“We think of them with sorrow and with pride but there should be a third feeling stronger than grief, greater than pride. A sense of fullness and of achievement. To us, their lives may seem to have been severely shortened, yet in truth they were full lives. It is not how many years a man lives that matters but what he does with the years-many or few-that are granted to him. And those who sleep here did much with theirs”. Lt Col Phil Roden, OC 2/14th Battalion AIF
Trekking from Owers to Kokoda with a group of two, father-son Mark and Ethan, was a privilege. With only two clients and a very dry track – no rain at all for the entire trip – we made excellent time each day, generally arriving into camp just after lunch. This allowed for plenty of time to rest, explore each village and mingle with the locals. Once again our PNG team were wonderful, in particular our Master chef Raks. Travelling south-north is different, with the first two days challenging, followed by easier going for the remainder of the trip. Highlights include spending the night at both Brigade Hill and Isurava Battlefield, plus the standard day of relaxation in Kagi for the sabbath. Extra time at Brigade Hill and Isurava enabled us to explore the area, soaking up the history, with Mark reading the Ode to honour our fallen.
A visit to the school in Kagi was fantastic, as was the magnificent voices of the children at the traditional final night sing-sing. Memories that will remain with the clients forever. Our Local guide Robert was outstanding in his nightly talks, including building and demonstrating animal traps over lunch in Alola. Kokoda with No Roads is so much more than the military history. It’s a different feeling finishing at Kokoda rather than Owers, with the final 40 minutes on flat ground. For Mark and Ethan this was Phase One complete, with the Northern Beachheads to follow.
Gona, Buna, Sanananda
Our group of two became six at Popondetta, with the addition of Mark’s wife Lana and mother Cath and brother-sister Andrew and Marilyn. Family links were to make the Beachheads especially emotional, with Cath’s father serving with the 55th/53rd at Sanananda and Andrew/Marilyn’s uncle serving with the 2/12th at Buna and Sanananda, where he would tragically lose his life fighting at the Sanananda Junction. Arriving by car at Gona, we were taken by boat to Sanananda village where we were welcomed by a traditional dance. Sanananda Guest House would be our home for two night, sleeping some 30m from the ocean! Easy way to drift off to sleep, the sound of the waves and lovely ocean breeze, to be woken the each morning by a local lady singing a blessing to the traditional canoe fishing fleet.
Travelling by boat to Buna, we toured the wartime airstrip, local museum, Japanese defensive positions and sunken Japanese barges. Returning to Sanananda and a visit to the 55th/53rd memorial was emotional for Mark and his family, given the connection to his grandfather. Sanananda truly is a living museum, with many wartime relics. A beautiful village, it’s hard to visualise such a stunning place being the scene of brutal fighting. 429 Australians lost their lives at the Sanananda Junction, including Andrew and Marilyn’s uncle, LT Kerr. I am honoured to have taken them to the location where he fell, describing the battle punctuated by the Ode and Last Post.
Our final night in Sanananda featured a string band and dance with the local women and children. With heavy hearts we left the next day, bound for Popondetta and a flight to Moresby, followed by a visit to Bomana Cemetery the next morning. A fitting conclusion to an amazing experience.