Kokoda is a must for teachers!

Leonie Turner, Ultimo Primary School says "I guarantee you cannot walk the [Kokoda] track and come back a better version of yourself, personally and professionally."

"I met Aidan Grimes back in 2007 when I walked the Kokoda Track with Our Spirit and Aidan as our guide, and it turned out to be a life changing experience on several levels.

My only child, my daughter, had died in 2002 and I was still struggling dealing with my grief. The Kokoda Track would offer a level of physical exertion that matched my grief and somewhere on that track I left my very raw pain. The first day I had several breakdowns, crying inconsolably when one of the Papuan porters moved up next to me and walked the rest of the track, every day with me. Just a bit of the Fuzzy Wuzzy spirit happening there.

Right from the beginning Aidan was the quintessential teacher, leading our group, supporting when needed, sharing stories of the track that he knows so well, that you felt you were living a part of history. I remember my daughter explaining why her history teacher was the best. It was because he told stories, that he lived the history and this is what Aidan does. Each trek a person is chosen each day to carry some lost medals. Aidan has researched who they belonged to and you learn about this person’s service. It was an honour to carry these for one day and know that on return to Australia they would be reunited with the soldier’s family.

I had read up on the Kokoda Track before commencing, but being there, experiencing the conditions, the steepness, humidity, mud and more mud, helped me understand just a little what our boys must have faced and the depths of human spirit they drew on during that time and afterwards.

Since returning from Kokoda in 2007 I have taught my Year 5 & 6 students about the Kokoda Track in addition to other campaigns Australians have fought in. When I tell the stories of Kokoda and my students see how I am emotionally moved by the experience and I can describe the conditions first hand it becomes all the more real. I also tell my students about the happy and friendly children I met along the track. These children who by our standards have very little, yet are richer than we are because of their ties to their community. I also show photos of the Kokoda school and describe how pristine their book work was; their handwriting perfect and their grammar correct. I explain this is because they value their education as not everyone has the right to it.

I work at Ultimo Public School in Sydney and I have taken over how we commemorate Anzac Day (all our students know how to respectfully lay the wreath (even kindy kids) and listen thoughtfully to our service) and Remembrance Day. Hopefully, our school will encourage our students to continue to learn about our history after they leave primary school.

For me what I took away from Kokoda and Aidan was the beginning of learning to love life again and I do now! I learnt it’s okay to laugh and love. I learnt others have done things tougher than me and survived. I learnt I can do something others think is crazy and too hard and finish with a smile. I loved trekking the Kokoda Track with Aidan so much that I walked The Black Cat Track in 2008 and took, what is now, my husband with me.

Trekking Kokoda with Aidan is the most amazing educational experience you can get, but it is so much more than that. I guarantee you cannot walk the track and not come back a better version of yourself, personally and professionally. Every year when sharing stories about Kokoda with my students I encourage them to walk Kokoda when they are old enough and I keep telling colleagues they should walk Kokoda with Aidan and Our Spirit at least once in their life! If I had my way it would be compulsory for all Australian students!

Leonie Turner
Ultimo Public School"