved in numerous conflicts from as far back as the Boer war but none of them was closer to Australian soil, and more threatening to Australian security than the campaign on the Kokoda Track*.
Jeff Kennett, the former Victorian Premier noted this fact in his recent article in the Herald Sun when he pointed out the Kokoda Track as a major Australian shrine. He went on to say that “the real wonderment of PNG still remains the Kokoda Track.”
Following in that call, I say that the Kokoda Track should also be seen as a major PNG shrine as well and must not only be taken as a tourist destination.
Historians may prove me wrong but it can be argued that this 6-month long campaign also saw a lot more Papua New Guineans participate actively in the Second World War than in any other battle. They became porters, stretcher bearers, nurses and scouts.
Hence, the legend of the famous Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels was born.
ENDURANCE: Me and Kokoda Track
For a Papua New Guinean born post-independence, the contribution of these great men bore little to no significance to me and simply got lost in the pages of my high school history text book.
Perhaps we can argue that PNG’s Independence on a golden platter may have had a bearing on this apparent disregard for the historically significant. Perhaps this may have also stemmed from the fact that I hail from the heart of the Highlands of Papua New Guinea – a location left relatively untouched by this war.
However this view or rather lack thereof, was soon to get a good dose of reality check as I came face to face with history.
In late May of 2010 I had the fortunate opportunity to check off one of the destinations in my bucket list when I took on the Kokoda Track.
The tales that you may have heard about this challenging track is nothing compared to the real thing. The entire 96km of this gruelling track alone will demand nothing but the best out of any person who dares to take up this challenge.
From ankle-deep mud to slippery climbs that seemed to never end only to find descents on the other side that will turn the knees of any strong man to rubber. From leech infested mud plains to the murky Brown River and on to the raging torrents of the Iora Creek, the Kokoda Track will put the human spirit to the test.
The arduous nature of this track alone has been known to make legends out of ordinary men like you and I. For it was there that I came to meet a man that displayed the true meaning of sacrifice by his deeds alone.
SACRIFICE: Private Bruce Kingsbury VC and Kokoda Track
I was on my way to seeing the final leg of this journey. Upon entering Isurava battlefield I came across the legend of Private Bruce Kingsbury.
He was, and remains the only recipient of the Victorian Cross in Papua New Guinea.
The Victorian Cross (VC) is the highest decoration of the Commonwealth given with honour to anyone who performs an act of valour above and beyond his or her call of duty.
A farmer and a real estate agent by profession, Private Kingsbury valiantly fought and gave up his life in order to save the lives of his mates and his commanding officers. Because of his actions alone many were able to live and fight another day (click on the picture to read the full story) and even to live on, as that day got etched down into the history books and into their minds.
Because of this selfless act, the following was written of him by W.B. Russell:
“Whenever men speak of courage,
wherever men speak of sacrifice,
he will be remembered,
his name ever an inspiration and a challenge.”
COURAGE: The essence of the Kokoda Track
Starting from Ower’s Corner all the way to Kokoda Station, it was hard not to notice the plaques along the length of the track. They help to point out the historical significance of the locations or the actors in it in relation to the Kokoda campaign. For those unfamiliar with the details of this campaign, these plaques and markers help to give a fair idea what eventuated back in those trying times.
Skeletal remains of weapons and helmets along with remnants of foxholes and craters made by mortar rounds lay eerily silent next to each other;
metamorphosed by weather and time into vague resemblances of their former self.
Mute witness of those terrifying times, all telling grim tales of desperation and bloody destruction. But they tell a much louder tale of the human spirit and courage in the face of uncertainty and imminent doom.
With each passing day on the Track, it was hard not to see what these valiant warriors had to endure in order to successfully fight off a larger, better trained onslaught of Japanese forces. Brigade Hill is one such location where such fierce fighting ensued.
After leaving Brigade Hill, I made my way round the western side of that hill towards Efogi. For anyone who has been there, they will know that there are several similar looking bends there. One of those bends hangs precariously close to the edge of a rocky ledge. It is a narrow pass between two jagged edged rocks pointing inwards with just enough space to allow the passage of ONLY ONE person at a time. A few centimetres of misstep left and a gaping yawn of a chasm waits to receive the unfortunate stray.
This narrow little pass brought me to a halt and to a moment of quiet contemplation. You have to give credit to the tenacity of the Australians with all those weights on their backs with gun in hands, plodding through the muddy slopes and bogs.
However, this time I was more in awe of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.
I have tried over and over to picture in my mind how four Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels would negotiate such a dangerously tricky one-lane path with a young wounded — perhaps even unconscious, Australian in a stretcher. Carrying anything more than 10 kilograms along the length of the track is no easy feat. I was lost in logic while trying to figure out this equation, but I was dead certain of one thing.
I beamed with humble pride and admiration at the accomplishments of these selfless men – Papua New Guineans, warriors in their own right who valiantly stood alongside the Australians in their capacity as human camels, ambulances, scouts and all round saviours.
Then the words of Bert Beros rang with crystalline clarity as I caught a glimpse of what he saw when he himself as a wounded soldier penned that beautiful ode to my forefathers, the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.
I was never a PROUDER Papua New Guinean than at that very moment. Although I am no Koiari nor a Kaiva, I was proud then, as I am now, to say that as a Papua New Guinean, I claim those brave Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels to be my forefathers.
If you are a Papua New Guinean, consider the Kokoda Track as your pilgrimage. What it takes out of your body it will put into your heart and soul!
That is the essence of the bloody Track.
Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels
Many a mother in Australia when the busy day is done
Sends a prayer to the Almighty for the keeping of her son
Asking that an angel guide him and bring him safely back
Now we see those prayers are answered on the Owen Stanley Track.
For they haven’t any halos only holes slashed in their ears
And their faces worked by tattoos with scratch pins in their hair
Bringing back the badly wounded just as steady as a horse
Using leaves to keep the rain off and as gentle as a nurse
Slow and careful in the bad places on the awful mountain track
They look upon their faces would make you think Christ was black
Not a move to hurt the wounded as they treat him like a saint
It’s a picture worth recording that an artist’s yet to paint
Many a lad will see his mother and husbands see their wives
Just because the fuzzy wuzzy carried them to save their lives
From mortar bombs and machine gun fire or chance surprise attacks
To the safety and the care of doctors at the bottom of the track
May the mothers of Australia when they offer up a prayer
Mention those impromptu angels with their fuzzy wuzzy hair.
- Bert Beros
Special delivery for ANZAC day from Afore, deep in the heartlands of the Managalas Plateau in the Ijivitari District of Oro.
*Technically, the closest attack on Australian soil took place when the Japanese struck Sydney and Darwin with mini-submarines and air attacks respectively. These however cannot be classified as ‘campaigns’.
** Koiari – the biggest tribe in the Central Province, they live from the coast all the way up to the inland which includes Sogeri and land on which the Kokoda Track runs through and the surrounding area.
**Kaiva – this is the general reference given to the Oro side of the Kokoda Track all the way down towards Popondetta.
**Awara – a common greeting used by the Oro people to generally mean, “Its all right/Its all good.”