I had the great honour and pleasure in leading the NSW Police (for the 3rd year running) across the Kokoda Track
for Anzac Day this year. It was a truly amazing experience getting to know these people and what they have to contend with each day they go to work. Spending time walking along the track and listening to their stories was inspiring. Most of you have heard me rant and rave about the great “Aussie Spirit” and how it is used to overcome challenges; well I can assure you I was witness to this everyday on this Kokoda trek. Our society is so much better off because of these amazing people and the risks they take every day to ensure our safety, which we often take for granted. The following is a brief account of their Kokoda ANZAC journey.
It all started 3 months prior to their departure with Kokoda Track exercise programs
that are specific to the individual. This would guarantee each participant a good opportunity to complete this amazing challenge. The group knuckled down and scheduled regular group training sessions culminating in the Blue Mountains overnight hike with me. From some of the encounters it was evident that there were all sorts of motivations as to why each individual was hell bent on putting themselves through this torturous journey. Some had family that fought up on the track while others had family that fought in other parts of the campaign, either way they were determined to follow in their footsteps. It was also clear that the group as a whole wanted to make a difference and support Police Legacy, ie try and help those that have lost a family member in the line of duty (yes!! that means while protecting you and I). Most had started to read some of the recommended reading and were starting to get an understanding of the campaign, they had heard about Stan Bissett, Bruce Kingsbury and a few others… it was my determined goal to make sure they understood the whole campaign and the sacrifices each digger (including orderlies, medics etc) made, so that we could enjoy the freedoms we have today in this great and beautiful country.
As part of the group we also had 6 members of Legacy ranging from 18 to 23 years of age. Each one of them had lost a parent. Some were nervous and unsure as to what lay ahead of them, but overall they were determined. They were determined to succeed, to prove that they were strong after all they had been through. They turned out be an absolute credit to themselves and their parents, and what a great future they have! Just like the spirit of the diggers of ’42, thank god for their belief in continuing on to achieve their goal.
Our group flew into Kokoda where we walked to our guesthouse on the outskirts of the Kokoda Village. We were met by JB and his family and we received the traditional welcome amid shouts of “Orakaiva” meaning welcome in the local dialect. As the group settled in to “life on the Kokoda Track” the family prepared some great local food which left this group asking for more. After dinner we had the traditional sing song time and it unearthed for us the fact that there wasn’t a decent singer amongst us, (where’s Stan when you need him!). Interestingly, that night there were a few noises emanating from the huts, some of this group could actual snore in C Major!!! Thank god the Japs have long gone!!
The next morning the group stirred at about 6am, ready for breakfast. Once again they were provided with local cuisine and hospitality second to none. Most had dressed ready for the days hike and were busy organizing their water and food etc.. A quick glance skyward indicated to me that we would have rains later in the day, so after saying farewell and thanks to the family we headed off towards the station and the Kokoda Museum. Here I gave the Kokoda history
presentation. After this we headed off along the track towards the hills to Isuarava Battlesite stopping off at Hoi, Kovello and Deniki to explain the campaigns fought here.
Most of the group were doing fine with a few showing signs of a struggle, I always find that the first day is the hardest for all sorts of reasons, people trying to acclimatize, trying to find a pace that suits them, working out group situations etc..I also knew that for a few it would be a dark finish, to me this is a great opportunity to be able to experience what the jungle throws at you in the dark, at a time when you’re new senses are heightened.
To see the fireflies as they glow in the dark, to imagine what the young inexperienced diggers would have felt and heard as they sat patiently waiting in their hand dug fox holes waiting for the inevitable onslaught of the highly trained, highly successful, vastly experienced Japanese army. Every sound would have brought a nervous finger to squeeze that trigger even more, every eery vision would have convinced him the Japs were amongst his lines already, the rain as it poured down his groundsheet and filled the hole he was in would have made him shiver. The boots on his feet would have been waterlogged and his feet craving release, his desert uniform given to him without due regard to the fact that it stood out a mile in the jungle would have been soaked through with sweat and rain.
Throughout the previous day I had had a great opportunity to speak to some of the group and found that there was quite a few that were carrying their grandfathers and fathers medals in their back packs. Medals fascinate me as they can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, to some it means great sorrow and sadness, to others the effects of war on their family .. booze etc while for others great triumph …..
We over nighted at Isuarava Battlesite in guest houses.
When we made our way to the Isuarva battlesite, we explored the area including positionings of each battalion, Kingsbury’s rock and the other 2 tracks,
Here as usual the group received a thorough history lesson on what happened at this picturesque site arguably the most important battle site in Australian history. When doing my poetry session I had a quick glance around and there wasn’t a dry eye in the group. I asked a young Legatee to stand up and I explained that as an 18yr old this was the profile of a 39th digger. I asked Helen Begg to have the great honour of hoisting the Australian flag as I believe the massive contribution she has made in bringing some of the most despicable criminals to justice was reflective of the great and often unrewarded work the police do. I also gave the legattee’s the greatest honour … to raise the PNG flag at Isuarava. While the flag was being raised the Police fell in to formation and saluted the flag as it majestically made its way up the pole, barely moving in the breeze. This was followed by a minute silence, followed by The Last Post played on bugle, I can honestly say that this was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
After this great experience we headed off towards Alola Village, as we did so, we stopped off at the First aid station and the rock table, which now has a plaque in commemoration of Butch Bissett. Here we sang Danny Boy just as Stan had done for his brother, Butch all those years ago, it was very moving, and in great respect to the sacrifices the Bissett families have made for our great country. It should never be forgotten, and I will endeavor to make sure its not.
Over the next few days it rained and the track was very muddy creating some dangerous descents, we stayed at Templetons Crossing and on to Effogi the next day.
That evening the kids provided the entertainment with their amazing singing harmony’s which was met in return with some of our home grown stuff…. Roll out Gina and Ange our secret singing weapons! It was great to see everybody enjoying themselves.
The next day we headed towards Brigade Hill, I hung back and watched the great commraderie amongst the group. After getting to the top of the hill some chose to race back down and help those doing it a bit harder. Words of encouragement sang out all along the group and it was really great to see.
When we eventually got to Brigade Hill top, I pulled the kids aside and organized them as leaders with the mission of organizing the main group into stretcher parties. Unbeknownst to the main group I had 2 Fuzzy Wuzzy’s lying at the bottom of the hill pretending to be wounded. The stretcher parties goal was to carry the wounded as a group up to the top of the hill. This gave them an understanding of what it was like to carry someone, but more importantly the tables had turned and it gave them an understanding of what the Fuzzy Wuzzy’s had been through for our diggers. I then experienced one of the greatest things, when Superintendent Steve Eggington took the opportunity on behalf of the group to say a thank you to the Fuzzy Wuzzy descendents for their families’ sacrifices and help in 42 and beyond. After this we had the Kokoda history
briefing with people amazed at what the Battalions had to do to escape the onslaught and sheer endurance of carrying stretchers for so long in the bush.
After all this we continued on past the true HQ site and past the ammunitions dump down towards Menari Village where we stopped off for lunch. It continued to rain and the track was getting cut up pretty bad. Heavy rains overnight had us wondering what state the Brown River would be in as it notoriously floods this time of year. It was quiet interesting to see other groups walking in the opposite direction, it was an enormous group and most didn’t seem to know what the Kokoda Track
Later that afternoon after trudging through the swamps for a few hours the group eventually made it to the guesthouse at Aguro. The rains kept over night and we knew the second half of the following day to Ofi Creek would be dangerous. We set off early after breakfast and continued to climb the rest of the Maguli Range. The false crests tormenting some of the group as the “are we at the top yet?” question sang out more frequently. Lunch was at Ofi Creek, and interestingly enough I can see changes in the river over the past few years since the introduction of the mine further upstream. It has a different colour.
After lunch we climbed Ioribaiwa Ridge and explored the positions and continued on down to Ule Uale Creek where we stayed the night.
At first light we headed off for Imita ridge and climbed it before sunup. We eventually made our way down into the valley and across the Goldie River. Here the group formed up and in recognition to the legatee’s they were asked to precede first, a great honour and recognition.
As I sat up at Owers Corner I watched as each member came across the finish line with that great look of satisfaction, exhaustion and knowing achievement etched into their face. It was also very emotional for some as the reflection on the past few days screamed at them for release. I stood back and watched and was truly proud of the great achievement they as a group had managed to pull off. It was my 53rd successful crossing and one I knew I would remember forever. The past week or so had given me great insight into who these special people really are, their amazing support for each other and the locals, their determination and sheer tenacity, and most importantly their sense of mateship. The Legatee’s had started the track as inexperienced people but it is safe to say at the end they had developed into leaders.
In conclusion, at a time when we are all busy with our lives running from a to b sometimes we forget to acknowledge that there are some people out there making huge sacrifices, sometimes supreme, so that we can enjoy and continue to enjoy the freedoms we have come to know and expect in this great country of ours. In a time when it is sometimes easier to point the finger, spare a thought for those that are really trying to make a change.
The Kokoda Track
is a great equalizer I find, it doesn’t matter how much money you have, where you come from, colour of skin etc.. on the track everybody is equal. The currency is pure honesty ie you can’t hide, it should never be allowed to be hijacked by politicians or anyone else for that matter, that track belongs to our future generations of Australians and Papua New Guineans and it is our duty to ensure that the “Spirit” stays alive.
Written by Aidan Grimes
, Founding Director of Our Spirit
Labels: NSW Police ANZAC Trek