The Kokoda Track: Understanding Australia One Step At A Time
Hot tip: Pack your concentration.
Another powerful pull of the top of my backpack and I was back on my feet. The third fall for the day saw me slip on a flat patch of grass.
It wasn't even wet or muddy this time.
After hours of walking the first victim of exhaustion was always my concentration. I was forewarned about the steep hills and the mud but no one mentioned that I needed to pack my concentration.
I stumbled on another protruding tree root and laughed awkwardly as I glanced at my porter Dickson who hadn't let go of my pack since hauling me back to my feet.
He could tell I was struggling.
Even thinking about my aching knees or blistered feet distracted from the task at hand. Only a few hours til camp.
Dickson took my hand, told me where to place my foot. I took my next step. We walked slowly on.
The Owen Stanley Ranges are spectacular with their bright with native flowers and intense greenery. So too are the rapid creeks of Eora and Ua Ule, Isurava and Brigade Hill battle fields, the sweeping Myola plain and the quaint townships of Efogi and Naduri. Even the mud, your worst enemy, comes in vibrant hues of red and orange.
The number one rule on the track is stop before you look. It's the best way to avoid a cut or a broken bone, or worse. Your focus is the track, always the bloody track.
But I think that's the way it's supposed to be.
There're no barriers or handrails to stop you toppling off the track altogether and plunging from one of the steep cliffs into the forest below.
Everything from the unruly tree roots, to the old artillery shells littered through the dirt and the gaping holes in the earth where Japanese or Aussie trenches once were remain unchanged.
It’s almost as though I could begin to imagine what it must have been like for the Aussie diggers to walk the track back in 1942.
I could almost imagine what it would have been like to haul artillery, food, water and other supplies up the slippery mountain faces or what it must have been like to spend months in a place that makes every effort to break the human spirit.
Except that really, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the magnitude of the sacrifice our diggers made to keep Australia safe.
I had it easy.
I had three meals a day, a dry place to sleep and Dickson, who carried my heaviest belongings. There was no threat of Japanese fire. I wasn’t fearing for my life. I knew I would see my family again. I knew I would return home.
Courage. Endurance. Mateship. Sacrifice. These are the essence of the Kokoda spirit.
They are also at the heart of what is means to be Australian. Every step I took on the track helped me find deeper meaning in the collective Australian identity. The track gave me the chance to access our history and explore a profound love for Australia.
I slipped again, my concentration lost in my thoughts. I knew if I kept going like this I’d do worse than a sore tailbone.
I didn’t fall this time though. Dickson caught me. This time he held my entire weight with a single hand secured under my arm. My very own fuzzy-wuzzy angel. Without him the forest would have broken me.
I rebalanced myself. Stop. Concentrate.
I took my next step. We walked slowly on just like the Aussie diggers and their Papuan angels did so many years ago.
Neither of us would go on to die for our country on that trip of course, but we did our best to honour those ‘bloody heros’ who did lose their lives on the track.
Only a few hours til camp.