Don’t be fooled by the breathtaking jungle beauty. The famed 100km Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is no walk in the park.
CAPTION: A member from the Papua New Guinea Defence Force participates in a combined activity with members of the other forces at the live-fire range in Sydney before embarking on Exercise Kokoda Wantok. Story by Major Dan Mazurek. Photo by Corporal Sagi Biderman.
Marking the 80th anniversary of the Kokoda Campaign – during which 625 Australian soldiers were killed in fierce fighting with the Japanese – special forces soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, France, the US and PNG came together to hike the historic track on Exercise Kokoda Wantok Expedition.
Before stepping foot in PNG, all participants started the exercise at Holsworthy Barracks for a week of shared special operations training, which included weapons ranges, cultural presentations and language lessons.
Contingent Commander Captain J said the training was important to a successful exercise.
“Given the number of international partners we have on the trek, it was important to have everyone come together before setting out,” Captain J said.
“Our time at Holsworthy allowed us to get to know one another on both a professional and personal level. Highlights were the PNG Defence Force-led jungle survival lessons and our visit to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.”
Once the contingent arrived in Port Moresby via Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules, the contingent took the opportunity to visit the Bomona War Cemetery, which Captain J said served as a sobering reminder of the lives lost in the Pacific theatre in WW2.
“It is one thing to read about the Kokoda campaign, but it’s not until you come face to face with the actual terrain upon which it was fought, and see the tombstones of those who lost their lives, that you can really appreciate the true extent of what occurred here,” Captain J said.
Guided by professional commercial PNG trekkers, soldiers stepped off on the historic track, crossing famous landmarks like the B-25 base and Templeton’s Crossing, before arriving at Efogi Village.
Before passing under the Kokoda Arch, the hikers stopped at the Australian-built Isuvara Memorial for a special dawn service.
Captain J said it was meaningful to pay homage to the memory and significance of the track.
“We held an informal and intimate dawn service at Isuvara, where the ode was recited, followed by [Bert] Beros’s iconic poem The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels,” Captain J said.
“The group reflected on the sacrifice made by the Australians soldiers and the local Papua New Guineans.
“The silence was broken by a moving rendition of a traditional song by the local villagers. It was a poignant moment for the entire group.”
The memorial was erected in 2002, made up of four black Australian granite sentinel stones, each weighing 3.5 tons that had to be airlifted into place by helicopter. Each is inscribed with a single word representing the values and qualities of those soldiers who fought along the Kokoda Track – Courage, Endurance, Sacrifice and Mateship.
The stones and the spartan dawn service served as a powerful symbol to the international participants. The stones’ inscriptions were a keen parallel to the challenges they’d shared together over the mountain track.