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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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