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Essence of the Bloody Track

April 25, 2011 8 comments

On the occasion of this ANZAC day, I want to pay my respect to those who fought in the Kokoda campaign in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War.

I am proud  to say that I am the son of Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.

On MATESHIP: ANZAC and the 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. They sacrificed all they had, even 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 Kokoda. Regarded by some as ‘the Bloody Track’.

Australians have been involved in numerous conflicts from as far back as the Boer war. However none of them was as close to Australian soil as the campaign on the Kokoda Trail. Even more crucial was the fact that the national security of Australia was hanging by the balance.

Jeff Kennett, the former Victorian Premier noted this fact in his recent article in the Herald Sun. 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. (sic)

Papua New Guinea must also see the Kokoda Track as a major PNG shrine as well, and not merely a tourist attraction for us to cash in on.

It is precisely on this bloodstained trail that the dynamics of the bond between Papua New Guinea and Australia took a major shift.

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, scouts and perhaps even in active combat.

Hence, the legend of the famous Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels was born.

On ENDURANCE: My ignorance and the Kokoda Track

For a Papua New Guinean born post-independence, the contribution of these great men bore little to no significance to me. They simply got lost in the pages of my high school history text book.

Perhaps we could argue that Papua New Guinea’s Independence on a ‘golden platter’ had a bearing on this apparent disregard for something of such historical significance. Then again 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 during the war.

This ignorance I had 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 the Kokoda Track on my bucket list.

The tales that you have heard about this challenging track is nowhere near the real thing. The entire 96km of this gruelling track alone will demand nothing but the whole of you. If you dare to take up the challenge then be prepared to be slaughtered!

From ankle-deep mud to slippery climbs that seemed to never end. Only to find steep 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. Onwards 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. For it was there that I came to meet a man that displayed the true meaning of sacrifice by his deeds alone.

On SACRIFICE:  Pte Bruce Kingsbury VC and Kokoda Track

Private Bruce Kingsbury VC – a Malvern boy

I came across the legend of Private Bruce Kingsbury upon entering Isurava. This was another battlefield where the two opposing forces engaged in a raging battle that lasted for weeks.

Kingsbury 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. It is the Australian equivalent of the American Medal of Honor.

A farmer and a real estate agent by profession, Private Kingsbury fought valiantly 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. Some went on to see the end of the war where they would go on to see their children and grandchildren and die of old age. That day 29 August 1942 got etched down into the history books and into their minds forever.

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.”

On 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.

Skeletal remains of weapons and helmets are littered all throughout. The remnants of foxholes and craters made by mortar rounds lay eerily silent next to each other. Weather and time have metamorphosed them into vague resemblances of their former self. Yet they linger. Mute witnesses to those terrifying times, reminding us of grim tales of desperation and bloody carnage. They also hold a much louder truth. A tale of the human spirit. A tale of courage in the face of uncertainty and imminent doom.

With each passing day it was hard not to see what these valiant warriors had to endure. Ordinary men who rose up to the occasion 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 awaits to receive that 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, I was more in awe of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels then.

I have tried over and over to construct a picture in my mind to see how four men 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, let alone a 70 kilo fully grown man. I got lost trying to figure out this equation.

However I was dead certain of one thing though.

I beamed with humble pride and admiration at the accomplishments of these selfless men. Papua New Guineans. Warriors in their own right. With no incentive whatsoever. Just a simple desire to help a fellow human being, even though a stranger he may have been.

With simple courage they  stood alongside the Australians in their capacity as human camels, ambulances, scouts and all round saviours.

Then the words of that poet rang with crystalline clarity as I trudged on. I caught a faint whisper of what he saw.  When a wounded soldier names Bert Beros penned that beautiful ode to my forefathers, the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.

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

I was never a more PROUDER Papua New Guinean than at that very moment.

I may not hail from the Koiari tribe, nor a Kaiva, but I was proud then. As I am now. Proud of my heritage as a Papua New Guinean. That those brave and selfless Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels are also 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.

Lest we forget.

***


Special delivery for ANZAC day from Afore, deep in the heartlands of the Managalas Plateau in the Ijivitari District of Oro.

Awara!

25 April 2011

Fact Check

*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.”

 

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Walking the Talk

August 4, 2010 2 comments

I strongly stand for and believe that in promoting an ideology, doctrine, belief or any other information one is trying to disseminate, they have to put into action what they proclaim. There are no ifs and buts about it or it will be nothing but hypocrisy and mere lip service.

It is all about practicing what we preach.

Walk the talk!

a hand sanitizer off the shelves of your local pharmacy

In saying that, in our awareness run we also talked about taking preventative measures against Cholera through basic hygiene like maintaining cleanliness and washing our hands after visiting the toilet, during food preparation and before eating. As a backup plan, we carried with us hand-sanitizers.

Practising basic hygiene

Round One Concluded

July 27, 2010 Leave a comment

I thought it was appropriate that I furnish a report on HT to my employers, not because I was bound by them to do so but because I felt obliged to enlighten them on  the fact that this exercise also promotes the ideals and goals that they stand for.  Plus I was late for work by a week so I had to justify myself :p. A condensed version of my report was posted on the PWM blog. Below is a slightly edited version (more like carbon copy :)) of the original post covering the actual expedition phase of the book-delivering awareness run starting on the 19th of May 2010, taking me and 9 youths from NCD one month through five (5) provinces to conclude this awareness run in the Western Highlands Province.

Hope Trek is in essence a demonstrative awareness exercise that first seeks to highlight the need for books and reading as a fundamental cornerstone of education and literacy.  Through the delivery of donated books to remote schools in PNG it is hoped to contribute in elevating PNG’s low literacy standards by promoting books as an additional source of knowledge.

In addition to this main agenda of books, it further seeks to enlighten as many people as possible about the importance of the environment and what we as Papua New Guineans and citizens of this world stand to gain or lose, in either the practise or non-practise of conservation in our day to day living.

Other related points were also raised in this month long run making it a multi-pronged awareness exercise. These points collectively were used to enlighten people by demonstrating how we as ordinary citizens can contribute in our own little way in seeing change and progress within our community and the country at large. In so doing, it further reemphasised the idea of being self-reliant through responsible living by thinking and acting proactively in seeing change.

The key points addressed in this exercise include:

  1. Books and the importance of reading
  2. Environment and conservation awareness
  3. Climate Change
  4. Looking into sustainable income generating ventures
  5. Being responsible and self-reliant
  6. Basic Hygiene & Cholera Awareness – the cholera outbreak was a hot issue (and still is) at the time of our departure, so we made it as a last minute inclusion into our awareness points upon request by James Enage, the Chairman of Kokoda Track Authority who helped facilitate our trekking by providing us with trekking passes free of charge. 🙂

Modus Operandi Dissected

Leaving from Ower’s Corner in Central Province, we took on the arduous Kokoda Trail and conducted awareness and distributed posters every step of the way to Oro Province and onwards to Morobe, Eastern and Western Highlands Provinces where the donated books were eventually handed over to the designated schools.

As a starting point in our outreach, familiar grounds like traditional practises in farming, hunting and land use plans as well as the Bible story of creation were used to drive home the message of conservation and being environmental friendly. The idea was to start with the most mundane of actions like minding our litter, reforestation using local species of trees, maintaining traditional hunting practises and the prevention of unnecessary bush fires.

Information on cholera was also shared with them as well, advising them that the only defence available was in taking preventative measures like practising basic hygiene. It was indeed surprising to notice that most of the people along the track did not have any idea on what this disease was.

With these fundamental ideas, we appealed to our audience at the end of our talk that it was within our control to make a difference in looking after our natural ecosystem and in being more mindful about our actions in relation to the bigger picture as to how our actions will impact our natural environment and our lives. We further appealed to them to pass on these messages to their wantoks, relatives, friends and neighbours.

The dissemination of information materials in the manner of posters also enabled them to better understand the concepts and the mechanics of what we were trying to get across to them as well as to remind them constantly about these issues even after we were long gone.

Our outreaches were structured to engage our audience in discussions through a Question & Answer segment after every talk session. This helped them to further understand the points of discussion and also helped us to gauge our audience’s comprehension of the points that were broached. Hope Trek youths familiar with Motu further facilitated the discussions in Motu – especially along the Track route – and further helped to pave the way for the locals to step forward with queries and questions.

Being a public awareness venture, it was void of any form of discrimination. In fact, whenever we came into contact with any people, whether individuals or groups, we kept on with our outreach. And it did not stop there. We carried on in buses, on boats, on trucks, in schools, in villages, in urban settlements, in market places, at bus stops, on local radio stations and even around the age-old fireplace. In short, we were simply on fire and everybody else around could feel the heat and they were all burning and lapping up every single word (Whow!).

Given the varied background of our audience we made it as palatable as possible in their comprehension of key issues like Global Warming and Climate Change – among others; by laying it down in the most laymen of terms as possible, using local examples as illustrations whenever necessary.

As a demonstrative awareness exercise, we embarked with the motto of “walking the talk”. Hence a total of six (6) plastic shopping bags of litter of all shapes, colour and form were collected, starting from Ower’s Corner all the way to Kokoda Station. This meant we also had to mind our rubbish. The same was practised the entire length of our travel up the Okuk Highway to WHP and back.

In topping off this run (and coinciding with the World Environment Day), the donated library books were delivered to Bukapena Primary School in Western Highlands Province. Due to financial and logistical constraints, the books for Saluk Community School were instead left with the Baptist Union at Kimininga for to be delivered to Lembena in the border area of Enga Province, Madang and East Sepik Province.

This gesture was hoped to drive home to children and adults alike the importance of books, as the most sure-fire way to help enlighten them and broaden their horizon. This in time will help in addressing the challenges we face in educating our people and the future generation about the importance of our natural environment because I believe that a literate society will be better equipped to address not only these conservation issues but the entire development process of our country.

Call to Action

It was apparent that most, if not all of the information presented was lacking in the communities we entered and passed through. According to most people including village leaders, church leaders, women and youths, such vital information was lacking in their community and was an eye-opener for them.

It is without doubt that more such information is required at the community level and in some instances, there is the need to connect these locals with technical specialists to look into pursuing such ideas like eco-friendly income generating ventures as a means to promote self-reliance as well as a support mechanism to drive forward the concept of conservation and environmentalism.

I am of the strong belief that the idea of environmental awareness and conservation needs to be shared with everybody in our country, from urban centres to rural and isolated communities alike. It is imperative that this idea needs to be reiterated and ingrained into the psyche of all members of our communities to reach ideology status so that it can be eventually transpired into ACTION at the individual level up to the bigger community stage.

Take for example the hot topic of Climate Change. We talk about trying to combat and reverse this global crisis but the fact remains that we cannot make even a dent in the outcome (of total CO2 emissions) if this message is confined to only our project sites. Furthermore, being an environmentalist only on World Environment Day will make zilch difference to our fight to reduce human impact on our environment. The message of environment and conservation has to reach out into all corners of this country and its practise has to be maintained on a day to day basis to become part of our lifestyle if we want to truly drive home this message and get results.

In saying that, many a times those of us within the conservation circle or even those of us environmentalist at heart at oft times only preach about these issues and that is about as far as we go. Our actions often veer away from the path of our words. It is high time we reanalyse our actions starting with the very mundane ones like littering. This starts with that simple match stick, cigarette stub and bubble gum wrappers – buai spittle notwithstanding. It starts with us switching off the air conditioning unit to only when required. Switch off those lights and electrical appliances when they are not being used.

To put it in a sentence, we have to practice what we preach. Walking the talk should be our code of conduct to demonstrate to others, giving the less enlightened a more realistic starting point to work on in being more proactive in our bid to be environmentally friendly in our actions. Only by doing that can the masses out there take us seriously.

::end::

These are some images from the Kokoda leg of this awareness run. More can be found HERE.

PS:
Other segments of this expedition will be posted at the same location soon. Dial-up is definitely no fun at all 😦

 

Kokoda – Mt Hagen with Library Books

July 1, 2010 4 comments

With Evertius (L) and Katia in the path of one of the many streams in our way up to reaching Kagi village...

We are back after more than a month out there in our very first awareness run.

This post serves as a quick update for those of you out there who may be wondering what has come of this exercise.

We left Port Moresby on the 19th of May 2010 in the early hours of the morning at 0300 hrs to find ourselves at Ower’s corner at 5 in the morning. It took us a total of 7 days (6 nights) to get to Kokoda Station in the Oro Province of Papua New Guinea. This part of our expedition was a an eye-opening experience for me and the rest of the trekking party of 8 other youths from NCD.

After 2 days in Popondetta, we boarded the Calvados Queen on the afternoon of  Saturday (29/5/2010)  and found ourselves in Lae the very next morning.

After being out in the bush for a week breathing in the sights and sounds of mother nature’s own quite cool, the drone of engines, the muck, grime, careless litter and the endless craters of potholes combined with the exhaustive humidity and the bums  forever mucking around Eriku for that 5 Toea discount and a quick buck at the expense of some poor old lady or a newcomer in town was just too much for me to stomach.

The School Captain making a point in receiving the books which can be seen in the background.

Finance was another factor and I quickly made the resolve to pull the plug and make an early exit with the boys, minus the books that had been shipped earlier from Port Moresby.  Apparently, my pallet of books had been off-loaded onto another ship.

After dropping off the boys at Kimil in WHP, I returned, making a quick stop for a day at Koningi Primary School to celebrate World Environment Day and continued down to Lae to pick up the books. I then returned to WHP, picked up the boys and headed straight for the foothills of Mt Hagen (the mountain) and handed the books over to the kids of Bukapena Primary School.

We also featured on Eagle FM, making mention of our work and further reaching out to the masses with our awareness messages. Our plan to do a complete cleanup campaign of the city never eventuated due to deaths in the village so we shelved that plan and I instead made a request to students in Bukapena and in Hagen Secondary to spearhead this exercise as their own initiative.

We concluded our trek by heading up straight to the summit of Mt Hagen at 3800m. Most of the boys did not quite make it that far as the cold and the high altitude got the better of them. Me and one other trekker along with 3 boys from the villages made it to the top and got back late in the night the next day.

Its a long way to the TOP if you wanna Rock N Roll... Heading up to the top of Mt Hagen (3800m)

Our return to Lae was as boring as a dénouement could be. The highlight of it all was the night I spent on the streets of Top Town in front of some shop wondering what the hell happened to Taxis. I was even stranded the next morning and had to seek the good nature of the offsider of two buses to make my way to 2 Mile where I picked up my bag and got as fast out of Lae as I could.

This was supposed to be a brief but it seems like a brief but looks nothing like it…
(uh?)

:p

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Hope Trek Bumper Stickers

May 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Folks,

I like to believe we are on to something good here. Not only with the idea of delivering books but in having this exercise as an awareness exercise.

As earlier explained in one of my previous posts, this exercise is an awareness run in its entirety. And a demonstrative one at that too. Starting from the fundraising activities all the way to the actual trekking expedition and eventually to the schools that we are going to, it involves awareness in one form or another.

The T-shirts came out. We now have bumper stickers to go too. Please support this cause by purchasing one for only K5.00

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Hope Trek on TV

April 26, 2010 3 comments

Its finally here – if you can get past the excessive usage of “basically”. Just bear with me and the thick accent. This is my first time on TV so im just crashing through blind here, stumbling and fumbling. As you can see, im not that fly and eloquent as i sound on type.

MNHDFSXZ6S4H

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Shirt-for-Books: Round Two

April 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Black T-shirt (front)

Folks,

Im pleased to announce that the first batch of T-shirts has been sold out. Well actually I’m still waiting for some of those who had purchased on credit to sort themselves out.  The next batch has been printed and is already out for sale . I have done collecting runs starting Thursday till now but looks like a majority of the lose ends will be sorted out by next week.

I should point out to you all that the latest batch of shirts is a step up from the previous batch in terms of quality. But It’s all BLACK this time.

Love the color, I tell yah!

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