Last week I had the honour, of walking the Kokoda Track with my son, which apart from being a great physical challenge, was an incredibly emotional and educational experience - in some ways life changing for us both and one thing off the bucket list.
While the atrocities of war are something we never want to experience, one of the things I have found frustrating, despite having enormous respect and having first hand stories told to me by my now late father and others, is knowing I can never really fully comprehend what our war heroes went through - as you could only truly understand by being present.
Treading the same ground and having stories explained in detail on site certainly assisted in providing a better understanding.
To stand in the spot where the incredibly brave Private Bruce Kingsbury won his Victoria Cross at Isurava, and hear how he did it, was moving, as were the many other accounts of bravery that were recorded along the way.
One of those relates to Corporal John Arthur Metson who was shot in the ankle and unable to walk. When found, a stretcher party was organized to carry him to safety but Metson knew how hard the track was and insisted on crawling, to spare his comrades the burden of carrying him through the steep jungle terrain.
He asked only for his hands and knees to be bandaged for protection to allow him to crawl. They wandered through the jungle for three weeks. Metson spent this entire period crawling in agony, staying true to his word and inspiring the other men in the party.
Eventually, the call had to be made that the seriously wounded cases would have to be left in the care of the villagers of Sangai, so the able-bodied could carry on unimpeded and find help.
It was six weeks before a party of Australians could reach Sangai again. When they arrived they found the bodies of Metson and others, who had been discovered and executed. How could anyone begin to understand what he endured.
The Dawn Service at the Isurava Memorial was a moment I will never forget as the youngsters on the trip recited the names of the young Gippslanders who lost their lives. It was a very emotional morning.
Our porter who assisted with carrying our supplies was the grandson of one of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. After overcoming his shyness, he shared stories passed on by his grandfather of wartime on the track. Their contribution is legendary.
On passing through his Village, he introduced us to his family and this was the other element of walking the Kokoda Track, to see how these villagers, with constant smiles on their faces and laughter, are doing this with so little.
Of an evening we had “sing songs” from local villagers which included children as young as six, proudly belting out their national anthem and other songs with pride, despite having bloated bellies from malnutrition.
Returning to the capital city of Port Moresby, where there is over 80% unemployment, massive crime rates, corruption and armed guards standing at supermarkets, it makes you realise just how lucky we are in this country, state and region.
Kokoda was a great experience. I am aware many East Gippslanders have done it and I would encourage all who are able to, to consider it if you can and if circumstances allow for you to share it with a family member, it will add to what is an incredible experience.
July 14, 2015